The XYZ Show has always been trying to show the politicians for who they are," one writer says." />
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In Kenya, Political Puppets Give Voice To Satire

In this screengrab, three puppets debate one another on The XYZ Show's presidential debate, which aired in February. (YouTube)

Kenyans go to the polls Monday to pick a new president. The last election, in 2007, was followed by weeks of tribal violence, in some cases orchestrated by politicians themselves. This time around, one of the presidential candidates is accused of war crimes and many are accused of land grabbing and corruption.

The XYZ Show, Kenya's version of The Daily Show, is making it all a laughing matter. The TV show uses puppets to poke relentless fun of Kenyan politicians. While fueled by the public's frustration, the show is also an example of the free speech the citizens have not always had.

In the mock XYZ Show presidential debate in February, which aired the night before the real presidential debate in Kenya, the puppet moderator asked pointed factual questions. The moderator prods the character of presidential candidate Raila Odinga about the doubling of interest rates during his time as prime minister.

But the puppet politicians never answer the questions asked. They just give speeches.

"I think you should not ask what Raila has done as prime minister of this country," the Odinga puppet replies. "But rather ask yourself what you will do for Raila when he becomes the president of this republic!"

Jon Stewart once described the writers' room at The Daily Show as "a gathering of curmudgeons expressing frustration and upset."

In the writers' room of The XYZ Show, there is a lot more frustration than humor. The week of the presidential debate, staff writer and music producer Julian Macharia spent a few minutes ripping the real event.

"The questions from the public, for pete's sake, 'What will you do for our teachers?' I felt like saying, what? How about ask, 'What happened to the last three promises?' " he says.

Head writer Lily Wanjiku says the greed is "out of control."

"The news makes me angry," she says.

Macharia says The XYZ Show isn't just trying to make fun of political leaders. It's trying to cut them down to size in a country where politicians are so exalted that corruption can be seen as an entitlement of office.

"For me, I think we need to reduce the aura of politicians," he says. "People need to appreciate they're actually working for you. They're at the level of any other civil servant."

That means he's not above having politicians dance "Gangnam Style" in celebration of their luxury lifestyle or making the president rap in a Lil Wayne parody about the nearly $12 million exit package he awarded himself. The show also aired an "If Kenya Was Perfect" episode, where all the major political candidates and leaders are thrown in The Hague, seat of the International Criminal Court.

If there is one thing Macharia does give his president credit for, it's for not tossing him in jail for all these jokes.

"The one thing definitely [President Mwai Kibaki] has created is freedom of the press," he says. "To get to seven seasons — not one of us has ever been arrested or called in for questioning."

XYZ's sister show in South Africa was banned from the air. In many countries, satirists wouldn't dare try.

"I mean, the things I'm able to do with the politicians! I would say it's a true verbal democracy," he says. "You really can say whatever you want. People don't fear anymore, not like before."

They may not be afraid of speaking out, but there is still a lot of fear around Monday's presidential election.

One of the candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta, is not only leading in the polls, he's also facing charges of war crimes at the International Criminal Court. Kenyatta is accused of organizing a campaign of violence in 2008, including murder and rape, against supporters of rival Odinga.

Now, he and Odinga are neck-and-neck in Monday's contest.

"From my perspective, The XYZ Show has always been trying to show the politicians for who they are," Macharia says.

He says if someone were given money by a stranger and told to fight for their community, they would see it as a crime.

"But if it's a politician, I don't know why, they see it suddenly as self-defense," he says. "You know, attack before you are attacked."

Macharia won't be voting in the election; he's abstaining out of contempt. But he says he hopes The XYZ Show helps Kenyans take their leaders a little less seriously.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

A music video produced by The XYZ Show features puppets of Kenyan politicians singing "Gangsta Style," a remix of Psy's "Gangnam Style."
In another parody, the show criticizes President Kibaki Moi's $12 million exit package. He raps in a version of Lil Wayne's "Make It Rain."
Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tomorrow, Kenyans go to the polls to pick a new president. The last election in 2007 was followed by weeks of tribal violence, in some cases orchestrated by politicians themselves. This time around, at least one of the presidential candidates is accused of war crimes, and several of them of land grabs and corruption.

So, how do you make any of this funny? That's the task for writers of the "XYZ" show, Kenya's version of "The Daily Show." It uses puppets to poke relentless fun at Kenyan politics.

And as NPR's Gregory Warner reports, the role of political satire in Kenya may be more fraught and more important than ever before.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: The candidates stand behind the dais. The moderator fires tough questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF "XYZ: THE SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: When you were finance minister and the interest rates - oh, my God - the interest rates on loans went up by double digits. How is going to be different this time around? Come on, tell me.

WARNER: But this is a mock debate aired on "The XYZ" show the night before the real presidential debate in Kenya. The politicians and the moderator are played by latex puppets. They look like editorial cartoons come to life. And they never answer the questions asked. They just make speeches.

(SOUNDBITE OF "XYZ: THE SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I think you should not ask what Raila has done as prime minister. But rather ask yourself what you will do for Raila when he becomes the president of this republic.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Really...

WARNER: Jon Stewart once described the writer's room at "The Daily Show" as a gathering of curmudgeons expressing frustration and upset.

Curmudgeonism isn't really a Kenyan trait but in the writers' room of "The XYZ" show, there's a lot more frustration than funny. Here the writer Julian Mucharia ripping the real presidential debate which had just happened that week.

JULIAN MUCHARIA: Then the questions from the public, for Pete's sake, what will you do for our teachers? I felt like saying, what? How about ask, what happened to the last three promises? Just ask what you should ask.

(LAUGHTER)

WARNER: Lily Wanjiku is head writer.

LILY WANJIKU: Yeah, it always makes me angry.

WARNER: What, the news?

WANJIKU: Yeah, the news makes me angry.

WARNER: What made her the most angry this year was when the outgoing Kenyan president, Mwai Kibaki, awarded himself a $12 million dollar exit package.

WANJIKU: The greed is so out of control. That's the thing that upsets me the most.

(SOUNDBITE OF "XYZ: THE SHOW")

LIL' WAYNE: (Rapping) I make it rain. I make it rain...

MUCHARIA: So we did a spoof of a Lil' Wayne Song, "Make it Rain." Yeah?

(SOUNDBITE OF "XYZ: THE SHOW")

WAYNE: (Rapping) I make it rain in...

WARNER: In the music video, the puppet playing President Kibaki dances around with fistfuls of cash and a golf club. And occasionally raps.

(SOUNDBITE OF "XYZ: THE SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Rapping) Now why is everybody so mad at Kibaki for? Is it Kibaki Highway that you're mad for...

WARNER: Julian Mucharia says with this video he's not just trying to make fun of the president. He's trying to cut him down to size in a country where politicians are so exalted that corruption is seen as an entitlement of office.

MUCHARIA: For me I think we need to reduce the aura of politicians. People need to appreciate they're actually working for you. They're at the level of any other civil servant. So, yeah, I mean, let them just do their job just like you're doing your job.

WARNER: And it's not just the president. At the end of the video, a bunch of politicians show up.

(SOUNDBITE OF "XYZ: THE SHOW")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Rapping) You can't just make it rain and leave us out. Make it rain in our pockets as well.

WARNER: If there is one thing Mucharia does give his president credit for, its for not tossing him in jail.

MUCHARIA: The one thing definitely Kibaki has created is freedom of press - to get to seven seasons, not one of us has ever been arrested or called in for questioning.

WARNER: Their sister show in South Africa was banned off the air. And in most African countries you wouldn't dare try.

MUCHARIA: I mean the things I'm able to do with the politicians I would say it's a true verbal democracy. I mean, you really can say whatever you want. People don't fear anymore, not like before.

WARNER: They may not be afraid of speaking out but there is a lot of fear around tomorrow's presidential election. One of the candidates, Uhuru Kenyatta, is not only leading in the polls, he's also facing charges of war crimes from the International Criminal Court, accused of organizing a campaign of violence in 2008, including murder and rape against supporters of his rival Raila Odinga. Now he and Odinga are neck and neck in tomorrow's contest.

MUCHARIA: From my perspective "The XYZ" show has always been trying to show the politicians for who they are because, you would - funny enough - if a stranger came and paid you money and told you to go fight for your community, someone would see that as a criminal activity. But if it's a politician, I don't know why they see it suddenly as self-defense. You know, attack before you are attacked.

WARNER: Julian Mucharia won't be voting in tomorrow's election. He's abstaining out of contempt. But he hopes that "The XYZ" show helps Kenyans take their leaders a little less seriously. It could be a matter of life and death.

Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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