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At a glance: Niger

UNICEF-supported soap opera raises awareness about HIV/AIDS in Niger

UNICEF Image: Soueba
© UNICEF Niger/2008/Cabanes
Actress Amy Koïta, starring as the lead character in the new Nigerien soap opera 'Soueba', with director Mahaman Souleymane. 'Soueba' aims to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in the country.

By Sandra Bisin

NIAMEY, Niger, 15 July 2008 – HIV/AIDS is an issue that is rarely talked about in Niger’s conservative society. In August, in an effort to bring the issue to the forefront, Niger will launch its first ever soap opera about young people living in a world affected by the AIDS pandemic.

A joint project of Niger’s Broadcasting Corporation (ORTN) and UNICEF, the programme, titled 'Soueba', is a compelling serial drama that focuses on the lives of young people in Niamey, Niger’s capital. It follows their journey into adulthood, while exploring love, sex, betrayal and the realities of HIV/AIDS. With 'Soueba', UNICEF and its partners hope to use the soaring popularity of soap operas in West Africa to spread their message.

The series recently taped its first episodes in an open-air venue booked for the occasion in Niamey. The packed house quickly overcame their unease about the subject matter and became enthralled as the stories of the lives of the main characters – Soueba, Lamine, Safi and Balla – unfolded.

“There is no doubt 'Soueba' will become a hit show in Niger. It engages young people because it deals with issues that affect them on a daily basis,” says Ramatou Sabou, a 21-year-old journalism student. “We really need a soap opera like this to inform young people about HIV/AIDS, because there are still people in Niger who believe that HIV/AIDS does not exist.”

Stopping taboos

AIDS is a harsh reality in most countries of West and Central Africa, where hundreds of thousands of young people are living with the disease. But the taboos surrounding the disease have persisted.

© UNICEF Niger/2008/Cabanes
Nigerien actors Fanta Mahamadou and Moctar Moumouni with director Mahaman Souleymane, from the UNICEF-supported soap opera Soueba.

“Here, parents turn a blind eye to the problem. They are afraid to tell their children how to protect themselves against the disease for fear it may encourage them to engage in improper behaviours,” says actor Fanta Mahamadou.

“Soueba is more than an entertainment. Our aim with Soueba is to stop the taboo around HIV/AIDS, decrease the stigma towards people living with the disease, encourage positive attitudes and improve prevention behaviours,” says Director Mahaman Souleymane.

UNICEF Niger Communication for Development Specialist Idimama Kotoudi is well aware of the importance of teaching HIV prevention to the programme’s young audience.

“Improving prevention behaviours is a critical issue. According to a recent study conducted by UNICEF in Niger, only 16 per cent of young men and 13 per cent of young women know how to protect themselves against sexually-transmitted diseases,” says Mr. Kotoudi.

Actors as role models for change

Soueba is poised to become one of Niger’s most watched and discussed television programs. A pilot episode of the series was pre-tested among 50 young people in 2006, leading to the production of the full series.

“Most young actors in the soap opera will become role models for Niger’s youth. If positive messages about HIV/AIDS are carried by young people, it will reach out to young viewers all over the country, be understood and accepted, and eventually effect change in people’s attitudes,” says Moctar Moumouni, who stars as 'Lamine' in the series.

Soueba will be broadcast weekly on Niger’s national television, Télé Sahel, starting in August 2008. A 90-minute film of the soap opera is also in production.



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