Siri ya Mtungi - Made for Television, Made for Tanzania

The decision to create a high-quality television series that speaks directly to the people of Tanzania and East Africa has the potential to revolutionize the media landscape. 

When Media for Development International (MFDI) was commissioned by The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Communication Programs (JHU•CCP) with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to produce the television series, it was the start of something much bigger than the monetary investment. 

USAID Swahili Johns Hopkins Centre for Communication Programs Media for Development International Tanzania PEPFAR

Since it was established in 2006, MFDI has become a creative hub in Dar es Salaam – giving life to the arts industry and its workers, whilst setting markers for communication of Tanzanian reality. 

Before the advent of the television series, MFDI was already operating at a high level of activity. The well-known radio series, Wahapahapa, also produced with support from the American People and broadcast for three years on Tanzanian radio, was the foundation for this artistic growth. 

During those years hundreds of actors and musicians entered the hub, now known as the Wahapahapa Studios, to participate in the production of 156 episodes of the musical radio drama. Music from that show was recorded and distributed under the Wahapahapa label. There was even a new band launched called, perhaps unsurprisingly, The Wahapahapa Band which continues to be among the most successful performing bands in Dar es Salaam.

The Siri ya Mtungi television series has taken MFDI’s output to another level. 

Not only has the project brought new skills and opportunities to actors, musicians, artists and crew who are the backbone of this textured vision of Tanzania, but the stories of the characters in this television series are drawn from a reservoir of 150 million Kiswahili speakers in East Africa.  

And thus, Siri ya Mtungi has the potential to be a touchstone, reference and talking point in the lives of thousands and perhaps millions of Tanzanians.

MFDI Country Director, John Riber, has not experienced anything like it in his long career making films and dramas, from India and Bangladesh to Zimbabwe and Tanzania. 

For Riber, the series has allowed him to combine the magic of film together with the necessity of development and the power of education.

“I discovered early in my career that what I really wanted to do was to harness the power of film as a direct intervention in the process of development or social transformation.  I wanted to use film for audiences in developing countries, making films FOR Development, as opposed to making films ABOUT Development. And that is how we approach our all work at MFDI.”

With a track record of making popular films in Africa – like Consequences, More Time, It’s Not Easy, Yellow Card and Neria – Riber’s brand has also been to “get audiences to care about the issues.”

And so, Siri ya Mtungi, as with many of the films that have gone before it, gets under the skin of characters that people already “know and love.” 

“A film like Consequences, about teenage pregnancy, that we made 25 years ago, is still being shown today. And that is because it’s about people we know. You watch that film and maybe you think: That could be me.

“With a television series like Siri ya Mtungi, we are doing something exactly the same – except it’s bigger. There are now a dozen or more characters, all with interesting lives and situations, weaving through the story.”

In the TV series, characters are facing the issues that challenge all Tanzanians. They want to know how to make their lives better. Sometimes they can; sometimes they are unable to or they just don’t know how to. 

As Riber says: “Yes, we make movies about development. But we don’t preach or hand out answers. The issues in our daily lives are complex. There are no easy answers. And that is what makes the drama.”

“We can't offer simple solutions. But we can offer stories that give hope, that show that people are not alone as they face challenges. The TV series gets behind closed doors. We see and hear the intimate side of relationships.”   

“Courage is a huge aspect of MFDI films,” Riber said. “And in Siri ya Mtungi you will find a cast of really appealing, complex characters who battle with decisions about what to do with their lives. Many find the courage to take a stand and not be victims. They are the future.”

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