A cartoon about HIV / AIDS in Kenya showed that recreation and education can be combined. The extraordinary popularity of the radio soap opera “Ushikwapo Shikamana” (If we help you, help yourself) has led to the creation of a cartoon that reinforces the social and health messages contained in the soap opera. RAP 21 discussed with Dr. Kimani Njogu, the man behind both projects, the expansion of this creative strategy to deal with the sensitive subject of HIV / AIDS and to break down the obstacles that stand in the way opening a debate on the pandemic.
RAP 21: How did you come up with the idea of creating a comic book to accompany the radio drama?
Kimani Njogu: I have always wanted to put popular culture at the service of social welfare and create derivative products. The radio drama is an interesting way to reach a lot of people. But I also know that people who buy the newspaper often read comic books first. My father-in-law always reads them in “Taifa Leo”. So I discussed with colleagues the possibility of creating a comic strip from the radio soap opera. The editors of “Taifa Leo” were very excited about this project.
RAP 21: What was the strategy of the radio soap opera and comics to address the issue of HIV / AIDS?
Kimani Njogu: In both cases, we celebrate life and assume that individuals and communities can make a difference in people’s lives. We advocate individual and collective effectiveness … the fact that we have control over our destiny. Through the characters, we approach with love and delicacy the issues of prevention, destigmatization and personal acceptance of the disease.
The radio soap opera “Ushikwapo Shikamana” portrays everyday life in three typical Kenyan environments: an urban center, a suburb and a rural area, where opportunities for education and paid employment are scarce. HIV / AIDS prevention, compassion for people living with the virus, and the fate of orphans whose parents have died of AIDS are important themes of the show.
RAP 21: What was the reaction of the public to comics? Has it proved an effective way to tackle a difficult subject?
Kimani Njogu: Oh, our audience loves it! The media has been posting articles three times a week for four years! We receive letters and comments from all kinds of people. We have reactions from prisons, schools and individual readers. I think it’s a very effective way to reach a lot of people and deal with sensitive issues that move people.
RAP 21: How do you prepare for comics?
Kimani Njogu: I work closely with the editor of “Taifa Leo” and with a cartoonist, a researcher and a media trainee. The team meets once a week to determine the direction of the comics that week. We also review the radio script and look for interesting ideas graphically. We then prepare the dialogues. The designer then works on the sketches, which we examine and comment on. The final details are finalized and we present the comics to “Taifa Leo” in its final form. Each month, the values reflected in the DB are reviewed by the researcher, who analyzes letters from the public to advise the team.
RAP 21: What was the biggest problem with launching this comic?
Kimani Njogu: The fact that we are all very busy and we have deadlines to meet.
RAP 21: You started with a radio drama, then you went to a comic book. Do you have other projects in mind?
Kimani Njogu: I would love to do animation. I am also exploring the use of English and other Kenyan languages to develop comics.
We compiled weekly comics in a series of albums in 2001. These albums are distributed through stores, adult literacy programs, and women’s, religious and youth associations throughout Kenya.
RAP 22: How could such an idea be adopted in other countries with similar problems to the people of Kenya?
Kimani Njogu: I think this idea has a huge potential. However, this would involve discussing it with policy makers, who are still unconvinced of the power of popular culture.
For more information contact RAP21@wan.asso.fr