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Potash Charles Matathia: How One Of The Best Scriptwriters in Kenya Ended Up Living a Sorry Life in the Streets Of Nairobi

Charles Anthony Matathia popularly known as Potash is a renowned Kenyan scriptwriter and poet whose work in film is acclaimed in the Kenyan art fraternity and beyond. Nairobi Half Life, a film he co-wrote with Billy Kahora and Serah Mwihaki among others, is still considered one of the greatest African films of the past decade.

However, Potash’s career was disrupted by ill mental health, as he battled addiction. The veteran is a shell of his former self.

Occasionally you may have come across videos of him doing interviews on social media in his poor current state. A man many of us respect and recognize for his great works of art, is covered in rags in some of the videos we see online, as he narrates who he once was.

WoK in this piece, narrates the story of a man, Kenya’s entertainment scene greatly misses and to some extent, lacks.

Potash Charles Matathia: Ex-Nairobi Half Life Scriptwriter Now Living Like a Pauper
File image of Nairobi Half Life scriptwriter Potash Charles Matathia. |Photo| Courtesy|

Background & Education

Potash Charles Anthony Matathia was born in Nairobi on July 23, 1979. He grew up in Wangige, a farming town in Kabete Sub-County, Kiambu County.

Potash attended Starehe Boys Centre before proceeding to the University of Nairobi where he studied Sociology and Philosophy.

He currently resides at his parents’ home in Kiawanugu village in the outskirts of Wangige.

The struggle (addiction & fall from grace)

While at what many would call “the start of the peak” of his career, Potash fell off thanks to undisclosed addictions and faded away from the screens. He remained silent until a video of him emerged, melting the hearts of the millions that knew and recognised his incredible talent.

In August 2018, the Nation ran a story about Potash and where he had fallen to. At the time, he was living at Rewind 254, a rehab centre in Wangige Market run by a clinician, Timothy Mbugua. He provides counselling, basic healthcare, mugs of thick porridge and tough love to the recovering addicts.

“I will tell you, when I met Matathia, he was in terrible shape and state of mind. Right now he is almost whole, save for the cigarettes,” Mbugua told the Nation.

He admitted to having struggled with drug addiction. Thus, when he checked into a rehab centre for his problem, he fell out of touch with his Nairobi Half-Life peers. He had no phone and admitted that he hadn’t heard from any of his former colleagues in a long time.

He was still optimistic of finding his way back to the big screens, and with him, he had three scripts which he had been working on.

At the time, the publication revealed that they had gotten in touch with Mwihaki and she was open to helping Potash find his footing. She described him as a brilliant mind.

“I tried to find him. He is a brilliant mind, and I enjoyed working with him. I would like to work with him,” she was quoted as saying.

However, it is yet to be established if she got in touch with him.

Finding a way back

During a YouTube interview in 2020, the scriptwriter narrated a gripping tale of his battle with drug addiction and his desire to find his way back to his passion, revealing that he has been working on new content.

“I want to go back to where I started,” he stated.

“I retired at the age of 33 to smoke cannabis in Wangige Market.

“Last year [2019], at the age of 40, I decided to make a comeback and put together my writing. What I want to do is to go back where I started as a blogger,” he revealed.

He goes on to reveal that he had a successful website – The Black Campaign, back in 2011 where he hosted a blog titled A Kenyan Urban Narrative.

The blog was plotted around a young Kenyan man struggling to find a way to afford his next drink.

“I want to develop new content and characters based around the key themes of juvenile delinquency, coalition, consensus, conflict and cooperation in society,” he revealed.

“By the year 2023, they will be published as a collection with a short story,” he added.

The 42-year-old has set his sights on staging his comeback by simply going back to the basics, starting with his personal blog.

Career Works

Before he propelled his name to greater heights through NHL, Potash was a writer and editor at Kwani Trust — the literary network founded by award-winning writer Binyavanga Wainaina. He also contributed a story, Some Gikuyu Words, for an anthology titled Njaria’s Tales.

“The first phase of my work until the age of 33 is represented through key projects. One is a short film in sheng about slum upgrading programs in Mathare valley,” he says in a past interview.

“The second is a feature film also in the same language, sheng, based in Nairobi. It’s called Nairobi Half Life,” he narrated.

Potash was picked, alongside actress, Serah Mwihaki, to weave the NHL script to life.

Potash Charles Matathia: Ex-Nairobi Half Life Scriptwriter Now Living Like a Pauper
Nairobi Half Life script writer, Potash Charles Matathia (Left) poses with Mojo Africa’s Marvin Gakunyi on February 20, 2020.

Awards & Festivals

Nairobi Half Life became a major hit, garnering various awards and recognitions across the continent and beyond. It bagged the most awards at Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards 2014

Other awards and recognitions include; 

International Film Festival Rotterdam, 2013
São Paulo International Film Festival, 2012
AFI Fest 2012 | Winner: Breakthrough (Audience Award)
Miami International Film Festival, 2013