The road well travelled

Senior Production Manager, Kenya and Somalia

This is the first in a series of blogs from Jackie as she and her team travel around Kenya for the TV and radio debate show Sema Kenya. Now in its second series, the show brings together a panel of local leaders to answer questions from the people they serve.

I often describe Sema Kenya as a three-ring circus minus the bears.  This being Kenya however, animals often find a way to make their presence felt during production – the herd of dainty Thomson Gazelles in Kisumu in western Kenya, the dairy cows in Kajiado's green valleys or the ruminating goats in the dry plains of Turkana. The fact that we’re often tripping over wildlife is because on Sema Kenya we make an effort to go off the beaten track.

To date, the 40-strong members of the Sema Kenya team have clocked up 8,000 km in their travels around the country, enabling audiences and communities to speak directly to their leaders.  

And on nearly every occasion, each location is new to the entire team.

The Sema Kenya audience and presenter Joseph Warungu.

In the normal run of a TV or radio series, you might expect to produce one or two outside broadcasts – or OBs, as they're usually called in the trade – to mark a special event or anniversary. On Sema Kenya, however, each and every weekly recording is an OB.

Looking leaders in the eye 

When we do go the extra mile to do OBs in communities who have never had such first-hand exposure to media, we are almost always rewarded by an enthusiastic and inquisitive audience, keen to make the most of the opportunity to look their leaders in the eye.  

Indeed for the majority of the live audience, the recording of a Sema Kenya programme is the first chance they have had to meet the people they voted for in a context other than a mass election rally.

A huge amount of careful planning and hard work goes into every programme. And every week, the effort is more than worth it.

Hot topics

For example, a few weeks ago we recorded a show in Narok in the heart of the Rift valley. The town is the capital of one of Kenya’s wealthiest counties, which boasts abundant cash crops and annual revenue of £15m from tourism in the Maasai Mara national reserve alone.

But allegations of abuse of this revenue abound. The same week as our recording, the county's Governor, Samuel Kuntai Tunai, had struggled to resist demands for impeachment for corruption and nepotism – after serving only four months in office.

Governor Tunai – along with the senator of the county Steven Ole Ntutu – were among the guests on the show’s panel and no time was lost by the audience as they demanded answers. Presenter Joseph Warungu summed up the audience’s feelings with the question, “We want to know how much of the yearly revenue goes into your pocket?”

In a series of well-mannered if tense exchanges, the governor defended his past connections with the company who collects revenue from the Mara and at the end of the show, promised that in two years the county will be leader in development issues.

Everyone on Sema Kenya is determined to be there to discuss if he’s made good on his promise.

It's the beginning of the high season now in Kenya and as tourists flock to witness the millions of migrating wildebeest and zebra, I go back to orchestrating our weekly Sema Kenya migration – turning the microphones and lenses on the politicians, pundits and power brokers of Kenya’s political landscape. 

Related links

BBC Media Action's work in Kenya

BBC Media Action's work on governance and rights

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