The money laundering (wash wash) Kenyan original blockbuster series “Igiza”, starring Serah Ndanu, continues to attract viewers despite coming to a dramatic end in August.
Series director, Abdulkadir Shuria Abdullahi, aka Abdi Shuria, attributes the growing numbers to the fact that a majority of Kenyans are asking questions on the secretive wash wash business. In his observation, the open flashy and flamboyant lifestyles of some Kenyans linked to money laundering has been the main driving factor.
“Money-laundering in Kenya is a peculiar culture. While most fraudsters in the United States and other parts of the world lead low-key lifestyles to avoid detection by authorities, they openly flaunt their life of opulence and brag about it in Kenya,” Shuria told the Saturday Nation.
“On social media, most Kenyans wouldn’t mind getting involved in this vice because there have been minimal cases of fraudsters being sent to prison. It could be the reason many want to know how it works.”
Last year, a report tabled before the US Congress showed Kenya’s vulnerability to money laundering, financial fraud and terrorism financing.
Kenya ranked among major money-laundering jurisdictions, with diaspora remittances totalling Sh178 billion between January and August 2020.
The report was part of the annual International Narcotics Controls Strategy that monitors the most affected countries with illicit financial transactions aiding criminal activities.
“I found this to be interesting. Due to its relevance in Kenya, I saw as an opportunity to dive into that underworld and tell the story,” Shuria says.
Kevin Samuel, who plays Reggie, Linda’s (Ndanu) husband, also attributes Igiza’s success to the deep storyline never exploited before.
“The series was willing to go to a dark place that no local show has attempted. That gave it an edge,” says Samuel, who has since retired from acting, with Igiza being his last cast.
Currently, at number 10 on Showmax’s top 20 series, the 13-part production debuted in May and immediately became the most popular in Kenya on the platform.
It has remained in the top spot for 13 straight weeks.
The production which is a South African adaptation, "Imposter" series, marked the return of Ndanu after a three-year sabbatical.
It is a story of revenge between twin sisters Linda and Nicole set against the backdrop of the Nairobi fashion industry, marriage betrayal and the thriving underworld of the money-laundering.
Ndanu – Victor Wanyama’s fiancée – plays the dual role of Nicole and Linda.
Shuria, who is in his mid-30s, landed the deal to direct “Igiza” when his pilot impressed the production house.
“I got a pitch invite from Showmax and many other film producers and directors. Showmax wanted to adopt the “Imposter” series into a Kenyan production and so we were tasked to come up with pitch ideas,” he says.
“Everybody pitched. The shortlisting followed and I was lucky to be the last man standing. I must say the other pitches were really good but I was lucky enough to have had an edge on what exactly they were looking for because of how I came up with the storyline, intertwining different plots and concepts.”
Even though Shuria may not appear in front of the camera, he sees himself as an in-depth creative who does more than shout “actions” and “cut” behind the scenes.
He is the one who gives life to a work of art.
He gives it a heartbeat, a pulse and opens its eyes to the world just like he did with “Igiza” and the XYZ comical show.
“A filmmaker without fantastic imagination, flexibility and clarity of vision is like a tap dancer in rubber soles. This is someone who can convert thoughts and fantasies into fascinating and motivating visualisations,” Shuria says.
The soft-spoken filmmaker adds that even though “Igiza” is his perhaps most notable project, he has produced several commercials, films and uncounted pilots.
Some have never seen the light of day.
Shuria speaks of film and photography with a lot of confidence.
He owes it to his father, a former photographer, who stung him with the film and theatre bug.
“My introduction to creative acts was through my father. When I was young, father gave me his old camera,” he says.
“He used to be a photographer during his university days. I started playing around with the camera and found myself falling in love with photography. Remember this was a negative-era camera, which one needed to develop the shots.”
The more young Shuria experimented with the camera, the more he was fascinated with every discovery.
The urge to want more than just taking pictures grew and the film became Shuria’s next step of the adventure.
“One day in 2007, a friend showed up with a small camcorder and I was stricken. That was another life-bomb moment. I mean, moving pictures were far much better than still ones,” he says.
Shuria remembers this day as yesterday.
From there, he started shooting motion pictures, doing experiments and self-teaching but just for fun.
When Shuria completed his A-level education at Braeburn College, Nairobi, in 2009, he was sent to the US to study film.
He graduated five years later with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art in Cinematography from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco.
Shuria returned to Kenya in 2015.
At first he looked for white-collar jobs, but every application was turned down.
“One of my beliefs is that if you cannot find a job, then create one for yourself. That is how Yare Pictures Studios came into being,” he says.
With his production company up and operational, Shuria wasted no time hitting the ground running.
“I remember renting the entire MGM Studios for a music shoot. That caused a lot of discussions, with people asking who the young man was. Word went out and people showed up at my set to see what I was up to. That included the MGM boss,” he says.
He adds that many people were impressed and he was immediately contracted by MGM to do a Public Service Announcement (PSA) commercial advert.
“That was my first big job and breakthrough in the Kenyan film industry. The PSA was about the “My Dress My Choice” Movement, which was trending at the time,” he says.
Shuria’s execution was successful and with something to show, he began pitching for more commercial adverts. The jobs just kept coming.
“It has been a long time in the making, pushing and still being regarded as a newcomer in the industry. But as I always like to say, you are as good as your last job. Finally, there is some glimpse,” Shuria says.
In 2017 and 2019, he directed seasons 12 and 13 of the popular political satire animation TV series XYZ Show, produced by legendary cartoonist and animator Godfrey Mwampembwa (Gado).
Shuria worked as a Cinematographer for the 2021 hit “Nafsi” film directed by Reuben Odanga.
Currently, he is producing a mockumentary TV series that he hopes will pick up.
“It is a TV series called “Black and Blue”, a comedy show based on Kenyan police. Think of a Kenyan version of the American Sitcom ‘The Office’,” he says.