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Week of 3.19.10

Soap Opera for Social Change

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There are places in the world where the success of a soap opera is measured not just in TV ratings, but in human lives.

This week, NOW travels to Kenya, where ambitious producers and actors hope one such TV show, "The Team", can help foster peace amongst the country's 42 official tribes.

During presidential elections two years ago, tribalism-influenced protests in Kenya left almost 1,500 dead and nearly 300,000 displaced. Tensions continue today over issues including extreme poverty and widespread corruption.

In "The Team", soccer players from different tribes work together to overcome historic rivalries and form a common bond. The hope is that commonalities portrayed in fiction can inspire harmony in the real world. Early reaction to the show's inaugural season is promising.

Web Features

Slideshow: Kenya's Post-Election Chaos
Boniface Mwangi's dramatic photos of post-election violence in Kenya.
"I was very surprised to see how Kenyans want change, how they want to live in peace and the way the responded to us," Milly Mugadi, one of the show's stars, noted during a local screening. "There were people from different tribes talking about peace and how to reconcile with each other... they opened up their hearts."

John Marks, whose organization Common Ground produces versions of "The Team" in 12 different countries, is cautiously hopeful. "You don't watch one of our television shows and drop your submachine gun," explains Marks, who says he was inspired by the influence of "All in the Family" on American culture. "But you can change the environment so it becomes more and more difficult to be in violent conflict."

Can this soap opera for social change really make a difference in stopping violence?

This show originally aired on January 1, 2010.

Related Links

BBC: Kenya's violence—were media to blame?

BBC Policy Briefing: The Kenyan 2007 elections and their aftermath: the role of media and communication [pdf]

Boniface Mwangi, website of award-winning photojournalist who captured Kenya's post election violence.

Media Focus on Africa: Drama series 'The Team'

New York Times Op-Ed: No Country for Old Hatreds

Search for Common Ground: The Team


Viewer Comments

Commenter: rkalwins@mtsu.edu
Kenyan soap opera helps social change


Commenter: Aaron
Hello, I hugely admire NOW. I watched this fascinating report on March 19th. I feel it is so admirable that organizations like Common Ground (which I knew nothing about until I saw this program) exist! And, that there are still actors and actresses who choose to put themselves at risk to achieve a greater good! People, all over the world, in every country, have really screwed up. Killing each other for religious fanaticism, tribalism, prejudice...it's sickening. I think programming like "The Team" and others like it, with similar intent, can surely achieve something positive. The world needs this effort! Certain viewers will talk about what they have seen, they'll think about it, and perhaps, little by little, one of them and then more, will choose not to do something destructive...


Commenter: June Helme
What a wonderful program and what a hopeful initiative. Thank you for making my week brighter. We just need a show like this in the USA to help us talk across our divides: red/blue; republican/democrat.


Commenter: Kenneth maina
I lost a job after the skirmishes,i got devastated n desperate after losing my mum n my job only 2 be left with the sole responsibility of my younger brother who was then in high school,God is great i overcame the trauma that came after,but looking back i realised GOD was preparing me 4 a greater n more patriotic calling,i was casted in the team series n since my perception of our distinguished diversities took on a different greater direction,helped me 2 look at every kenyan as another member of a larger family...thanks to the team i am now a peace ambasadeur by virtue of talent n im gonna take as far as my breath takes me!to the team producers,director,cast n crew,thanks for giving me a new life!


Commenter: Elspeth Macdonald
NOW is aterrific program,and David Brancaccio is one of the few investigative reporterson the air. Please, we badly need this stellar program and more like it if we are to stand up to the corporate news spread throughout the air waves.

Sincerely,


Commenter: Susan
Fantastic show. What a wonderful idea for social change!


Commenter: carol
Your report on Kenya's drama series "The Team" reveals a rich opportunity for social change through opening dialogues between diverse and opposing sides. What better place to begin any reconciliation than with honest dialogue?


Commenter: Laurien
I was watching the play "TEAM" and thought about my country Rwanda, and my comment is that the general population is not blame but the "politicians".
Any developing nation can be changed , not by just these plays but by the nature of their politicians.
Thank You.

Laurien


Commenter: Aunt Lili
Do I think pop TV is a medium for social change?
YES! "The world according to Sesame Street" demonstrated that and as the gentleman in the show said, it is working in Macedonia.

Archie Bunker, Aesop's Fables, Morality Plays...

If Rap Music can be condemned for encouraging bad behaviour...

TV with the good, positive message can have the same positive effect...


Commenter: Ellen Freedman
The fact that this show and these stories have been so well received speaks to the truth and simplicity of how common bonds wipe away discord and rivalry. If something as simple as a local soccer game can bring disparate parties together, imagine how effective an international soccer match could be!


Commenter: Marian
Great production. The general direction of this effort reminds me of a meeting I attended during a UN workshop on women's issues. The speaker was a teenage Kenyan girl who escaped her scheduled ritual of female genital mutilation by taking shelter in a UNESCO education program; she was continuing her education and also working on reintegrating with her family while, at the same time, educating her peers re options they might choose for their future. She was eloquent in reminding all the "adults" (individuals and NGOs) that: Kenya was an extremely diverse nation; it is most important to talk with the folks "on the ground" in determining how to work effectively in the midst of diversity and disparity of education and opportunity; respect and self determination is desired by all.
Thanks for a positive use of media.


Commenter: Patricia Klauer
I support SFCG and hope we can use The Team as an example of ways the media can positively influence alternative methods for addressing conflict in our personal and public lives. Thank you for showcasing this!

I salute everyone involved in making the Team for their courage and commitment to peace.


Commenter: Michael Paul Daniels
The people involved with the show Team are very brave and it is obvious that they love their country and their people.They are Heroe's


Commenter: Daina wahito
i would like to tell you that this program has made a big change in kenyans .tackling tribal issue will enable kenyans to unite and focus on issues that affect them such as corruption in the government
its only by uniting kenyans that we as kenyans we will be able to see the reall issues affecting us
i am a kenyan and trust me we love the team


Commenter: Ray Swangkee
Just as long as you insist on Flashing Words (Captions) across the screen, you cannot expect even one percent of your viewers to read them: because the vast majority of people cannot Speed-read, and especially those people whom you are Attempting to Educate.


Commenter: Scotsman
As I watched your program I started to feel that this "soap opera" is a government sponsored program to convince native tribal people there it is "their fault" that conflicts happen between tribes not the corporate and wealthy landowners or corrupt governments who steal resources from the people that really causes the conflicts.
There was no mention of resource scarcity and corruption that maybe the root of most conflicts in Africa and throughout the world.

In fact while your correspondent was interviewing a man he stated that the "money was being stolen by corrupt officials" there.
Your reporter just ignored what he said and kept on pushing the "soap opera" story. Why would your reporter just ignore this?
Is this just "old" news?

I am very suspect of such mass psychological control methods being sponsored by any entity or governments anywhere especially on native people.

How about a soap opera that show all Kenya's tribal people uniting to out corrupt goverment officials, multinational corporations and the elite?


Commenter: Julia Malone
It's so encouraging to see this powerful medium transformed into such a positive force! Thanks to Common Ground and his whole "team."


Commenter: Brenda
I do think that all those involved in the making of 'The Team' did a marvellous job and am hoping that through it we may not only be entertained but also be educated on the importance of unity and peace even though our backgrounds are diverse. We are 1! We are....the Team!


Commenter: Martha
No question, the media can and does shape our perception and national values. By constantly promoting violence, TV and radio make violence acceptable and thus remove or waaken internal restraints against it. Talk radio was used to incite the massacres in Rwanda. Talk radio is used to incite anger and blinkered thinking in this country on a daily basis. Shows like "24" make government torture "okay" in the public mind. Shows that repeatedly show violence against women, such as "Criminal Minds," do much to promote such violence in society even while purporting to oppose it. A show like "The Team" is propaganda, for sure -- but it is propaganda that promotes the health of society, not its destruction.


Commenter: Pam Brown-Ebright
This story was very timely for me. My daughter had just returned from 2 weeks in Kenya. It was a vacation, so she and her friend didn't see much of what the story relates to, but she is in social work and will be very interested in this. I'm emailing the info to her, but I'm also interested in the premise that was put forward by one of the people interviewed in the program; that the press is instrumental in fomenting fracturing of the social continuity that peacemakers try to achieve. I see this in the US, from both sides of the political spectrum - the right-wing tea party people are egged on by the likes of Rush Limbaugh while far-left commentators bash the idea of compromise. Our congress is so partisan, and I don't see any hope for improving the situation in the near future. We worry about what we're leaving for our kids re the federal deficit, but it seems we are ignoring a far more important deficit - the will to work together to improve life for all Americans.


Commenter: Gudrun Scott
Being human, we have tribal problems everywhere on the globe and we need soap opera to teach better values everywhere.

how about here in the USA- were I live the "tribe" is the locals who control the county government and get jobs for their relatives and thereby are not fair to all people.

The elected officials swear by the Constitution and then do not even know what is in the Constitution.

Teabaggers are going around without knowledge.

We need a TV and radio that informs about facts such as climate change, about our Consitutional rights about the meaning of tribal relationships and the problems and success of tribes-- why are they formed and what good and bad do they do-- in other words Anthropology 101 with lots of examples-- programs that are on Link TV about other countries and their success and failures.

Documentaries-- who needs violent TV shows???? Nobody!!!!!!! Example: US soldiers watching Mr Bauer on "24" and getting the idea that torture is the way to treat the enemy.


Commenter: anne
I live in the US and have family in Kenya, and they are already worried about coming elections, already. I hope 'The Team' reaches as many people and start a dialogue. It is very scary, and in this century! It seems we have not learned anything.


Commenter: Susan Shirley
Pat,
This organization Common Ground run by John Marks seems like it would be an excellent partner for CGV.
Do you know of them?

Susan


Commenter: Paul Kinzelman
That was a very inspiring show (about "The Team" in Kenya), but I wonder if it's really addressing the root cause of violence, because it merely increases the pool of people considered as "us" as opposed to "them". In other words, does getting everybody to consider that they're Kenyan instead of whatever tribe within Kenya solve anything in the grand scheme of things? Or will the Kenyans merely get together and kill their neighbors as Ugandans or Tanzanians or whatever?


Commenter: Nicholas D. Wolfson
Excellent show, thank you John Marks, thank you Search For Common Ground!


Commenter: E. Walker
Politicians use tribal differences to get elected thus causing turmoil between the tribes. This is just like America. This divide and shown here was introduced in colonialism. It is healing to see who initiates the cure.


Commenter: Michelle Elliott
This is a wonderful show. It is good to see people in media taking responsibility for the program they create and air. We need to see the connection here with our own programs and pundits ill informing the viewing public, propagandizing, fear mongering, and inciting violence.


Commenter: Jeff Young
A marvelous effort in Kenya, for sure. I'm gratified to see this "from the ground up" approach in action. It's a model for the rest of the world. Including us in the US.

But the point early on in this story about the way corruption, power, and politics roils the tensions between tribes is the root of it all, I think. How about you?

In our own backyard, politicians and special interests have collaborated to incite the generally less-educated white factions of our society to stand against rational and humane perspectives. Witness the Tea Baggers.

This phenomenon has prevailed throughout the ages, no doubt. In a modern democratic society, the rich, powerful, and selfish (the likes of Gates, Bloomberg, Buffet, etc. notwithstanding) conspire to maintain their "superiority" by keeping the masses poor and ignorant, and constantly at odds with their fellow factions.

Of course we the people can learn to live with each other in peace and harmony. It's God's will, no doubt.

But overcoming the obstacles thrown at us by the corrupt power elite (fomenting our divisiveness) presents a seemingly insurmountable task, even for those of us who are wise, passionate, committed, and altruistic.

Nothing new over the last half dozen millennia, it seems.


Commenter: Jeff
A marvelous effort in Kenya, for sure. I'm gratified to see this "from the ground up" approach in action. It's a model for the rest of the world. Including us in the US.

But the point early on in this story about the way corruption, power, and politics roils the tensions between tribes is the root of it all, I think. How about you?

In our own backyard, politicians and special interests have collaborated to incite the generally less-educated white factions of our society to stand against rational and humane perspectives. Witness the Tea Baggers.

This phenomenon has prevailed throughout the ages, no doubt. In a modern democratic society, the rich, powerful, and selfish (the likes of Gates, Bloomberg, Buffet, etc. notwithstanding) conspire to maintain their "superiority" by keeping the masses poor and ignorant, and constantly at odds with their fellow factions.

Of course we the people can learn to live with each other in peace and harmony. It's God's will, no doubt.

But overcoming the obstacles thrown at us by the corrupt power elite (fomenting our divisiveness) presents a seemingly insurmountable task, even for those of us who are wise, passionate, committed, and altruistic.

Nothing new over the last half dozen millennia, it seems.


Commenter: Judith Nicolson
Every person without a profit motive knows that our corporate media are drowning us in a non-stop orgy of violence, hardening us all to the sight of misery and blood. Congratulations to those Kenyans who are trying to give their young people reasons to live a better life. Why can't we do it here?


Commenter: Timothy Edwards
Can a soap opera change a society? Star Trek changed American society on fundamental levels with it's basic premise that the choice was a future with every kind (black, white, asian, Rusian, even vulcan) on the team, or no future at all.
"The Team" is in the right place, and definitely part of the right answer - the young people will change, and the society will change with them.


Commenter: Denby M. Barnett
Re/soap opera as a tool for social transformation: We live in stories infused with the cultural materials in which we are marinated. Mythology, theology, ideology and popular culture all inform our personal and collective stories and shape in turn our behavior. Do not underestimate the power of stories. Dictators and demagogues don't. Neither as it happens did Plato who, as I recall, proposed to ban the poets from his Republic. Our cultures (i.e., our stories) change slowly, of course, but when they do so do we.


Commenter: Woody
The Team is a start towards changing tribe feelings that cause desertion in Kenya to feelings of community. Over time it could help build community. I wish The Team and its people well.


Commenter: Rebecca Hale
I think pop culture is an excellent way to reach the masses. Watching Oprah over the years has completely changed my 83 year old mother's ideas about society--racial attitudes particularly. It has enabled her to see how similar the problems and hopes of all of us are. I loved the idea of using soccer to address issues of tribes and gender. What a great way to reach young people above all. I'm not sure that problems of over-population and dwindling resources will be solved, but any effort towards peace can't hurt.


Commenter: Isaac
The Team will make a difference as it permeates the youth and incremenal changes occur in Kenya...much like when Michael Jackson took his message to Moscow in the mid-80s...art is universal...whether a soap opera or pop...nice work.


Commenter: Angelique Premise
It is clear that the power of POP culture has often had less than positive influence on a society, often bringing out baser instincts, prejudices, and an easy peasy attitude about taking responsibility for one's own actions.

Why not take the POP culture "medium" and charge it with a positive goal. Excellent story. Praise to the team who dares to ask the tough questions and propose a foundation for some productive dialogue.


Commenter: Gail Enid Zimmer
Having made friends in Kisumu when I was there in 2003 I know how strong tribal identity is and what a powerful political force it is. My friends are Luo first and Kenyans second, and that won't change easily. They are hungry and see no connection between their poverty and how tribalism has negatively impacted the Kenyan economy, but I do. Attitudes MUST change.

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