East Africa’s thin line between local content and local voices

The paranoia about the deadly Ebola virus continues with Rwanda having isolated an individual whose tests came out negative. Uganda has sent some of its doctors to Liberia to help with efforts to deal with the disease.

The paranoia about the deadly Ebola virus continues with Rwanda having isolated an individual whose tests came out negative. Uganda has sent some of its doctors to Liberia to help with efforts to deal with the disease.

In Kenya the national carrier, Kenya Airways finally gave in to pressure to stop flights to Ebola stricken countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone, after insisting that it was not necessary  since other airlines were still flying there.  

Rwandair is one of those airlines but there has not been pressure for them to stop flights after government assurances that the ministry of health was ready to deal with any Ebola related situation if it arose.

As the week drew to an end, news came in that Kenya’s National Intelligence Service Director, Maj. Gen. Michael Gichangi had resigned due to personal reasons. However speculations are rife that he could have been pushed to do so after the numerous intelligence failures related to the Westgate attack and other terror attacks in Kenya recently.

Away from the Ebola and administrative changes in Kenya, I have been following up on something recently concerning TV stations in East Africa. The liberalisation of the media and also the move to digital transmission has led to tremendous changes in this sector.

Most of us grew up when there was just one TV station that had limited hours of transmission and we would sit for more than an hour staring at a screen with vertical lines of different colours until transmission began. At midnight whatever was airing would stop and the national anthem would be played marking the end of transmission.

Most of the stuff aired was from our German friends through their Transtel channel. That is why most people first heard of European football through the famous Football Made in Germany programme.

Fast forward to 2014 and everywhere you look there are lots of local TV channels that have in many cases drowned out the veteran national broadcasters. The dominance of Transtel productions is no more and we are treated to things from every corner of the world.

The numerous stations are now fighting for viewers and not the other way round. To stay afloat some gave us lots of Nigerian movies while others or should I say all of them then discovered Spanish telenovelas. Yes the ones where actors call each other by all the names and the men cry so often!

The latest trick in the bag is for stations to replace most of the foreign content and it has done wonders for many and opened doors for local actors too. The region now knows who Anne Kansiime is or who Eric Omondi. Uganda’s Hostel series was a hit in Kenya and is now airing in Rwanda on RTV as well. TBC’s Origino Komedi is also a much loved show in Tanzania.

There is however something I find a little disturbing with the whole local content drive. Some of our stations are confusing local voices with local content. I see different stations airing telenovelas, Chinese soaps, Nollywood and Hollywood movies but with a local voice-over.

While elsewhere subtitles would do, in the region the real volume is faded out and someone speaking Kinyarwanda, Luganda or Kiswahili will take over and often sensationalise everything. The actors are even given local names to complete the picture. So your Jason Stratham will become Onyango while Angelina Jolie will have to do with being referred to as Namatovu!

Initially this arrangement was a preserve for those video halls in small suburbs and villages where all those in attendance barely knew enough English to comprehend the dialogue. Today it appears the video shacks have come to our sitting rooms. And this makes me wonder whether the regulators of the industry find nothing wrong with this arrangement.

My question in all this is whether we are developing anything besides paying the guy who does the voice-overs. At the end of the day there are no local actors involved and so there is nothing like job creation in this whole scheme of things.  

Are these films of such national importance that they need to be broadcast in a local language on national TV? It is not like you are translating a president’s speech you know. If it is an action film you are simply explaining to the masses why that white guy is going to be killed. I continue to wonder.

Twitter: @ssojo81


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