International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Innovative radio drama inspires Kenyans to embrace peace

By John Harrington Ndeta, media and peace coordinator, Peace Initiative Kenya
“I support Mama Chep. She should not give up just because men lack respect for women. This has to change in our community.” 
So spoke Rose Nyawara, an avid fan of the popular radio drama, Gutuka, that aired on seven radio stations across Kenya before and after the much-anticipated March 4 elections. The serial reached over 1.5 million listeners and, according to many observers, played a major role in assuring the elections were for the most part peaceful. 
Gutuka means awaken in Swahili, an appropriate title for a serial produced by the Peace Initiative Kenya (PIK), a project launched by the IRC with support from USAID in anticipation of the 2013 elections. 
Five years ago, political rivalry between presidential candidates degenerated into tribal skirmishes that left 1,300 people dead and much property destroyed. Many Kenyans believed the vote was flawed, and fighting in parts of the Rift Valley and Kenya’s urban centers spiraled out of control, with devastating effects on women and children, many of whom fled to camps.
Gutuka’s eighteen episodes were narrated by a fictitious character named Bi Amani who overcomes societal prejudices against women to run for governor. “Amani, whose name means peace in Swahili, travels around Kenya listening to women’s experiences,” explains Bridget Deacon, head of production at PIK’s media partner, Well Told Story (WTS).  “She recasts their stories, like the one about Mama Chep, in an attempt to enlighten the audience on the need for peace and eradication of all forms of violence against women.”
As a way to inspire wide listenership, WTS launched a competition for dedicated fans. “After an episode aired, listeners were asked to give feedback on lessons learned,” explains 44-year-old Rose Nyawara. “In one of the episodes, a child bled to death after undergoing circumcision. I learned that female circumcision is not good at all and it should not be undertaken because it endangers the life of the victim. Girls who have undergone the ‘cut’ also risk being forced into early marriages which ruin their lives.” 
Responding to another episode, Rose appealed to Kenyans to keep peace as they waited for the Supreme Court ruling in the intense days after the elections. “Even when I was traveling, I still listened to Gutuka radio on my phone,” says Rose, who used her mobile to access the Internet. 
For her hearty engagement in the radio series, Rose was awarded an exotic goat. She could not hide her excitement for having emerged the best Gutuka listener in the Nyanza region. “At home I have local goats and I am happy to be awarded an exotic one,” she says jovially. “I have even built it a shelter. It will revolutionize my goat rearing.”
Victor Juma, the program manager of the Nam Lolwe radio station, calls Gutuka revolutionary. He praises the production’s high quality and skillful writing. Because people identified with the story’s characters, he says, the drama sent a powerful message. “We took some time to write briefs in dholuo [the local dialect] about the drama, which was used by the host to explain the main themes in each episode.” 
Washington Okumu, Nam Lolwe station manager, agrees that the program deeply affected the target audience. “Because of the drama, attitudes and perceptions on conflict and gender-based violence are now changing,” he says. “We as a media house pledge to continue airing such programs through partnerships like PIK.” 

At a glance:

  • Following privatization in the late 1990’s and the emergence of community stations that broadcast in local languages, radio now reaches more people than any other mass media in Kenya. 
  • 89 percent of adult Kenyans say they are regular radio listeners.* 
  • Radio drama presented an ideal opportunity to reach people across Kenya with messages promoting peace and enouraging more women to become part of the political process. In Gutuka, the character Mama Chep overcomes violence at the hands of her husband and opposition from some of the men in her community to run for political office.
  • Kenyan script writers, consultants from the BBC, listener focus groups, and experts in peace-building and violence prevention worked together to come up with Gutuka's storylines. 

*Communications Commission of Kenya 2010 Audience Report

1 comment


What a wonderful way to

What a wonderful way to encourage and educate women plus their male counterparts. The young girls, would be mothers and wifes continue to benefit from both entertainment and knowledge courtersy of PIK. Kudos PIK.