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82 (Re)claiming Performance Space in Kenya CHAPTER FIVE Radio Theatre: Interrogating the Developmental Narratives of Radio Drama in Kenya Dina Ligaga Studies in the field of radio have explored the vastness of the medium and its usefulness in society. Specifically, the medium of radio is looked at as a relevant means of communication in Africa. These studies including those carried out by Richard Fardon and Graham Furniss (2000) have shown the multi-faceted ways in which radio’s influence and role in the continent can be interrogated. Within this paper, we are interested in the genre of radio drama, and how it acts as an important intersection between the medium of radio, society and its social realities. We are particularly interested in the manner in which development themes are performed and presented to the listeners. We frame the paper within existing radio drama studies in Africa that have shown the genre’s close relation to the reality of its listeners. Liz Gunner (2000) has for instance, explored the historical relevance of radio drama in South Africa during the years of apartheid, when the plays could be read as subversive because of the gaps of interpretation that existed within their languages of transmission. Khaya Gqibitole (2002) also explores the relationship of Xhosa language radio dramas, its audiences and the white managers of the radio stations that produced them during the apartheid years in South Africa. What emerges from such studies is that in looking at radio drama’s performance space, one has got to engage with the manner in which it speaks to the reality of its listeners. Within this paper, we read radio drama’s performance space as the imaginative space between the text and the listener. The text’s engagement with a developmental issue is completed only when its intended and/or underlying messages have been understood. Thus the paper examines the narratives of Radio Theatre that thematically deal with issues of development designed around social and cultural realities of listeners. Radio Theatre is one of Kenya’s longest running radio drama programmes in the English language. It is a programme that Getting Heard 83 features one-act plays that run for about 30 minutes each week on the state-controlled Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). The plays are aired every Sunday at 9:30 p.m. with repeats on Thursdays at 10:00 a.m.1 Radio Theatre plays mainly preoccupy themselves with moral narratives set in the domestic sphere. Most of the plays deal with themes of marriage, love, sex and romance which are not just entertaining, but are largely presented as educational. Within a larger context of state-broadcasting, Radio Theatre is read as a programme that encourages listeners to consume it as an educational programme that seeks to use domestic themes to teach listeners about common moralities that define the social order in Kenya. This paper argues that radio drama is a possible site for understanding the discourses of development in Kenya because of its engagements with the reality of listeners. The paper uses theories that encourage a reading of popular mass media forms of soap opera and melodrama as possible sites of social learning. Often, soap operas and melodramas have been dismissed as forms that engage in exaggeration and fantasy. This paper engages in a close reading of a Radio Theatre play and analyses ways in which it represents a specific developmental narrative. Through this reading, the paper analyses the strategies that the radio text uses to encourage a particular reading of development by its listeners. We look at the manner in which the play emphasizes certain moral lessons which the listener is supposed to learn. These moral lessons are normally the pivotal point through which these plays are supposed to be understood as developmental. Community radio and Theatre for Development (TfD): contextualizing radio drama for development Radio Theatre frames itself within existing discourses of development communication in Africa which argue for the use of communication to improve the livelihoods and well-being of people in underdeveloped or developing nations. The range of themes of its plays suggest their role in dealing with health related problems pertaining to HIV/AIDs and fertility, as well as the socially generated problems of forced marriage on the girl child. The programme is located within existing discourses on radio and Theatre for Development (TfD) in Kenya. 84 (Re)claiming Performance Space in Kenya Radio is a crucial tool for development, especially because in many cases in Africa, it...


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