Nairobi Half Life starts with Mwas (Joseph Wairimu) selling films around his home back in the village. Joseph Wairimu’s performance as Mwas quickly captures our attention as his comic character takes shape. His arrival in Nairobi was well shot and performed, as many Kenyans in the audience could relate to the apprehension one feels upon arriving in the city. Once Mwas gains his footing and finds a group to fit in with, the film does a wonderful job of depicting life in the slums of Nairobi. Some of Nairobi’s infamous street kids are portrayed as anti-heroes – humanised and validated.

The film provides a sharp portrait of many different strata of Nairobi’s neighbourhoods and lifestyles, which helps freshen the fundamentally Dickensian nature of the story. Technical quality is tops, with Gitonga and cinematographer Christian Almesberger opting for elegant and composed images rather than a rough, hand-held style; the editing is similarly coherent. Xaver von Treyer’s score provides a strong pulse, and the cast is strongly appealing no matter how sketchy their characters might be.

Nairobi Half Life is an excellent film that brilliantly weaves in powerful messages about poverty, corruption and struggle, all laced with well-acted comedic performances from Wairimu and the supporting cast.

Watch Trailer

Release Date


Watch Time

99 minutes

MPAA Rating


The Cast

Joseph Wairimu [Mwas], Olwenya Maina [Oti], Nancy Wanjiku Karanja [Amina], Mugambi Nthiga [Cedric], Paul Ogola [Mose], Antony Ndung’u [Waf], Johnson Gitau Chege [Kyalo], Kamau Ndungu [John Waya], Abubakar Mwenda [Dingo], Mburu Kimani [Daddy M], Mehul Savani [Khanji], Maina Joseph [Kimachia].


Acting 89%
Plot 88%
Cinematography 92%
Music 97%

Our Final Thoughts

This film is a must-watch. It has been winning accolades worldwide – an indication of excellent quality right from Kenya. It was selected as the Kenyan entry for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards but did not make the final shortlist. It is the first time Kenya has submitted a film in this category.

At the 33rd Durban International Film Festival, Joseph Wairimu won the award for Best Actor. That is why we award it a 91% rating.