Author: Jackie Christie, September 8 2016 - Bribing people for their vote is common in Kenya – and young people are especially vulnerable. Jackie Christie explains how a new radio show is helping young people learn more about politics.

It was a stark comment, but one that highlights the challenges facing politics in Kenya: “Take their money yes, but vote for the candidate of your choice.” The young man was reflecting on the all-too-common practice of politicians ‘buying votes’ with cash or gifts, during a phone-in, on the first episode of BBC Sema, a brand new debate radio show for young people in Kenya.

The series opened with the question: ‘Do political parties really care about young people?’ It’s a live issue ahead of national elections in 2017 and our listener’s views chime with an Aga Khan University report published earlier this year. It found that whilst young Kenyans have generally positive views about politics and democracy, 40% said they would only vote for a candidate who bribed them.

‘Sema’ is a popular shorthand greeting in Kenya and means ‘tell me’ or ‘speak’. Inspiring young people to speak up is exactly what BBC Sema aims to do.

BBC Sema was born out of BBC Sema Kenya, a national TV and radio debate show that brought together well-known public figures with the public to debate the big issues of the day. One of the most surprising things I learnt as a senior production manager for BBC Sema Kenya was that young people formed a significant portion of our audience. The show wasn’t youth- orientated but our research told us that more than a third of regular viewers and listeners were between the ages of 15 and 24. With this knowledge, we decided to create something new for this under-served audience.

Little more than a year after BBC Sema Kenya came off air, BBC Sema began life on the BBC Swahili Service. With its mix of topical discussion, young personalities, music and a playful approach to politics, it’s not exactly a chip off the old block. Through entertaining discussion and debate, the show aims to address the absence of information about politics in the media aimed at young people.

Stand up and be heard

Actress, TV host and radio presenter, Phylistiah (Phylis) Mwatee is the programme’s dynamic young host. Equally at home interviewing politicians and musicians, Phyllis brings an infectious sense of fun as well as a keen intellect to the programme, which she combines with a strong message to Kenyan youth – ‘simama usikike’ (stand up and be heard).

She breezed through her first show and afterwards told me why it’s so important for young people to have a show like this: “As we move towards the elections we are constantly being told ‘now is our time’. With this programme, I finally believe we have an opportunity to make our voices heard to affect the [political] debate.”

Our social media producer, Audrey Wabire helps continue the conversation ‘off-air’ and ‘online’ and is keen to capitalise on a new wave of tech-savvy Kenyans. “Mobile use in Kenya is high and young people are using their phones for data rather than voice and SMS (text). Social media is the way young people keep in touch with each other therefore it’s the best way for us to keep in touch with them” she tells me. A variety of content including behind-the-scenes films, music videos of featured artists and content from partners will feature across a variety of social media platforms.

As BBC Sema develops, I hope that the conversations it sparks can help support young people to make more informed choices and support them to shape the kind of Kenya they want to see.

Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Kenya.

Image credit: BBC Media Action

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