Eastlands, Sisterhood, Crime: Does ‘Jiji’ cure Kenyan crime drama fatigue?

Jiji follows the familiar concept of young people in Eastlands struggling to make it against a backdrop of crime.

Photo credit: Pool

Since the release of Nairobi Half Life, two of my biggest complaints with Kenyan shows and movies have been the general villainisation of Eastlands and the over-saturation of crime drama-themed content. So you can imagine my reaction when I heard about a new series focusing on a group of girls from Eastlands trying to make it under the background of crime.

I was ready to dismiss the show, but the fact that Enos Olik was going to be directing the show lured me back in. Let's say, for example, you don’t live in Kenya or you have been living under a rock for the last 15 years and you have never heard of Enos Olik. Enos is one of the best cinematographers working in Kenya today, his work in the past was predominantly music videos and he has previously worked on another series Famous.

So going into this series I thought to myself, if the story and premise was not going to work, at least I was going to enjoy the visuals. However, that assumption proved (somehow) wrong.


Aside from an app in Africa that facilitates the buying and selling of goods, “Jiji” is a Swahili word for “city.” It’s the title of a fast-paced Showmax original youth drama that follows the lives of four young girls in Jericho, a low-income area in Nairobi, who are forced into a life of crime to make ends meet. A familiar premise, I can already see some of you rolling your eyes but bear with me.


Eighteen-year-old Julz will do anything to support her family. When her younger brother is accepted into a prestigious international school, she and her three friends take on a job with Jericho’s kingpin, Makali, leading to tragic consequences that change their lives forever.

What works

The series showcases some of the most breathtaking aerial shots of Nairobi to date. From the composition to the use of natural light, you will see some wide shots of the city in a way that you have never seen before. The rest of the series maintains a competent yet subtle visual style, which was surprising since it’s a project directed by a cinematographer, likely aimed at keeping the focus on the narrative rather than the visuals.

Music plays a significant role throughout the series. Particularly commendable is the restraint shown during pivotal and dramatic moments, allowing the gravity of a scene to sink in without interference from the soundtrack.

The performances are arguably the show’s strongest suit, reinforced by a solid script, inspired direction, and excellent casting. Fridah Mumbe (Julz) , Nungari Kiore (Achie), Aicy Steven(Mwende), and Sybil Colette (Vee) deliver standout performances, making it easy to forget these are actors. The series includes a time jump early on, and the transformation in the characters’ appearances and mannerisms is incredible and most importantly believable.

Mika (Julz's mother), brought to life by Wakio Mzenge, thanks to strong direction stands out as a particularly familiar memorable character, she is someone you know or have heard of. George Mo’s portrayal of the laid-back husband is equally impressive as Mika's contrast, presenting a realistic depiction of a Kenyan couple. Keith Chuaga embodies the primary antagonist, Makali, with an intensity that borders exaggeration—I mean it looks like he was having a lot of fun with the character, like he has been waiting to play this role all his life.

The production team, especially in wardrobe and makeup, are noteworthy. They help transform characters, an example, transforming the characters from high school students to mothers to mature women within a couple of episodes, with meticulous attention to detail.

The story is unexpectedly profound, with a clear, easy-to-follow structure. Most characters are well-developed, with discernible arcs and motivations that facilitate deep emotional connections. The show effectively explores the theme of consequences, where each action has far-reaching repercussions. For example, the inciting incident, which sets up the primary conflict between Julz and her mother Mika, is heart-wrenching. After that incident, the four girls go through the wringer and as much as that makes for a very entertaining show, that is where my issues with the series begin.


Like Spinners, a South African show I reviewed a while back, this is a (insert Jamaican accent) “sufferation” story. While it has its own personality, it follows the familiar concept of young people in Eastlands struggling to make it against a backdrop of crime. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: there’s more to Eastlands than crime, poverty, and football.

Kenyan productions need to explore the wide array of genres available and embrace creativity, subversion, and innovation in story structure. Familiar is marketable but Kenyan Crime drama fatigue has slowly been creeping in.

While the actors do a fabulous job with what they have, most (not all) male characters are underwritten and one-dimensional. Younger actors, like Apollo, have more charisma and charm than their older counterparts who are limited to villainous tropes.

Although Keith Chuaga is committed and vividly brings Makali to life, the writing could have given us a more charismatic and charming antagonist, they could have added a layer of mystery to him like the unsettling pastor who occasionally appeared in some episodes.


Does this show remind me of Set It Off (1996) and Spinners (2024)? Yes. Does it explore an oversaturated trope? Yes. However, Jiji works thanks to incredible and memorable performances. While the writing isn’t groundbreaking, the direction skillfully combines all production elements to create an engaging and entertaining experience. From the locations, to personalities to the costumes and music to some of the best aerial shots of Nairobi you will ever see, the series effectively roots itself in Kenyan culture and essence.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.