In The Shared Societies Project Blog, we have talked many times about Kenya and the lessons learned for the latest presidential elections after the 2007 post-electoral violence. The Kenyan civil society made a great effort to avoid the tribal rivalries, promoting initiatives to avoid the hate speech and build a shared and peaceful future. This time, we would like to remark on a very powerful tool that is giving an example of citizenship to 5 million Kenyan youths: a comic.
The comic, called Shujaaz, is distributed monthly free through the Daily Nation newspaper. It was born in 2010, after the nationwide reflection that followed the chaos of violence. It is intended to be at the same time an entertainment product and an educational guide for the young Kenyans, giving them tips on everything: from planting maize seeds to nutrition and the role they can play in society, as this article in The Guardian tells.
In fact, Shujaaz means “heroes” in Sheng, the language that the comic uses. This also gives another key about its intentions: to transmit a message of national unity beyond tribal rivalries. Because Sheng, a brash mix of Swahili and English, is one of the few things that can be shared by all the Kenyans, specially the young ones. Against some criticism from academics, government officials and older people, many initiatives have been launched to promote Sheng as unifying factor. For example, Tukuve, a successful initiative launched to ensure that the latest elections were peaceful and free, encouraged the use of the language.
Shujaaz also shows its intention to promote unity by never mentioning specific locations or tribes, even when they are treating topics of conflicts between tribes. It describes problems in which the characters assume a committed attitude. The lead role is DJ B, a big-haired pirate radio star and school dropout who tries to act with good civil behaviour.
Well Told Story, the creators of the comic (that has funds from the UK Department for International Development, Kenyan mobile giant Safaricom, or USAid), have a clear vision on how it can help to make Kenya a shared society: “We want those innovators to be the ones to act… We need to use these wonderful interactive media to get people involved in the conversation. We think the more people we are talking to, the more people we are bringing into awareness, the more innovators we are enabling to take action… It’s just a numbers game.”
Photo: Riccardo Gangale/USAid