County 49: Local talents shine in brilliant thrilling show

Social media influencer and actress Azziad Nasenya with actors Ainea Ojiambo and Veronica Waceke during the screening of Showmax's 'County 49' series at Nairobi Street Kitchen on August 23, 2022. PHOTO | NMG

Showmax series, County 49, premiered in Kenya last August and turned out to be one among many brilliant political thrillers that are being produced by a rising crop of Kenyan filmmakers, starting with the film’s director Likarion Wainaina and producer Millicent Ogutu.

But I haven’t binge-watched a cable TV series in ages. Yet I couldn’t help getting hooked on the adrenaline-based intrigue, suspense, scandals, and well-written script that was so well performed by an amazingly gifted set of actors in County 49.

It didn’t matter that there was no way in ‘real time’ that all those calamitous moments that afflicted Mwatela county could have taken place in a single day.

Nonetheless, the time factor was a reminder every few hours that minutes were ticking by, adding to the suspense in every episode.

What increased the tension is the fact that everything is being controlled by deadlines given by a mysterious band of masked terrorists, known as the Hive.

They claim to need Sh4 billion supposedly to pay back the workers who’ve been robbed by the government.

But the master-mind to all the ploys, including the kidnapping of Bwatele Governor, Nerimah Mkung (Wakia Mzenge) along with her Chief of Staff Debs Maka (Nyokabi Macharia), is a mystery until it becomes clear that it’s the former Governor Okusimba aka Ox (Ainea Ojiambo) who is pulling the strings.

Ox had just been indicted on corruption charges, including money laundering and fraud. Publicly, he claims he’s innocent.

But privately, he has planned an intricate scheme to screw over not only the county government but the workers that the Hive claims to be serving.

In reality, he holds the county and the governor hostage so that he and his thuggish partner Elijah Matata (James Webbo) can collect the billions and then flee to Sierra Leone with Ox’s wife and children.

Ironically, it’s his family, especially his daughter, who ultimately plays a major role in bringing Ox down.

But the one who comes forth with the most damning evidence and first-hand testimony against Ox is his former right-hand security officer.

Malik Maka (Peter Kawa) had acted like a dedicated hitman for Ox, rather like a Kenyan Jason Bourne who’d been a programmed assassin.

But in Bourne’s case, he’d been brainwashed to kill on command. Malik had been just as obedient as Bourne, so one could suggest that he too had been brainwashed.

But Malik’s conscience finally compelled him to confess his own role in Ox’s murderous schemes, a role large enough to get him sacked from his government position and disgraced in the eyes of the world.

Yet Malik is a complex character. Initially, he doesn’t come off as a sympathetic sort, since he too had betrayed a loved one, even as he was loyal to the state.

He betrayed his wife Debs with the former governor’s beautiful daughter Zoey (Ivy Colette). Nonetheless, working outside the system, he still has the ear of Governor Nerimah who has learned to trust no one, except for Malik who is the only one able to find who’s pulling the strings and how he can be brought down.

Plus Malik still loves his wife despite her intention to divorce him and marry Sinjin (Martin Githinji), a double-minded cop who seems to love Debs, but even he is involved in Ox’s intricate plan.

The series explores the themes of duplicity, betrayal, greed, and a hardness of heart that allows so much murder, mayhem and thuggery to prevail in County 49.

Ox is even capable of achieving his mind-boggling greedy goals by pursuing his ‘Plan B’, by blowing up millions of citizens in the county. If all else fails, he plans to blow up a major dam in the region.

That would put scores of villages and towns underwater and slaughter thousands of wananchi. In other words, blackmail is also included in his master plan, even if it means demolishing the county's economy as well.

Yet while there’s the suspense of dealing with corrupt politicians and their lackeys, there’s also the personal drama of relationships that are major letdowns.

This is where the scriptwriters dig into the duplicity versus trust between everyone from the Governor and her assistant (Maqbul Mohammed) to Malik and Debs, Debs and Sinjin, and even the Ox who has his biggest troubles with his daughter, wife, and son.

In short, the show holds one captive for 13 episodes, after which you’ll hope there will be season two of County 49.

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