My photos rewrote my story: Msingi Sasis on how a terrorism charge made him homeless

Terrorism is one of he worst crimes the world still struggles with. With terrorism comes racial profiling, discrimination and segregation. It is even worse if one is mistaken to be a terrorist, as it  haunts them forever.

Such is the case of Msingi Sasis, a well known photographer/ blogger and founder of the cultural enterprise, Nairobi Noir.

Nairobi Noir is a photography, film, art and music website and company whose aim is to impact, influence and drive Nairobi as a hub of culture that can compete with other metropolitan cities across the globe.In keeping with its name, the most unique aspect of Nairobi Noir is that everything is captured by night.


“All cities have an identity; most of these identities are driven by the inhabitants of those cities. I feel like in Nairobi, for too long, we’ve let the outside world tell us who we are. Nairobi Noir is about changing that narrative and telling the story of Nairobi through our eyes,” says 39-year-old Msingi.

“I’ve always had a love for the darkness; there’s just a different energy about it. With dusk, comes truth, people drop their inhibitions and masks.“That’s why I capture my photography at night, when things are real, when the shadows bring out the truth. I take pictures to immortalise the Nairobi night.”

Msingi Sasis, photographer.

Ironically, it was on one of these nights that Msingi was capturing images around Nairobi’s Galleria Mall when he was arrested on suspicion of terrorism.

“They thought I was casing the place and taking pictures to plan an attack on the mall,” he tells Hustle.

Msingi, despite being a well-known figure in the art world, spent three nights in custody and was only released after a barrage of complaints and appeals came from his fellow artists and fans.

In the year that followed, Msingi’s business plummeted because no one wanted to be associated with a terror suspect, even though he was cleared of all suspicion.“I think this was the most painful thing for me, because I had worked hard to grow my company, and now that honest work was tarnished.”

Msingi had built Nairobi Noir by selling portraits and the pictures he took of Nairobi by night.Though he started actively charging for his photography in 2011 by attending concerts and taking pictures of concert-goers, the concept for Nairobi Noir came to light in 2013.

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Little did he know that on July 2015, he’d be mistaken for a terrorist and arrested. And the year after this incident, his business ground to a halt.“I’d apply for jobs and get them, but when they did their background checks, they’d cancel the contract,” he explains, the pain of the ordeal still evident in his voice.“No one wanted to be associated with a terror suspect.”

“My fate changed when a friend and fellow artist called Ronje saw me at the book stand [he was working at] one evening . He was in shock that I was still alive because people had been looking for me. Apparently, my post about being homeless had gone viral. The problem was I hadn’t been online in two weeks.”

Msingi learned, when he logged onto his accounts, that his mother, who’d been in Europe when he wrote his post, had travelled to Kenya to look for him.“I was moved that so many people were concerned for me. Complete strangers were offering me accommodation, offering to buy my work. Walking the streets for those two weeks, I’d thought no one cared because I’d previously asked for help and it hadn’t come.”

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Msingi had a windfall of orders after this experience, clocking up to Sh350,000 in sales per month. He soon got back on his feet and rebuilt his brand.

“I was tempted to erase everything that had happened, but realised that it was part of my story, part of the tapestry of Nairobi Noir, so I incorporated it into the brand.”Unbowed, undeterred, Msingi continues to tell stories on, one shot at a time.To date, he’s invested more than Sh2 million into his business, including replacing his camera and equipment that he surrendered to a loan shark and auctioneers in 2016 when his business failed.



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