African reality TV fights HIV

The third series of Imagine Afrika began
airing across 38 countries in Africa on
4 November. It was filmed in Botswana,
Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda.
(Image: Chris Kirchhoff, For more free
photos visit the image library)

• Carolyn Carew
Born Free Media
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Nosimilo Ndlovu

Imagine Afrika, Africa’s first continent-wide reality television series, aims to tackle the spread of HIV by exploring the day-to-day lives of young people from diverse communities in broadcasts watched by more than 200-million people.

Using the tagline: “Imagine the Possibility of an HIV free Generation: It Begins with YOU!”, the African inspired and produced series looks at the key factors driving HIV/Aids and encourages Africans to consider what they can do to stop the spread of the virus in the continent.

Currently in its 3rd season, the series is an initiative of the African Broadcast Media Partnership against HIV/AIDS (ABMP), a coalition of 60 African broadcast companies across 38 countries. ABMP focuses on incorporating HIV/Aids as part of broadcasters’ core business and ensuring integration of Aids-related messages and themes across all programmes formats and schedules.

ABMP launched the Imagine Afrika series in 2007. It is filmed in community locations in different African countries and flighted across the continent with a viewership of more than 200 million people. The series goes inside the lives of youth from Africa selected by their communities for their compelling and challenging life circumstances.

Viewers get to explore the characters’ day-to-day lives, hopes, challenges and aspirations, and share in their personal triumphs and trauma as they struggle with issues related to youth lifestyle, vulnerable children and prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The first two seasons were structured as a competition. They featured 12 contestants competing in three teams over 13 weeks in various countries. They worked with local communities to initiate efforts to address local problems. In season one, contestants worked in South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, Mozambique, and Uganda. In the second season, the filming locations were South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire; and Kenya.

The primary goal of the competition was to demonstrate the power of personal initiative, self-esteem, and leadership in building a better future for Africa. The contestants focused on factors driving the HIV/Aids epidemic such as poverty, lack of opportunity, and lack of services. Using their own life experiences and working closely with the community, season II contestants found ways of tackling basic problems like housing for vulnerable children, the environment, and HIV/Aids prevention, treatment and care.

According to the series directors, the first two seasons were intended to draw audiences into problem-solving and decision-making processes as the teams demonstrated their talents and leadership.

Beneath the surface

Flighting of the third series began across 38 countries in Africa on 4 November. It was filmed in Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire and Uganda with production and post-production in South Africa.

The series is produced by a team of award-winning filmmakers from South Africa, headed by Carolyn Carew as executive producer. Mickey Dube is the series director supported by directors: Bearthur Baker filming in Uganda, Mangaliso Bhengu filming in Botswana and Patrick Vergenyst filming in Côte d’Ivoire.

The series targets young adults, 18-35 years and aims to entertain engage and educate by showing real life struggles and situations that are unscripted. Carew said: “Imagine Afrika III is a dramatic departure from the first two series because there is no competition as such, but much more in-depth exploration of real people’s lives. The result is much more compelling and dramatic, but also a more substantive opportunity to explore issues.”

This year, series anchor Nzinga Qunta is joined by Imagine Afrika I contestant Milton Manhenje. Three more former Imagine Afrika contestants – Kitso Masi in Botswana, Coulibaly Miniatteni in Côte d’Ivoire and Brenda Amongin in Uganda – act as “i-Reporters”, becoming the viewers’ eyes and ears. They shadow the lives of nine young Africans through the series.

Making the change

Kitso Masi focuses on the life of fellow countryman Onkarabele “Ntoro” Kebadilwe (22). Ntoro never finished Form one (grade eight) because he opted to stay at home as his mother was struggling to pay school fees. She has since passed away. He started making an income by gathering and selling firewood, but his donkeys ran away and he had no way of carting the firewood to the market. He then resorted to stealing, which landed him in jail. He has just been released from prison after being incarcerated for two months – and says he wants to change. Ntoro wants to be a kwaito star, and with the money earned from music, he says he would go back to school. But he is in a gang and is not well-liked in his village.

Coulibaly Miniatteni is on the trail of three characters from Côte d’Ivoire — Coffie “Kofi” Niezan (22), Desiree “Des” Cocoth (23) and Jean Damien “Bolatch” Ndri (25) — who epitomize youth lifestyles in a country where young people under the age of 25 represent 64% of the total population.

Kofi is from the suburbs; dealing with trust, love and responsibility. Des is a young mother and a dancer. Her struggle is to make a career out of dancing and confront traditional norms. She wants her one‐year old daughter to live with her, but tradition dictates that since they are not married, the child belongs to the father. Bolatch is part of the hip‐hop generation, a sensitive rapper, in need of communication with his father and to assert his identity.

Brenda Amongin in Uganda brings it home with Barbara Kemigisa (23), a single HIV positive mother of four month old Courtney. She went on the PMTCT programme when she was pregnant. Resourceful and charismatic, she survives by doing testimonials about her status and selling coffee and hot chocolate – but she wants more out of life.

Jackie Alessie (23), nine months pregnant, is in a PMTCT programme. Rachel Kyomugisha (27) is strong and resilient – she was born HIV positive. She was raised by her grandmother who inspired her to move forward with her life. Her story is a love story. She met her husband at an HIV treatment centre; he later proposed, and now they are expecting a child.

The series goes beneath the surface, following these characters as they face their life challenges and work towards realising their dreams.

HIV/Aids facts in Africa

According to a research fact sheet (PDF, 0.09 KB) compiled by the Kaiser Family Foundation, in November 2009 more than 5 000 new HIV infections occur in Africa every day. The research states that an estimated 15 million African children are growing up without parents because of HIV/Aids. Global Health Reporting. org estimates 1.5 million Africans (adults and children) die of HIV/Aids every year.

Aids and HIV information from the UNAids charity Avert reports that approximately 2.1 million Africans are currently enrolled for Aids treatment. Only one in five Africans who need Aids treatment currently receive it. For every one person enrolled on Aids treatment there are five new HIV infections.