A few years ago I was conned, right in the middle of the Central Business District. It was one of those stories where you hand over your valuables to the thieves because they’ve sold you an extremely believable story. I went back home feeling angry and resentful. I mean, I was grateful that I was healthy and alive, but it was still painful to lose my phone, just like that, and in a few minutes. But beyond my anger, I wished that there would be a platform where people would share their con stories because if we begin to have the ‘con-versations’ maybe more and more people will be enlightened about it. The thing is when I shared my story with my friends I realised that many of them had similar stories. I couldn’t help but think that if one of them had spoken about it, I would have known, and I wouldn’t have been conned.
I recently stumbled on a Youtube web series called Janjaruka which does just that. The word Janjaruka means to be alert, sharp, and wise. This web series aims to enlighten people on the various ways that other people have been conned so that they can be wiser the next time they trust a stranger.
The Series is a film production surrounding the theme of robbery, and specifically Nairoberry. It is hilarious, and I would highly recommend it. The story starts off when a lady is conned of 60,000 Kenyan shillings by a supposed ‘landlord’ who disappears as soon as she receives the money. Together with her friends, they try to follow up with the authorities but their efforts seem futile.
Janjaruka Episodes 1-5
The story highlights the difficulty of following up with these con stories once they have happened. You have to bribe the authorities to “quicken” the process, and even then, there is still no guarantee that the conman will be found and arrested. It shows just how easy it is to get away with things by virtue of having money to brush someone’s shoulders. Perhaps that’s why these cases of conmanship are so many because almost all of them know that they can easily get away with it.
In the film, they eventually discover many other conmen in Kenya, including a fake doctor who gives them mints in the place of iron-deficiency tablets. They also meet con-lawyers who wipe out people’s bank accounts. It is comical, but also passes the message across. What is most fascinating is that the episodes are short and to the point. It’s ten minutes of your time and yet there’s a strong lesson to be learnt from each episode.
Watching this film will make you realise that thieves do not always look like thieves. In fact, a con-man/con-woman could be better dressed than you. They could even be driving your dream car because those are some of the mind games that they play on you. You see someone dressed well, driving an expensive car, and speaking proper English, and even if something at the back of your mind tells you they could be thieves, you ignore it. Con-men and con-women could make some of the best psychologists. They will say what you want to hear so that they can con-fuse you (pun intended).
The lessons in this film are completely contextualised. Most of the things that happen are actually likely to happen in real life. As you’re watching you will be empathetic and feel the pain of the victims. However, the comical aspect of it will make you empathise and yet still laugh. I think that solidifies the message and the lessons to be learnt. On top of this, the language that is used is very casual. It’s Kiswahili with a little bit of English and sheng’ here and there. That’s pretty much how most Kenyans talk, so it’s even more relatable.
Other than the film, Janjaruka Series also interviews people that have had experiences of robbery and theft in Nairobi. In fact, the script of the film is similar to what happened to Chebet Ronoh, a popular Kenyan comedian and influencer. She paid a lady 10,000 Kenyan shillings as rent deposit, and then the lady disappeared with the money. Ronoh says that she would have loved to follow up with the police, but there was no written agreement so she would be wasting her time.
Pascal Tokodi shares a similar story, where he negotiated the rent for a house owned by a supposed Vice-Chancellor at Kenyatta University. So you can tell that this film is contextualised to actual real-life stories here in Kenya. It sounds crazy that people actually trusted strangers who they had never met with their hard-earned money, but trust me, it’s not very hard to trust a convincing stranger.
The thing is, it’s not always a stranger. In the series, popular artist Wilbroda (Jacquey Nyaminde) tells a story of how her family was conned by their aunt. The aunt asked them to pay 40,000 Kenyan shillings each so that her sisters would be hired by Kenya Airways. Once they sent the money, she disappeared. One of Jacquey sisters was even arrested because she had borrowed the money from her friend and couldn’t pay it off immediately. So the lesson here is, it’s not always a stranger. It could even be your mother. It’s no wonder there are so many people out there with trust issues.
For Jacquey, it was money. For Janet Mbugua, a popular media personality, it was equipment worth approximately 500,000 Kenyan shillings. She was doing a series on Onyancha (the alleged serial killer), and they were doing a shoot at Lenana in Nairobi. The people who they hired as security, together with the supposed interviewees, all turned out to be part of the game plan to steal their video and camera equipment.
These stories are not uncommon. I’m sure that you have heard of someone who was conned. When you hear the story you may think that it was stupid of them to trust someone that much, but trust me, the minute it happens to you is when you realise that these things can happen to anyone. That’s why the Janjaruka series is fascinating because you realise that there are very many people with stories of being conned in Nairobi.
Sauti Sol’s Bien Aime tells a story of how they were robbed of $10,000, which is equivalent to approximately one million Kenya shillings. He speaks about a performance that they had in Goma, Congo. Despite all the red flags they went ahead to perform, and the next morning as they were leaving, they had trouble checking out of the hotel. The promoter eventually disappeared and never paid them for their performance.
If you have never been robbed, then take this as an opportunity to learn so that it doesn’t happen to you. If you have, then here is some free entertainment to make you realise that you are not foolish, you were just conned, and there’s nothing to be ashamed about. In fact, what you should do is educate yourself on the other ways in which Kenyans were conned through the Janjaruka Series so that it doesn’t happen to you again in a different way. After all, once bitten, twice shy.
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