NAIROBI — The XYZ Show is an enormously popular political satire television show in Kenya. It has a fan base of 8 million viewers per month. The show uses puppets as caricatures of political leaders and to highlight political issues in the country. With Kenya’s general elections set for Monday, the program’s creators and crew are working overtime to satisfy their audience's craving for a good laugh.
The XYZ Show, now in its seventh season, satirizes Kenya’s politicians and other personalities using puppets. No well-known figure is spared, and right now, political candidates are being lampooned in the lead-up to next week’s election.
"People in Kenya love politics - we eat, live, sleep politics," said Brian Kyallo Msafiri, the show's director. "And especially toward an election year, that’s all people talk about. I’d say right now, the whole country is very polarized and people have taken sides and all conversations, whether on social media, on streets, on corners, in villages, is all revolving around politics.”
One of the show’s fans is Jacquie Mwai, a public relations consultant from Nairobi.
“So the humor brings in a way of softening up what we’re really thinking about these politicians, especially with all the scandals they have. It’s good to use humor to expose these people without making it tense for Kenyans, especially during this political time,” she said.
But a show that pushes boundaries and presents the country’s leaders in a less-than-positive light is bound to spark criticism.
Nevertheless, XYZ’s creator and co-producer, who goes by the name Gado, said the show's success means Kenya is moving in the right direction.
“Sometimes, yes, we’ve been threatened and we’ve been sued, threatened to be sued. I think the television [stations] we’ve worked with have received numerous complaints from politicians and threats also. This can only show you that Kenya as a democracy is growing," said Gado.
Director Msafiri believes that XYZ also is encouraging Kenyans to reflect on their responsibilities as citizens.
“The beauty also about the show is that it gives Kenyans an opportunity to look at themselves because we choose the leaders that lead this country," he said. "So when we poke fun at our leaders, in a sense we are also poking fun at ourselves because we are poking fun at the choices we make.”
The show is funded by grants from the Ford Foundation and Open Society Institute, among others.