London — Edutainment reality TV shows nearly always do remarkably well and the new Ms President series in Kenya appears to be no exception. Kenyans often seem obsessed by electoral politics so it's playing to a home crowd. Russell Southwood talks to the show's creator, Martin Munyua, Dreamcatcher Productions about how it came to be made and what it's trying to do.
TV series often get people accustomed to the idea of things to come. US action thriller 24 featured a Black and a women President before Barack Obama was elected. Ghana's Shirley Frimpong Manso took up the baton with her series about a women running for President in Ghana called Shampaign in 2016.
The idea for Ms President came from a show that was made in Palestine and that show's creators brainstormed with the Kenyan production team and its backers. They looked at the differences between the two places and worked out what might work in Kenya.
The organisation that got the ball rolling was an NGO called Media Focus for Africa which has financial backing from the European Union, Canadian High Commission, Muhuri, Hivos, among others.
The idea of the show was to get discussion going about issues like governance, transparency and policy for women, especially younger women. But also to use the interest generated to have a more general discussion about what Kenyans might expect from their politicians and the role they play. A Ms President Academy was set up to teach the things the candidates need to know to succeed. And all this is done with usual addictive reality TV format.
The show started with a "call to action" last year to attract candidates for the programme that included a high profile media launch and TV and radio ad spots. The potential contestants were invited to go online to look at the requirements and if they met them, then sign themselves up. One of the key criteria was a certain education level but the bar was not set so high that it discouraged a range of potential contestants: a number of school girls qualified to be contestants.
Over a thousand contestants registered and Dreamcatcher went out to the different regions to make an initial selection of 70 candidates. The first few episodes of the show establish the "backstories" of contestants and narrow down the field to 40 candidates to go forward to the Ms President Academy. Episode 3 aired last Wednesday on KTN Home who are carrying the series in the primetime 8-9 pm slot. Isabel Munyua is Executive Producer for the show.
Munya told me the initial episodes of the show have been well received and are making waves on social media:"The night of the premiere we were trending number one in Kenya and last Wednesday's show was trending number seven on a busy news night. It's been well received by women. There's been guys saying women should stay at home and have babies but they've been few in number."
At the Ms President Academy, the series then takes on a different format which can best be summed up as follows: training, tasks, presentation and then elimination:"The candidates - like those on every reality show - will have to have strategies to knock out other contestants and become the winner."
By early summer this year, they will be down to three candidates who will each design a presidential campaign who will try to get members of the public to vote for them. It culminates in an American-style Presidential debate in July 2019 where the three candidates answer questions from a panel and also take questions from members of the public in the gallery of the studio and on social media. The last woman standing will be crowned Kenya's First Reality TV President.
So when does Munyua think that Kenya will have a strong women contender?:"I don't think it will be in 2022 but I think we will have opened up the space. Maybe in 2027 we'll have a strong woman candidate."