DFID under fire for funding BBC migrant radio drama broadcast in Kenya

A Better Life Than Today cast
The cast of controversial radio drama 'Maalmo Dhaama Manta' (A Better Life Than Today). Photo: Facebook/BBC Media Action

British newspaper, The Mail on Sunday, have criticised the Department for International Development for how it spends the £12 billion in foreign aid the UK government uses to fund projects worldwide.

One of the projects which is criticised in the report is the British taxpayer funded BBC radio drama, broadcast in Kenya and Somalia, Maalmo Dhaama Manta (A Better Life Than Today), which followed the fortunes of a group of Somali youths as they try to make their way in life.

A Better Life Than Today recording
Recording ‘Maalmo Dhaama Manta’ (A Better Life Than Today). Photo: Facebook/BBC Media Action

The drama is produced by the Corporation’s charitable arm, BBC Media Action, which receives £89.8 million in handouts from the Government and has more than two million BBC Radio Somali listeners.

BBC Media ActionThe theme of Maalmo Dhaama Manta is young Somalis who dream of a better future. Set in the busy mini-market of Ileys, the audience will follow the young characters as they try to make their way in life.

Ali, a hustler, dreams of a better life in Europe to please his demanding wife – but will his business succeed? Omar is football crazy but out of control. He has given up on everything except his mother and football but has he got the discipline to become Somalia’s next sporting star?

Ugasso is beautiful, popular and ambitious. Will she live happily ever after like the characters in the Turkish soaps she watches on television or are there dark clouds on her horizon?

Controversially, in one episode, when a female character is considering making the illegal journey into Europe, she is told: “This current time is the best opportunity to reach Europe… when the seas are calm. All in all, migration can change your life.”

However, other characters do warn of the potential dangers of the journey, with one declaring: “People should honestly forget considering this terrible journey that jeopardises their lives.”

Similarly, other characters in the drama do warn against illegal migration, but a constant theme running throughout the programme is the allure of a more prosperous new life in Europe. However, the BBC and the Foreign Office have insisted that the purpose of the programme was specifically to dissuade people from migrating.

“If the BBC have been involved in a UK Government-backed programme which has in some way encouraged emigration to the UK and Europe from Africa, that would be seen as highly inappropriate with the current migrant crisis.” – Conservative MP, Andrew Bridgen

An audience poll asked the listening audience to decide whether or not they thought  one central character should migrate resulted in a vote against making the journey.

BBC Media Action drama recording
BBC Media Action drama being recorded. Photo: Facebook/BBCMediaAction

Responding to the Mail on Sunday report, a Government spokesman said: “It is entirely wrong to suggest that this programme is urging Somalis to migrate; in fact one of its central messages is about the dangers of migration.”

A BBC Media Action spokesman said: “This drama highlighted a range of issues around the subject of migration, including the negative consequences.”

Other controversial uses of taxpayer funded foreign aid projects revealed by the Daily Mail include:

  • More than £5 million of UK money went to a US think-tank that spent £12 million on a new HQ in Washington.
  • Officials from rogue state North Korea being flown to Britain for English lessons.
  • In Gaza, thousands of civil servants whose salaries are supported by Western aid, even though they have had no jobs since 2007. Mahmoud, an accountant, said he was given more than £1,000 a month and when asked how he occupies his time, he revealed: “I just sit at home, spending time with my family. Sometimes I travel abroad to visit relatives.”
  • Music teachers were sent around the world to teach children in 17 countries songs such as Scarborough Fair.
  • Some of the £72 million sent to Palestine has been used to build a £9 million presidential palace for Mahmoud Abbas – a president whose domain is so dependent on aid that last year his Palestinian Authority had to pass an emergency budget when some was held up by Israel.

The Daily Mail have also set up a government petition to call for a reduction in the amount of foreign aid allocated by the government.

However, clearly not all the projects worldwide funded through the UK’s foreign aid budget is squandered. There are many worthwhile beneficiaries in Kenya who rely on the funding, and any cut in expenditure could jeopardise the DFID’s work in the country.

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