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The Kenyan government did not recruit Maasai hunters to make sure people respected lockdown

A screengrab from the video.
A screengrab from the video.
4 min

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A video posted on Facebook and Twitter shows a man wearing traditional Maasai clothes breaking up groups of people standing in the street. On social media, many claimed the video showed a Maasai huntsman that the Kenyan government had recruited to help enforce social distancing rules meant to stop the spread of COVID-19. Turns out, however, that the whole thing was staged by a comedian.

The video shows a man wearing traditional Maasai clothing running down the street armed with a whip. He hits out at several people who are standing in groups and chatting. As he whips them, he shouts “One metre!” in reference to social distancing measures put in place by many countries to contain the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

One Facebook user wrote a caption for the video in Arabic: "This man is a Maasai from Kenya. His tribe is known for lion hunting. They were brought to town to enforce social distancing measures because the police aren’t able to. If you cry out, he’ll hit you even harder."

 

His post alone was viewed more than 1.5 million times. Other people shared the footage along with a similar explanation in other languages. "Respect social distancing, if not, you’ll get a Masai-style whipping!” reads a Facebook post in French. "Since people were not taking the police seriously the Kenyan government started using the Maasai tribe for the curfew,” reads one Reddit post in English. “Coronavirus brings violence to East Africa,” reads this Facebook post.

 

An artistic performance

However, this scene was staged by a Kenyan comedian and actor who wanted to raise awareness about the importance of social distancing.

In the top left corner of the video, there is text that read "Mbuzi Seller". We searched this name on Facebook and found a profile showing a man wearing traditional Maasai clothes. A quick scroll through his page makes it apparent that the man is a comedian and the video must have been staged.

Mbuzi Seller, whose real name is Nelson Saisi Lemiso, is a 27-year-old Kenyan comedian, actor and commercial director based in Nairobi.

He filmed this video in the Embakasi neighborhood in Nairobi on April 2. He spoke to the FRANCE 24 Observers about the video and his motivation for making it.

 

I’m a comic actor.The outfit that you see in the videos is what I always wear for my skits. My video has been circulating all around the world and some people actually think that it shows human rights abuses. It’s important to say that the whip that I used to hit people is fake. It makes a loud noise but it doesn’t hurt.

I got the idea for this sketch when I saw the situation getting worse in Italy. I saw my fellow Kenyans out in the streets as if nothing was happening. I wondered if they thought that this virus was a joke and so I wanted to make a joke out of it myself, but this time to get people to understand just how serious the situation is. So I used my character to “terrify” the population and encourage them to maintain a distance of one meter from others.

I also made videos about good hygiene practices and explained to people how to respect this advice when taking public transportation, for example.

I wasn’t commissioned by the government to do this skit. It was a personal initiative and, every day, I continue to walk the streets of Nairobi to raise awareness amongst the population. That said, I’d really like for the government to support initiatives like mine because I have the impression that the population isn’t well informed.

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