In 2002, after ground-breaking elections that put an end to dictatorship in Kenya, former journalist and activist John Githongo was selected by the new and massively popular government to head its anti-corruption department.
But after a promising start, things took a dark turn when Githongo discovered that the very people he had entrusted with his hopes and dreams for reform were the ones pulling the strings of graft in the shadows.
Despite the implications to his career and personal life, Githongo made the difficult decision to disavow his ethnic loyalties and investigate a multi-million dollar corruption scandal, hence becoming the highest-ranking African official to ever blow the whistle against his own government, which he did in a historic sit-down interview with the BBC in London.
After years spent in exile in the UK, Githongo eventually came back to Kenya and resumed his activities as a civil society advocate. But still today his persona divides Kenyan public opinion between those who considered his choices heroic and those who saw them as acts of betrayal.
This is the true story told in journalist and author Michela Wrong’s 2009 best seller It’s Our Turn to Eat: The story of a Kenyan whistleblower, which is now being adapted for the screen by pan-African studio Restless Global under the name State of Betrayal.
Launched in 2015 by media veterans Marie Lora-Mungai and Tendeka Matatu, Restless Global is an integrated studio in Africa, engaged in every aspect of the content development, production and distribution pipeline through its various divisions (Restless Talent Management, Buni Media, Ten10 Films, Buni.tv).
“John Githongo is a classic hero,” said Wrong. “Threatened and vilified by those in power, rejected by those closest to him, alone and in exile, he nonetheless finds the strength within himself to say: ‘No. Not on my watch’. In this instance, an African protagonist challenges a corrupt African elite. But his ordeal, his defiance, and his story will always be both universal and timeless. Turning It’s Our Turn to Eat into a film means that this story, which is both a cautionary tale and a morality play, can touch and inspire audiences who have never heard of these scandals and barely know where Kenya is.”
Restless Global’s Lora-Mungai optioned the rights to Wrong’s book in 2011, after convincing the author and her agents, who were fielding several requests from other producers, that she would be the best suited to do justice to the story. A former journalist herself for CNN and the BBC, Lora-Mungai is also the executive producer of Kenya’s highly popular puppet political satire TV programme The XYZ Show.
State of Betrayal, which was penned by up-and-coming Kenyan writer Nadeem Rajwani, is also being produced by Tendeka Matatu (Jerusalema: Gangsters’ Paradise, Cold Harbour) and Bronwyn Cornelius (You Were Never Here, Greencard Warriors). The producers are currently packaging the project.
New industry trends such as the development of global video-on-demand (VOD) services and the studios’ necessary expansion into foreign markets is opening up new doors for Africa-based content and such films as State of Betrayal.
Netflix made headlines last year when it grabbed West African child soldier film Beasts of No Nation for US$12 million, offering producers and investors a very comfortable return on a project that cost only US$5 million to produce. Breaking its own secrecy rules, the VOD giant just announced that the film had been watched three million times worldwide since its release on the platform two weeks ago.
Source : Screen Africa, November 13th, 2015