Bringing Kenyan soap operas to Africa

Alison Ngibuini hopes her company's soap operas will help put Kenyan television on the global TV market

Alison Ngibuini owns a communication company that aims to make engaging Kenyan soap operas to compete with dominant foreign imports - and put Kenyan television firmly on the African map.

She launched Al Is On Productions in 2003, after having studied marketing and hotel management, and worked in advertising.

"I started off working as an assistant in an ad agency. At the time we were just doing TV commercials and I thought 'I want to go into this a bit more,'" she told the BBC series African Dream.

Start Quote

At the back of my mind I've always been really upset with the amount of Mexican and foreign television on our screens”

End Quote Alison Ngubuni

Ms Ngibuini said that she started with a very small capital that she had saved from her previous employment.

"I've been that person who was taught to save, even a shilling put it aside," she said.

Many of her initial clients were people who knew her from the advertising agency.

"I had a mobile phone and a computer. Those were the two basic things that I felt I needed at the time," the entrepreneur explained.

"I used to run my company from home and now we've grown and currently I have a studio running with over a hundred people who go through he doors every day."

'University challenge'

Ms Ngibuini says it was not easy at the beginning, but she was determined not to go back into employment.

Alison Ngibuini

Alison Ngibuini
  • Age: 37
  • Studied marketing and hotel management
  • Worked for an advertising agency
  • Started Al Is On Productions in 2003
  • Her company has 22 full time employees plus many freelancers
  • Main shows produced by her company: Zain Africa Challenge, Siri, Mali

"It's hard but you've just got to have the resilience of focusing on what it is that you want and getting it, and I'm that sort of a person. When I focus on something I get it," she said.

Her company, which is based in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, still makes commercials for it is a quick way of making money and keeping the company going.

"The beauty also of what I do is the fact that you actually can start your business with nothing. When you come to me to do a TV commercial, you need to pay 50% so I can use your money to do the commercial," she said.

However, her real passion is for television programmes made locally, for a local audience.

Her first success was with a programme - inspired by the BBC show University Challenge - called the Zain Africa Challenge, which involved students from eight countries.

At the same time, she ventured into drama with an education-entertainment series called Siri, which means "secret" in Swahili, set in a tea plantation.

It deals with reproductive health issues, HIV and the position of women.

Pan-African

At the moment her company is recording Mali, "wealth" in Swahili, a drama about what happens when the patriarch of a family dies and would-be heirs start popping up.

Alison Ngibuini (right) at work Alison Ngibuini says she likes the emotion her work evokes in people

It will be Kenya's first soap opera filmed completely in a studio.

"At the back of my mind I've always been really upset with the amount of Mexican and foreign television on our screens.

"I sort of thought, you know, what is it, why are you trying to tell us - as broadcasters - that Kenyans don't want to see Kenyans on the screen, that we are so razzmatazzed by the Mexicans, the Spanish, the Nigerians, that we really don't have our own to showcase on the screen?"

Ms Ngibuini said that with Mali she wants to tell "an African story that is different, that can travel across the continent".

Start Quote

For me is just so uplifting, that I'm able to change people's lives”

End Quote Alison Ngibuini

She believes that many people in different parts of Africa will be familiar with the issues raised by the series.

"I came from a very polygamous family. My grandfather had like 11 to 12 wives. My own father had two. I also grew up in a very dynamic household," she said.

Her greatest satisfaction, she says, is to be able to make people laugh and cry.

"Most of my dramas have been a lot on HIV. I think when I meet people and people want to confide and say, 'Look, how do I reveal to my husband that I'm HIV positive? I saw it on your show', that for me is just so uplifting, that I'm able to change people's lives. You know, it's beautiful."

Ms Ngibuini pointed out that she also takes pleasure in collaborating with people in the television industry and helping others, from directors to scriptwriters and actors.

"I try to do my bit because I can't be alone up there. It's about an industry. It's bigger than Alison.

"It's about creating jobs. It's about everybody benefiting. It's a space that hasn't been tapped. It's got such a great potential."

African Dream is broadcast on the BBC Network Africa programme every Monday morning, and on BBC World News throughout the day on Fridays

Every week, one successful business man or woman will explain how they started off and what others could learn from them.

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