Makutano Junction is a television drama series, broadcast in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, which is produced by the Mediae Trust, a Kenya-based British producer of educational and entertainment TV and radio programmes. The soap opera, based in a fictitious Kenyan village, is designed to reach rural and peri-urban audiences and covers information on education, sustainable rural livelihoods, and health in an informative yet entertaining manner. As part of the production process, the programme aimed to develop Kenyan capacity to make a sustainable, high-quality, low-cost TV series on issues that are relevant to the region. The television series also developed a website which contains information on the episodes, as well as further information on issues dealt with in the series.
Communication Strategies: 

The Makutano Junction drama series (which, as of January 2009, consists of eight 13-part series) aims to use accessible storylines that deal with issues affecting rural and peri-urban communities. It deals with malaria prevention, safe sex, parental involvement in schools, and issues affecting rural livelihoods related to agriculture and livestock. The edutainment series includes many storylines: the story of Nancy and Karris, a warring couple who love one another passionately; Karis, an unreliable ladies' man; a teacher named Rose, who is the mother of four difficult adolescents; Doctor Charles, the new arrival in the neighbourhood; as well as gossiping market women, adulterous businessmen, and more. In the first series, two characters die from malaria; in the second series, a pregnant character discusses the need for preventive measures with a doctor, whilst another character is diagnosed with malaria after selling a mosquito net to pay debts.

One of the objectives of the series was to provide an opportunity to build capacity in Kenya for producing sustainable, high-quality, low-cost TV series. The production company, Mediae, therefore recruited and trained a local team of writers, film crew, and actors to make the soap opera series. The project also aimed to ensure that the local crew got access to leading industry professionals. As a result, the production values, storyline, and acting were developed with input from the director of the award-winning United Kingdom (UK) soap EastEnders. According to the producers, Makutano Junction trained production staff are highly valued within the industry today as more and more local and international funded drama series are being made in Kenya.

Another objective of the television series is to assess the impact that television can have on viewers' livelihoods in rural and peri-urban areas. Mediae aims to conduct a national baseline survey in Kenya, against which they will compare results of a follow-up survey, to be conducted after programme transmission. Mediae will also run a series of focus group discussion to get in-depth responses to the programmes themselves.

The series also has its own website. The site contains profiles of characters, a discussion forum, and updates on what happened in each episode. It also provides information on some of the major issues covered in the series, such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, orphans, and leadership. In addition, one may access the comics produced as a complement to the show. Depicting characters in the TV programmes, free printed leaflets are distributed throughout Kenya each week for those who require more information on topics such as sexual abuse, adult education, and corporal punishment in schools.

Programmes are supported by a short messaging service (SMS) facility, where viewers are invited to text in if they need more information on a given topic. As of January 2010, Mediae had received over 70,000 texts in the course of broadcasts. Audience research has been on-going over the last three years and shows that such a medium is highly effective at communicating useful and relevant information to rural and peri-urban audiences, as well as being effective at changing attitude and practice.

An additional component to Makutano Junction is the piloting and development of a children's television programme, which aims to promote numeracy, literacy, and life skills for 9-11 year olds. Transmission of "The KnowZone" begins in Kenya in January 2009. Mediae linked with London's Institute of Education to research the efficacy, popularity, and potential of such a medium in promoting education for children.

Development Issues: 

Health, Natural Resource Management, Education.

Key Points: 

The programme was developed as a result of research conducted for the UK Department for International Development (DFID) Research department by partners to investigate different ways to spread messages about issues in rural livelihoods in East Africa.

Organisers indicated in January 2009 that Makutano Junction reaches a regular audience of 7 million viewers in Kenya alone, broadcasting initially through the Kenya Broadcast Corporation (KBC). Makutano Junction then moved to Citizen TV taking it's audience with it. According to the producers, this helped Citizen TV overtake KBC as the channel that has a consistently higher viewership than any other station in Kenya. The first 13-part series was broadcast in Kenya between October and December 2005. Filming for the second series began in early in 2006 in Nairobi and was broadcast later in the year on KBC. It was also broadcast in Tanzania and Uganda.

Mediae has been involved in developing and sustaining communication channels to reach rural and urban audiences for the last 12 years. In Kenya and Tanzania this has been in the form of radio soaps and in Uganda it has focused on the development of two television series. The success of the health television series made in Uganda ("Centre 4") but broadcast in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and in most English-speaking countries in Africa has encouraged Mediae (supported by Ford Foundation) to look more closely at the opportunity to develop a high-quality, but low-cost, TV series aimed at reaching principally rural/peri-urban TV audiences.

Partner Text: 

DFID; Central Research Department UK; UK Aid, Kenya; Danida; OSIEA; the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) Kenya; the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA); Marie Stopes; Ford Foundation; and UK Border Agency.