Ok it‘s finally happened Sesame Street is here in Nigeria! Wohooooo!! Or is it a case for wohoooing? Right first of all I have to tell you all that this will be one the most confused posts I’m going to write. Because I’m so conflicted on this issue. I will also run the risk of sounding like a broken record er…or corrupted MP3 file for all you younger cats who wouldn’t know a vinyl record if you sat on one! Also this is going to be a long one so grab a coffee, pizza or some suya or something.
I love Sesame Street. I grew up on the stuff. They showed it on NTA (Nigeria’s version of the BBC). I champion what Jim Henson stands for and the message he and his team passed through Sesame Street. The show taught children tolerance of others from different cultures and races. Something we need badly here. It also tackled the areas of numeric and literacy skills. And most of all it was fun! I don’t watch it as much nowadays but it still has those same qualities. But I can say that Sesame Street in a way inspired me to do what I’m doing today by working on the Bino and Fino project.
When I first heard that they were going to do a local version, my first reactions was ‘Great!!’. I thought it was wonderful that kids were now going to get a local version of what I enjoyed as a child with the same high quality production levels and educational value. Also the fact that Nigerian production house Ileke Media would be involved was an added bonus because Nigerians would get jobs and capacity building through the project. That sounds great right? Everybody wins. How could I see anything wrong in that?
The thing is I can see a HUGE problem with this. You see Sesame Square, as the Nigerian version is called, is funded by USAID ( United States Agency for International Development) and PEPFAR ( the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief ). PEPFAR has nothing to do with the Nigerian president by the way. It’s the U.S. president’s initiative. The project is funded to the tune of $ 3,800,000. A nice chunk of American tax payers money.
Here’s an excerpt from the USAID Sesame Square site. ‘In 2008, Sesame Street International and USAID/Nigeria piloted the series to provide an innovative approach to basic education and to help ensure access to educational media to under-served children, especially those in rural areas. Due to the success of the pilot, USAID/Nigeria extended the activity, for an additional five years, to create a locally produced Sesame Street, titled Sesame Square.’ Sounds good to me.
Here’s another excerpt. ‘Sesame Square will address HIV/AIDS stigmatization and discrimination through messages geared to orphans and vulnerable children and their caregivers. Messages will also focus on maintaining a healthy life-style through visits to hospitals and coping with deaths of loved ones.’ Wait a minute! Can you repeat that please?
This is where I start to have a dilemma. In isolation I have no issue with Sesame Square tackling the issues stated. And I know the cildren need all the help they can’t get. But in the context of Africa’s representation in the media globally I just don’t like this. I know why USAID is doing this program and I’m sure they have good intentions. But come on! This is the same labelling of Africa as a problem continent that goes on every day. Now it’s even more dangerous because our kids are now being targeted. And we’re letting it happen without even batting an eyelid. So the first time Sesame Street comes to Nigeria the thing they choose to focus on is HIV/AIDS? Out of all our diversity culture languages etc. Really? I know all the episodes will not be blatantly issue led but there’ll be a subtle undertone. Look, I know that children will learn some great things from the series. That I won’t dispute. But I hope you get my point. I could be wrong but I don’t the U.S. version I watched being so blatantly issue based. Bert or Ernie didn’t have HIV/AIDS.
Like I said I welcomed the Sesame Square project when I 1st heard of it. Many Nigerians are celebrating it. But I’m trying to look at the bigger picture here. What are we celebrating exactly? In my opinion we are celebrating the fact that our own Nigerian broadcasters and other stake holders have not being able to produce an educational children’s vehicle that’s indigenous. We are celebrating the fact that we think so low of ourselves that we are happy when a foreign company deems it fit to recognise our existence in this manner. We are celebrating a foreign company (no matter how wonderful, well intentioned and brilliant they are) joining forces with their country’s government and literally deciding what message our children will get to see on our nationally funded TV stations. We are celebrating the fact that our government officials see nothing wrong it that whatsoever.
Here’s a quote from
Here’s more from the USAID Sesame Square page.
‘Sesame Square Nigeria will mobilize Nigeria’s major mass media outlets (e.g. television, print, and internet) to provide consistent and daily access to innovative educational programming designed to help young children be better prepared for school.
In addition, Sesame Square Nigeria will:
1.Support the mass media’s public mandate to address issues of national importance, including education, health, and hygiene practices, particularly concerning HIV/AIDS, life skills and diversity through capacity building and skills transferring;
2.Collaborate with Nigeria’s media professionals to provide access to educational content on television and develop a complementary community outreach initiative;
3.Develop a multi-media implementation approach that links informal education and targets preschool aged children to better prepare them for the transition into the formal school system; and
4.Mobilize parents and caregivers to engage in their children’s educational, social, and emotional development.
Sesame Square Nigeria will work with Nigerian education and policy specialists to expand the existing educational framework that supports the National Policy on Primary Education, the Millennium Development Goals, and the Universal Basic Education Commission’s objectives in Nigeria.’
And here’s a quote from the U.S. ambassador to Nigeria:
“It is through our collaboration with Sesame Workshop and the related outreach materials that we hope to make a significant difference in improving the health, education and everyday lives of Nigerian children and their families,” said United States Ambassador to Nigeria, Terrance McCulley. “It is our hope that through the generous support of the American people, Sesame Square will help put the children of Nigeria on a positive path for a lifetime of learning and wellness.”
This might sound like a silly question but ..er..SHOULDN’T WE BE DOING THAT OURSELVES ?!?!. Are we that incapable? I mean it’s not like it’s a huge infrastructural project or anything. This is another clear case of Nigerians not getting our act together and letting others do the job for us. Are you telling me we don’t have about half a billion naira ( about $3.2 million) to spend on our children’s education? The government is going to spend between half to one billion naira just for the inauguration ceremony of our president.
So of course we do have the money. But will we spend it? Probably not. Because we don’t value ourselves and have a crazy self-destructive inferiority complex. USAID managed to coordinate these various agencies etc because they have clout and money. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for them to do. But I do know our Nigerian government officials are more receptive when the U.S. is involved compared to when a local Nigerian company or organisation is addressing them. Otherwise I can’t explain why we haven’t done something like this ourselves. And don’t start blaming colonialism for this because we have passed that stage now.
The funny thing is that the Bino and Fino Project aims to achieve similar goals that Sesame Square is aiming to and more. Of course my company doesn’t have the clout and budget of USAID. The USAID Sesame Square project lasts until 2014. So what happens then? Do we now go back to square one with a huge vacuum in our children’s educational programming? That’s what I mean by I’m looking at the long term effects of this. I have nothing against the U.S. , USAID or the Sesame Street workshop. There are just doing what they have to do on various levels. It’s us. We have to get off our behinds, stop behaving in a self destructive manner and get on with doing what we’re supposed to do. Boy that would be great when that happens in this country.
For more info about the project visit the USAID website
To find out about the Nigerian Bino and Fino Project visit our website or read other posts on this blog.