Wanuri Kahiu
© Wanurikahiu.com / TED Conference

Wanuri Kahiu

We need to tell more dynamic stories.

Wanuri Kahiu is an accomplished Kenyan director and author. An activist artist, her films and books portray a positive image of Africa and are marked by a strong commitment to ecological causes.

Updated on 07/12/2020

2 min

The daughter of a Kenyan businessman and a paediatrician, Wanuri Kahiu took an interest in art from an early age and decided to become a director at 16. To make this happen, she earned a master’s degree in arts (specialising in film production and direction) at UCLA, a prestigious University in Los Angeles (USA). She then directed four films: the documentary For Our Land (2006), the short film Pumzi (2009) and the feature films From a Whisper (2008) and Rafiki (2018).

Wanuri Kahiu is also a children's author (Rusties, 2016 and The Wooden Camel, 2017).

In each of her films, Wanuri Kahiu engages with powerful social themes. Thus in Pumzi, a work that is part of the Afro-futurist movement, the plot takes place in East Africa, 35 years after a Third World War erupted following a water shortage. The film describes a post-apocalyptic society where communities live exclusively indoors and where urine and sweat are recycled to provide drinking water.

In Rafiki, adapted from the novel Jambula Tree by Monica Arac de Nyeko, Wanuri Kahiu discusses the topic of homosexuality in Africa, through the love story of two Kenyan women.

The documentary For Our Land retraces the life of political and environmental activist Wangari Muta Maathai.

The Kenyan filmmaker has criticized the work of certain NGOs, which exclusively fund films about AIDS and female circumcision, contributing to a negative image of the continent. In contrast, through her work Wanuri Kahiu wants to show the world an optimistic and creative Africa.

Her commitment to changing the image of her continent has earned her many awards: From a Whisper won five awards at the African Movie Academy Awards as well as at the Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival. Pumzi received the Best Short Film Award at the Cannes Independent Film Festival, the City of Venice Award at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated at the Dubai International Film Festival.

In May 2018, Rafiki was selected at the Cannes Film Festival in the Un Certain Regard category.

  • 2006


    Release of the documentary For Our Land, about the life of political and environmental activist Wangari Muta Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize winner for "her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace".

  • 2008


    Release of the feature film From a Whisper, about the 1998 terrorist attack in Nairobi.

  • 2009


    Release of the short film Pumzi, the filmmaker wins 5 African Movie Academy Awards for From a Whisper.

  • 2012


    Wanuri Kahiu gives a lecture on Afrofuturism for TED in Nairobi.

  • 2017


    Publication of her first book for children, The Wooden Camel.

  • 2018


    Release of her second feature film Rafiki, produced by Big World Cinema.

The Institut français and the director.

For her film Rafiki, Wanuri Kahiu participated in the Institut français’ Fabrique Cinéma in 2013.


This programme supports young filmmakers from developing countries to help them enter the international film market.


L'institut français, LAB