Why East Africa Is Hooked On Telenovelas : Goats and Soda Both Latin American and homegrown telenovelas are booming in East Africa. It's a trend that reveals kinship between long-suffering countries an ocean apart.

Why East Africa Is Hooked On Telenovelas

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If you turn on a television in East Africa, you'll eventually see something like this.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) You asked for my trust, Daniel (ph). You asked for my support.

SIEGEL: That's a scene from "Yo No Creo En Los Hombres," a Mexican telenovela. It's a genre that is booming across the continent. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The offices of Dubbing Africa still very much feel like a construction site.

PASCAL KOROSO: So still under construction. We're setting up some more studios.

PERALTA: That's Pascal Koroso, whose company dubs Latin American soap operas. His company started just a few years ago with two people. Now, he's got 250 workers, and he's about to double. Across sub-Saharan Africa, he says, telenovelas have struck a nerve. Almost all cable companies now have at least one novela channel, and that means Koroso has people dubbing them 24 hours a day.

KOROSO: The themes are things that Africans identify with a lot - you know, the corrupt politician who rigged an election. You are in problem, your marriage is, you know, having a rough time. Who do you talk to? You don't - we don't know a psychologist. We know our priest (laughter).

PERALTA: Koroso says you also have to look at the economic boom taking place in Africa. People are making a ton of money right now, but the vast majority of Africans are still poor and telenovelas are aspirational.

KOROSO: Everybody aspires to be rich. Everybody aspires to move into the middle class, so these sort of stories sort of reason it in terms of people seeing something that is possible for them.

PERALTA: And really, telenovelas are everywhere you turn.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) You sold me, Mom.

PERALTA: They're on billboards, in restaurants, in government offices. This is from the Mexican soap "What Life Stole From Me."


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Your very own daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Understand me. We were about to lose everything, and I - I was very desperate, so desperate.

CAROLINA ACOSTA-ALZURU: These things resonate in cultures that have undergone historically upheavals.

PERALTA: That's Carolina Acosta-Alzuru. She studies telenovelas at the University of Georgia. She says novelas are not about their ending. Instead, they focus on drawn-out struggles. It's storytelling that thrives in the middle, that savors suffering. And so it's no surprise, she says, that they come from Latin America.

ACOSTA-ALZURU: We endure. We suffer that heartbreak. We leave the heartbreak in a very peculiar way.

PERALTA: What Acosta-Alzuru has found is that the export of telenovelas works in a cycle. They're first dubbed in a local language, and then, as countries start coming to terms with their own heartbreak, they produce their own novelas.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Move.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) Please, stop disrupting the church.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) You are disrupting this service. Who else would you be saving this seat for other than Richard Juma's second wife?

PERALTA: Dorothy Ghettuba produced "Lies That Bind," one of Kenya's most successful homegrown soap operas. It's about a magnate who dies and leaves two families fighting for his inheritance. Ghettuba says she remembers being inspired by Mexican soap operas since she was a kid. At boarding school, the girls would fill a TV room to watch "Rosa Salvaje." One time, there were so many of them sitting against a wall that the wall tumbled.

DOROTHY GHETTUBA: One girl was not very quick, so she had, like, her leg broken. She went to the hospital, like, saying, damn, I'm missing the (laughter) soap series.

PERALTA: And as a storyteller now, she realizes "Wild Rose" worked in Kenya because it was the story of urbanization.

GHETTUBA: A girl comes from the village, and she gets a job as a nanny or housemaid in a big mansion, and then hell breaks loose when she's pretty and the father of the house sees her and the beat goes on. This stuff happens.

PERALTA: Bottom line, she says, is that telenovelas work in Africa because they feel authentic. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi.


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