His experiences as a passionate actor are apparent in his LbE radio dramas. With a puppet show he talks about issues that are other wise taboo in Africa.
Chrispin Mwakideu works for DW's English for Africa department. He takes on different roles here, too – as moderator, editor and planner. Chrispin writes radio dramas for the educational project Learning by Ear. This DW series is very popular among young audiences in Africa. Chrispin gets inspiration and story ideas from puppet shows.
Raised in Kenya, he couldn't remain silent in the face of the problems and abuses he observed. He has explored the questions that preoccupied him as a child through puppet theater.
The passion for puppet theater grew in the mid-1990s, when traditional puppet shows underwent a revival in Africa. People used them to dramatize problems that could not be expressed in words. Those included diseases such as AIDS and malaria, the environment, people with disabilities, human rights and democracy. African media did not go near these topics.
"In Africa, it is dangerous to criticize the political elite or the government. Puppet theater makes it easier. You can address different themes and portray people through different figures. When a play is critical, you can always say, 'That wasn't me; that was the puppet!' That's why puppet theater is so popular: You can protest with it."
Chrispin has also done puppet theater in Europe. At a 2002 festival in Nairobi, he was invited to Belgium. But Europe received him coolly: "I had a hard time getting along in Belgium, with the cold weather, the people – who were unfriendly at first sight – and the cold food."
The journey went on and in 2003 he went to Poland. Two years later, he began his studies. Puppet theater accompanied him. Chrispin found partners for his shows. They worked together on social topics. And Chrispin continued to participate in festivals and visited almost the entire world.
"In every country, puppet theater has a different character. When preparing for a festival, I always change the story a bit to accommodate the country's quirks and to weave in some words from the local language. But the action and my stories stay the same."
Chrispin started to work for DW in 2008, making Germany the center of his life for the first time. During his long time away from Africa, he integrated more and more into European society – and lost some of the connection to his native continent. Chrispin tries to counteract the trend by staying in touch with puppet artists in Africa. He has also found a new way to bring attention to problems and hardships in Africa – Learning by Ear.
Learning by Ear is an educational program for young Africans that is produced and broadcast in Amharic, English, French, Hausa, Kiswahili and Portuguese. Radio dramas and a mix of stories and features explore important themes such as HIV, human rights, democracy and conservation.
Text: Elena Isayenko
Edited by: Adelheid Lucas
Translated by: Wesley Rahn