Kibera is a powder keg. And after the 2007 Kenya presidential election, it was lit.

Violence erupted when most voters and observers—including international election monitors—suspected that supporters of incumbent president Mwai Kibaki stole the election from popular opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Kibera, a large slum outside Nairobi, was ground zero for violence because it’s a mix of several long feuding tribes, two of which wholeheartedly supported either Kibaki or Odinga. The complex mess of history, tribalism, and poverty led Kibera to explode into violence for three months.
That’s the backdrop of Without a Fight. Set in 2010, it’s a story about two teenagers and their soccer coaches from different tribes who show through their actions what Kibera is like for them. If history, poverty and politics pull Kiberans apart, then it’s soccer that unites them.

Most people in Kibera are under twenty years old, and the only thing they love more than watching soccer is playing soccer. So a group of youth came up with the idea of forming a special soccer league in which all teams must have players from various tribes. The idea is that on the soccer field, tribal stereotypes will fade to the back- ground and the players’ shared humanity will rise to the fore.
Our story traces a week in the lives of Nicholas and Adan as they struggle with their daily lives while their teams prepare to meet in the final game of the Champions League soccer tournament. Adan, a soft-spoken Muslim Somali, sells fried bread with his mom in the mornings so his family can earn barely enough money to eat. They’re six months behind on rent. And the only reason Adan stays in school is because he raises chickens, several of which he sells for school fees. High school is not free in Kibera. Meanwhile, Adan’s stepfather—illiterate and disabled—can’t work. He wants Adan to get a job. Stop playing soccer, he tells his stepson. But Adan’s mom, who’s deaf and prone to pneumonia, wants Adan to keep playing. She sees the good it does for him. She sees his childhood friends loitering, using drugs, stealing from others.

Nicholas, a confident Christian from the Kamba tribe, has similar struggles. His family pays the rent and the week we were there had enough food to feed four children. But they had no money to keep Nicholas in school. He spends most of his time doing household chores, playing soccer, cleaning up Kibera’s clogged open sewers, and looking after his little brother Dennis.

Helping keep Adan and Nicholas on the straight and narrow are their coaches, Oyamo and Kennedy, both former soccer players who volunteer most of their time to the league even though they struggle to find enough work to support themselves.

“We are like parents to the kids,” Oyamo says. He’s not exaggerating. The best coaches don’t just focus on strategy; they watch out for the players off the field. They give them advice and help them avoid the pitfalls of crime, drugs, and apathy. For the players and coaches, the pressures of looking for work and ways to survive mount each day.

Only soccer and their religion—somehow mystically intertwined—give them the faith to carry on.
Nicholas and Adan dream of becoming professional players—which isn’t as outlandish as it might seem. Most of Kenya’s pro players come from the slums. One of them, Jerry Oyango, used to play in Kibera’s Champion’s League. Now he’s the goaltender for the Kenyan National team.

Adan looks up to Jerry and walks back to Kibera with him after watching him star in a game at a Nairobi soccer stadium. Three days later Jerry watches Adan play at the Champion’s League title match, a drag-out battle from start to finish that ends in a penalty shootout. There’s a winner and a loser, as with most things in Kibera.

But even in the moments immediately following the match, worn out and wise, Adan sees the greatest victory of the day. “Of all the tournaments, this is the best of them,” he says. “You see all the people are together. All the tribes are together. This is how we join them together. There is no tribalism here.” And then Adan, who didn’t know where he was going to find dinner that night, told us: “What I can say is, we always do what we can. And with what we can’t, God help us.”

This film gives viewers a glimpse into an Africa few Americans have seen. Adan, Nicholas and their coaches have the same hopes and dreams and struggles many people share. They focus on these things even as they’re forced to address deeper issues of hunger, extreme poverty, illness, and oppression.