Category: Media & Marketing

Coming soon: Desperate Housewives Africa

The African version of  the popular US television series Desperate Housewives is set to hit screens next year.

Nigeria’s EbonyLife TV and Disney Media Distribution EMEA recently announced that they will co-produce Desperate Housewives Africa, which will be filmed at Adiva Estates, an upmarket gated community outside Lagos that is similar to the US show’s iconic Wisteria Lane.

Viewers can expect similar dramatic plot twists, scandal and romance – but with an ‘African soul’. Mo Abudu, CEO and executive chair of EbonyLife TV said: “We will work to ensure parity with the original storyline and production values that have characterised the global series, without compromising on that very important African essence.”

The Nigerian series will feature an African cast of new and established actors, who will be dressed by local fashion designers. The sets will be furnished with items from Nigerian interior decorators.

The original Desperate Housewives is broadcast in more than 200 territories around the world. Versions of it have been produced for audiences in Turkey, Argentina, Columbia, Brazil – and now Africa.

The cast of 'Desperate Housewives' take the stage at the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on September 21 2008. (Pic: Reuters)
The cast of ‘Desperate Housewives’ take the stage at the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on September 21 2008. (Pic: Reuters)

‘God Loves Uganda’: Uncovering a proxy cultural war

The latest trailer for God Loves Uganda adds a breath of anticipation for the upcoming theatrical release of Roger Ross Williams’ powerful exposé. The feature-length documentary is Williams’ uncompromising look at the implications of a more recent form of US engagement in Africa.

'God Loves Uganda' explores the role of the American evangelical movement in Uganda. (Pic: Derek Wiesehahn,
‘God Loves Uganda’ explores the role of the American evangelical movement in Uganda. (Pic: Derek Wiesehahn,

Uncovering a proxy cultural war on the part of Christian evangelicals in Uganda, the film points to evidence that in Uganda the Christian right see a new battleground for the war against sexual immorality that they’re losing in the US, the implications of which are to be seen in Uganda’s proposed anti-gay legislation – a bill which originally called for the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality“.

You can read OkayAfrica’s interview with the director here.

Watch the chilling preview below.

Alyssa Klein for OkayAfrica

Côte d’Ivoire puts hope in first feature film on conflict years

Chased by a lynch-mob, a young man runs for his life – closely watched by director Philippe Lacote who is shooting the first feature film on the bloody chaos that rocked his native Côte d’Ivoire from 2002 to 2011.

The film “Run”, shot in Bassam near the Ivorian capital Abidjan and directed by Philippe Lacote, tells the story of the 2010-2011 political and military crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. (Pic: AFP)
The film “Run”, shot in Bassam near the Ivorian capital Abidjan and directed by Philippe Lacote, tells the story of the 2010-2011 political and military crisis in Côte d’Ivoire. (Pic: AFP)

Run, both the film title and the main character’s name, chronicles the slide from innocence to violence and crime in this resource-rich country that was once a beacon of stability in west Africa. Today, the wounds of war remain raw, politicians still trade crude insults and the former president awaits trial for crimes against humanity.

“The film’s main question is, ‘How did we come to such violence?'” said the Franco-Ivorian director, lamenting the thousands of people killed during a decade of rebellion, civil war and post-election violence.

Lacote, who finished shooting in September, hopes his film will be both cathartic for victims of the crisis and instructive for younger Ivorians, but also revive cinema in a country where only two of the 80 movie houses are still in use.

His project drew attention when presented in pre-production at the 2012 Cannes film festival. And while the film has touched some nerves at home, the state has agreed to finance seven percent of its €1.8-million (R24-million) budget, with the rest coming from France and Israel.

The buzz has also brought native son Isaach de Bankole – who appeared in the 2006 James Bond thriller Casino Royale and Lars von Trier’s 2005 film Manderlay – back home for the first time in 17 years to play a role in Run.

Based on real events
The story centres around a peaceable teenager who is on track to become a village “rainmaker” or sorcerer but instead joins the Young Patriots, followers of the former president Laurent Gbagbo who are capable of extreme violence.

“When I was filming the Young Patriots, I asked one of the youths how he came to join them,” says the 42-year-old Lacote of an earlier documentary. “He answered, ‘I have three lives!’ – and that became the basis for writing the film.”

Although fiction, Lacote’s film is grounded in real events. “There are scenes that remind me exactly of what I lived through during and after the war,” says Abdul Karim Konate, 32, who plays the role of Run.

Some 3 000 people lost their lives in the violence triggered by Gbagbo’s refusal to admit defeat in 2010 elections to his arch-rival Alassane Ouattara, who finally took office in May 2011.

“I was there in Yopougon (a Gbagbo stronghold), there where things really got hot,” said Konate. “We are telling the story. We need to tell it to those who have not seen it.”

Run is Lacote’s first full-length feature film. He calls it “indirectly political” and asserts his “right to approach the subject matter via fiction” while admitting that he finds himself on “slippery ground”.

Starting from scratch
“We have already had problems,” the director conceded. “We were filming in a former headquarters of the FPI (Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front party) occupied now by the Ivorian army. The FPI press accused us of making a film to gather evidence against Laurent Gbagbo,” who is jailed in The Hague awaiting trial by the International Criminal Court.

“My objective is not to say who is right or wrong. It is to recount the crisis seen through an individual prism,” Lacote said.

Officials in charge of the country’s film industry also hope Run will help get Ivorian cinema back on its feet.

The film business here is currently “flat on its face”, said Mamidou Coulibaly-Diakite, who manages public funds earmarked for Ivorian cinema. Prominent Ivorian directors such as Henri Duparc, Gnoan M’Bala, Yeo Kozoloa and Fadika Kramo-Lancine have either died or have not worked in more than a decade.
“We have to start everything again from scratch,” he said.

In the long run, Coulibaly-Diakite said he dreams that Côte d’Ivoire, formerly the economic and financial hub of west Africa, can rival Nigeria’s thriving cinema scene.

Run is due to be released in 2014 and distributed in France and Germany, and to be screened at several festivals, according to the film’s French producer Claire Gadea.

Christophe Koffi for AFP

How technology secured the success of Ghana’s 2012 election

It’s a custom in Ghana for the evening of December 31 every year to be dedicated to church activities. Christians all over the country go to church to pray and keep vigil as a new year dawns. The night of December 31 2011 was a special night. As usual, Christians went for the 31st night watch service; also called Crossover or Passover. I couldn’t make it due to sheer exhaustion so I watched the various church services being screened on television.

The dominant topic among Ghanaian pastors that night  was “Pray for a peaceful 2012 election”. Lo and behold, 2012 came to pass and Ghana had a sixth consecutive presidential and parliamentary election in December. I’m not saying that it’s all thanks to God though. I believe that technology played a very crucial role in the election.

This blog post explores the many roles of technology in Ghana’’s 2012 election.

The Electoral Commission (EC) of Ghana announced in 2011 that the 2012 general election would be 100% biometric – i.e. the voters’ register will be a biometric register and voters will also be verified biometrically on election day. This announcement was received with mixed reactions. Supporters of technology thought this was a laudable idea that would go a long way to ensure a credible voters’ register, remove duplicate names, prevent multiple voting and prevent zombie voters. (Zombie voters are people who register under the names of friends or relatives who are dead, so that they can vote twice or more.) I, too, felt biometric was the best way to go. However the opponents of a biometric election ‘cautioned’ the electorate with funny myths. My favourites: biometric devices cause cancer and they can electrocute voters.

A group of prominent Ghanaian bloggers under the umbrella Ghana Decides were very active in a campaign to get people to register. Ghana Decides primarily used social media to drive citizens, especially the youth, to register.

After 40 days, the electoral commission successfully registered 14.5-million voters and thwarted over 10 000 fraudulent registrations. This was not possible with older modes of registration.

In previous years it was very difficult to access the manifestos of political parties and/or stay up to date with their campaigns.  With this election though,  political parties went beyond television, billboards, newspapers and radio to reach voters. Candidates harnessed the power of online advertising and social networking to connect with their constituents.

And when prospective voters were required to verify their names in the biometric voters’ register, technology saved the day. The electoral commission, having learnt from previous experiences of low turnout during the verification period, decided to add SMS verification to the traditional verification system. Hitherto, voters would have to travel to their polling stations to physically verify their names in the register. By applying technology this time around, Ghanaians were saved from the inconvenience of travelling and electoral officials could put the time saved to better use. The SMS verification system made it easy for errors in the voters’ register to be corrected in time to prevent confusion on election day.

In a bid to ensure accuracy and integrity of content in both online and traditional media, the Ghana Police Service established a media monitoring unit to swiftly deal with election-related issues.

The African Election Project, in collaboration with the Georgia Institute of Technology, Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology and EnoughisEnough with support from the UK’s  Department for International Development also established a Social Media Tracking Centre (STMC). The STMC was to monitor the use of social media during Ghana’s 2012 elections.

Google Ghana also launched the Ghana Election Hub, an information portal where citizens could keep track of news and information related to the election.

The efficient application of technology gave an indication that Ghana was going to organise a successful election. The European Union election observers even said they were not going to observe Ghana’s 2012 election. I am tempted to believe that the use of technology gave the EU assurance that our elections was going to be free, fair and peaceful. Perhaps they also realised how easy it would be to monitor the elections online;  there was no need for them to travel to Ghana.

Election day

A woman casts her ballot at the Bole polling station, in the Bole Bamboi constituency of northern Ghana on December 7 2012. (AFP)
A woman casts her ballot at the Bole polling station, in the Bole Bamboi constituency of northern Ghana on December 7 2012. (AFP)

The election was held on December 7 2012 in over 26 000 polling stations across Ghana. All polling stations used the Biometric Verification Device (BVD) to verify voters.

It is claimed that this was the first time biometric verification was used during an election, and a record number of people were biometrically verified in one day. However, 1.6% of polling stations were forced to postpone the election to December 8, mostly due to some technical hitches. The hashtag #GhanaDecides trended on Twitter from December 7 – 9 2012.

Social media continued to play a key role in Ghana’s  election even after polls closed. There were healthy debates on Twitter, Facebook and in the blogosphere.

The electoral commisison’s website was a reliable source of information and certified election results. All media houses relied on it. In previous elections, the media houses would announce provisional results which were at odds with the electoral commission’s. These conflicting results generated tensions among voters in the past, as depicted in Jareth Merz’s documentary An African Election.

The efficient use of technology made it possible for the electoral commission to collate and declare national election results in less than the usual 72 hours after the close of polls. The world also learned about the beautiful story of another successful and peaceful African election via the internet.

The main opposition party is currently challenging the results of the presidential election in court. It is worth noting that technology again made it possible for the opposition to gather and analyse evidence for the court case, as a key witness admitted in court.

On the whole and thank to technology, Ghana’s polls were acclaimed as the most free, fair and transparent, raising the bar for other African countries.

On the night watch service on December 31 2012, the theme prayer was “all thanks to God”. Hallelujah!

Divine Puplampu is the co-founder of a technology start-up company called Zottech, which provides technological products and solutions to Ghanaian businesses and organisations. He is one of 10 young Africans shortlisted to be a One Young World delegate at this year’s summit. At this event, the M&G’s Trevor Ncube will be chairing a session on African media and what Africans think of their journalists. To share your views, complete this short survey.

A male-only soapie for Egyptians this Ramadan

On the set of Coffee Shop, a new Egyptian soap opera to be televised next month, there was a decidedly male presence. The director was male, so too the scriptwriter. The producers were also men. The lighting operator was a man, as were the sound team. Weirder still, all the actors were men. In fact, of the 30-strong cast and crew scurrying around the set, not one was a woman.

It is this that sets Coffee Shop apart from the dozens of other soaps that will be aired in Egypt throughout Ramadan, the month-long fast that is also Egypt’s busiest and most lucrative TV season. Specially commissioned multi-episode soaps have been enjoyed by families during Ramadan since the 1960s and are often associated with romantic storylines and female stars. Controversially, Coffee Shop will have neither. Its cast is male only.

“The basic aim of the series,” said Sayed Said, Coffee Shop‘s creator and chief scriptwriter, during a break in filming, “is to show that you can make a good show without depicting naked women.”

Said conceded it was possible to make good television that featured women – “as long as they’re veiled”. But he argued that even veiled women were not a necessary part of his show since Coffee Shop is set in a street café, a largely male environment in Egypt.

Each episode will centre on arguments between two cafe regulars – Amr, an Egyptian patriot, and his friend Sherif, who hankers after a western lifestyle. “Every time Amr ends up being right,” said Said, “and Sherif ends up being wrong.”

‘Different from western ideas’
Said dreamed up the concept after becoming frustrated by the sexualised content of other Ramadan series, which he believes is offensive to Egypt’s conservative population. “I’m just trying to reflect the opinions of the everyday Egyptian citizen,” he said.

“Our idea of art is very different from western ideas,” agreed director Wagdi Elarabi, rehearsing lines elsewhere on set – a real-life cafe in a semi-rural settlement just west of Cairo. “In Europe, Parliaments agree that boys can marry boys. But [here] that is forbidden.”


Men play backgammon on the streets in a public coffee shop decorated for Ramadan in Cairo on September 1 2010. (Pic: Reuters)
Men play backgammon on the streets in a public coffee shop decorated for Ramadan in Cairo on September 1 2010. (Pic: Reuters)

Coffee Shop will be broadcast on al-Hafez, a new channel that caters for Salafists – ultra-conservatives who seek to mimic what they believe to have been the lifestyle of ninth-century Muslims. Last Ramadan, al-Hafez broadcast a reality series that featured teenagers competing to memorise as much of the Qur’an as possible.

“It’s a response to the accusation that the Islamic media is very backward and uncreative,” said al-Hafez’s owner, Atef Abdel-Rashid, of his channel’s output. “We’re trying to show that it is creative and that we understand drama.”

For some, Coffee Shop will be further evidence that Egyptian culture has become more conservative since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. The series comes a fortnight after the controversial appointment of a new culture minister, who – supposedly sympathetic to conservative thought – has fired several leading members of the Egyptian cultural establishment. It also follows the opening of a segregated Salafi café in a middle-class district in Cairo, and a segregated hotel in the otherwise westernised resort of Hurghada.

Said believes his show taps into mainstream Egyptian conservatism. “The purpose of drama is to reflect society,” he said, “but in [other Ramadan series] they use sex to sell the shows, and in my opinion that does not reflect Egyptian society.”

But others contested his view. “An all-male show can’t be reflective of society if it doesn’t have any women,” said Yara Goubran, star of a rival Ramadan series next month.

For Goubran, Coffee Shop is also an anomaly amid the wider context of Egyptian television. Just as some artists say they feel freer to express themselves since 2011, Goubran says directors are more prepared to depict liberal lifestyles in Egyptian soaps, which she believes most viewers have welcomed.

“It’s ironic that al-Hafez is emerging at a time when TV drama has never been more liberal, or taken so many risks,” agreed film critic Joe Fahim.

“There’s lots of sexual innuendoes now and themes that touch on sex in a way that would have seemed unimaginable in the past.”

More generally, Coffee Shop‘s deference to religious conservatism comes as another crop of Ramadan series seeks to question the hypocrisy of certain religious conservatives.

Three of this July’s most keenly awaited series (The Preacher, Without Mentioning Names, and The Second Wife) will depict religious figures who abuse their authority for political gain – a plotline that could be interpreted as a veiled dig at the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies, who have weathered similar criticisms from their opponents.

“What al-Hafez is doing is not only futile, but it doesn’t really make any sense,” said Fahim. “Not only do they misunderstand the public, but also they are in complete denial of the reality of the Egyptian street.”

Fahim said that while Islamist groups may have emerged strongest in Egypt’s 2012 parliamentary elections, it did not necessarily follow that the country was culturally as conservative as the parties it voted for.

The week the Brotherhood’s allies were elected, the No 1 film at the Egyptian box office was Haram Street, a sexually charged feature at odds with Brotherhood thought. “The same people who went to see Haram Street voted the Muslim Brotherhood into Parliament,” Fahim argued. “Writers are really pushing the button in a way that would have been unforeseeable in the past – and it’s all happening under the Muslim Brotherhood’s reign.”

Patrick Kingsley for the Guardian