East Africa: Rwandan Soaps Top Watch List

Despite being relatively new and still developing, Rwandan content creators have established a niche in TV soap opera production, and are increasingly taking up space on local channels.

Soap operas such as Seburikoko and City Maid top the list of most watched TV and online content in the country, turning actors into instant national stars.

A platform called ZacuTV.com, which works as a distribution channel for Rwandan content has been created, with a goal of distributing content locally and abroad.

"This is like Rwandan Netflix where people can watch Rwandan content on the go, we pay content owners and then we air it," said Nelly Misago, a producer with Inyarwanda Ltd.

A subscriber pays $5 per month, and it has already garnered up to 20,000 subscribers, mostly people in the diaspora.

The key challenges the drama arts industry faces is language limitations because all the content is created in Kinyarwanda, which means it cannot be consumed widely.

"Our content is also still lacking in quality, it does not meet international standards, so for instance it cannot be aired on Netflix," he noted.

This year they intend to start public screenings in different parts of the country, but also launching theatre acts in various halls.

Building on the impact of 1990s Ugandan dramas like That's Life Mwattu and Bibaawo by The Ebonies'; and recently the regional success of The Hostel created by Uganda team of Moses Sabiiti and Emanuel Egwel, today's soaps have also found their way into Rwandan family evenings.

Seburikoko, produced by Misago under the production company Inyarwanda Ltd and Afrifame pictures, is a comedy drama set in a fictional village of Gatoto, about Seburikoko, (Gratien Niyitegeka), a family man who shirks his responsibilities and indulges in drinking in the village cabarets.

The 15-minutes per episode series airs on Rwanda Broadcasting Service (RBC), every Monday and Thursday at 6:45pm, and has been running since March 2015.

City Maid, is in an urban-set drama, depicting dysfunctional relationships, materialism as well as the absurdity of promiscuity.

Just like Ugandan soaps of the 90s, the creators weave messages of protection against HIV/Aids, and positive living targeted at the youth.

Misago, the producer of Seburikoko, says the industry is growing both in content and audience, and that gone are the days when people looked down upon Rwandan content.

He says the growth, albeit slow, especially due to the fact that there are no TV stations in Rwanda with a budget to buy serialised content, there is progress because the production house makes enough money to pay over 100 people connected to the production of Seburikoko.

"I wanted to create superstars, and I also wanted to create jobs, this at a certain extent has been achieved, most of our actors are now popular, many are earning from advertising gigs. For the first time, we have actors who live on acting only," said Misago.

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