Entertainment the key to finding a common agenda for Africa
Posted Friday, October 2 2009 at 17:33
- With reality shows the current big thing, some believe we may just have stumbled onto the secret to uniting all the continent’s people.
They are the new craze in towns across the continent, keeping audiences glued to their television screens to see what will be the fate of their favourite candidates.
From music, business, cooking, survival instincts or just testing an individual’s ability to tolerate others in enclosed quarters, reality shows are coming in all manners and under all banners.
And they promise stardom, with multimillion dollar recording contracts besides the sometimes mind-boggling prize money. This is more than enough to bring out the raw competitive trait of the human nature with the candidates, mostly in their late teens and early 20s, fighting it out in thrilling contests.
What few viewers realise is the fact that these programmes were hatched by marketing gurus in Europe and America as a way of connecting companies to their clientele through entertainment. They were designed to kill two birds with one stone, by enhancing brand equity through corporate social responsibility.
Besides this, the alliance between the sponsors and telecommunications companies brings in huge sums of money from the text messaging system that viewers use to select the winners.
But whatever the motives behind the mushrooming of these programmes in Africa, they have managed to achieve in a few years what political philosophies have failed to do in a very long time - by creating a movement of Pan-African viewers.
This explains why very few take note when Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi spends hours talking about his united states of Africa dream, but when evicted Ghanaian housemate Wayoe shouts “Africa must unite!”, millions of youths across the continent pay attention.
Through a stage-managed combination of glamour and drama, reality shows are reinforcing cross-national unity and integration, not only through the multinational coterie of contestants and real time viewing, but also by engaging the audience in a continental voting system.
“There is an integrating aspect to television,” says David Mafabi, director of political affairs at the moribund Uganda-based secretariat of the Pan-African Movement. “Shows like these may be superficial, but they show Africa coming together in a way that’s often ahead of governments.”
The contestants, through their mass appeal and celebrity status, evoke patriotism and reinforce national unity in a way that surpasses politics. During his homecoming after an eventful sojourn in the Big Brother House, Ugandan Gaetano Kaggwa, crowned the ‘People’s Prince’ by adoring fans, was received at Entebbe Airport by a crowd so huge that the country’s leadership felt uneasy.
“Where was Gaetano and Big Brother before South Africa was cleaned of the bad regime?” President Yoweri Museveni wondered.
Most of these shows are beamed through the exclusive pay TV, a luxury affordable to a class of few on this continent where hunger is a constant guest.
Although millions of Africans watch television in communal settings, estimates claim that fewer than 8 per cent own sets. But thanks to M-Net, which has over 1.5 million subscribers distributed unequally in more than 40 countries, the number of people with access to satellite television in the continent is growing by around 10 per cent a year.
The few that are broadcast through free-to-air channels always prove to be a hit with the national or regional audiences, a fact proved by the huge amounts of money television stations cough up for broadcasting rights.
However, the money is recouped handsomely through brand equity and advertising.
What makes reality shows so captivating is the constant conflict among the competitors, manifested in daily squabbles over mundane items in the houses where they are made to live together.
“I wish the housemates would talk about real issues. Given that Big Brother Africa is being watched by people all over Africa, they shouldn’t be arguing over eggs,” Comments Hleziwe Hara, a Malawian, on an incident where housemates were quarrelling over how many eggs an individual should be allowed to eat.