A national organization spearheading the fight against HIV/AIDS in Kenya has yanked a television advertising campaign—funded in part by U.S. taxpayers—after Christian groups and others complained that the spots promoted immorality and degraded family values.
In the spot, broadcast over major channels in the East African nation during commercial breaks until it was pulled in March, two Kenyan women walk to a market and linger over vegetables, talking about their families. One complains that she is tired of putting up with her alcoholic husband who does not satisfy her sexually. She confesses she has a lover on the side, who even has a name in the ad, Mbugua. Her friend advises her to always use condoms with Mbugua—leading to the campaign slogan “Weka Condom Mpangoni” or “include a condom in your planning” in Swahili.
The message is clear: The woman’s mpango wa kando, or illegitimate partner, is loving and caring, and the commercial spot ends with a voiceover encouraging women to “always carry a condom.”
The last screen shows a prominent display of the campaign’s sponsors: USAID and UKAid. UKAid is the acronym for the British government’s Department for International Development, and USAID is the U.S. Agency for International Development, an independent government agency that falls loosely under the auspices of the State Department.
It’s not the first time for either agency to spend money on controversial messages in Kenya. UKAid was implicated in Kenya’s runaway Anglo Leasing scandal for contributing funds—as much as $1 billion—over years in the early 2000s used to pay kickbacks to top government officials. And USAID got in trouble when its own internal audit showed the agency spent $23 million to assist political organizations inside Kenya during the country’s 2010 constitutional referendum. Both agencies also assisted in an earlier HIV/AIDS campaign titled “Mpango wa Kando,” or simply “illegitimate partner.”
But this is the first time Kenya’s religious leaders have complained about Western interference and won. Church groups and others launched a Facebook page called “Kenyans Against the ‘Weka Condom Mpangoni’ Campaign Advert.” The page drew assorted groups who insisted, “Fighting HIV/AIDS should not be justified by promoting infidelity.”
The campaign, said Joyce Otieno, a wife and mother of one, “promotes cheating because it allows us to be comfortable as long as one feels safe protecting oneself from HIV, yet compromising moral standards.” Others said the TV ads devalued the institution of marriage and encouraged immorality, and their outcry spread via social media.
In addition to USAID and UKAid, Kenya’s ministry of public health and sanitation supported the campaign, through one of its agencies, The National AIDS and STDs Control Programme (NASCOP). Population Services International, a U.S.-based global health NGO and government-supported contraceptive supplier well-known for supporting pro-abortion policies at the UN (and for ubiquitous billboards in Africa advertising condoms), helped to develop the message of the campaign.
Though the advertisements ran for weeks on national television, the Anglican Church was the first to formally challenge the campaign. Anglican Church of Kenya Bishop Julius Kalu said the advertisement openly agitates for extramarital affairs and sex among school-aged children. “There are better ways of passing useful information to the society. It creates immorality, especially when members of families are gathered around television sets waiting to watch news,” he said, and warned, “It better be removed.” Once others joined in his protest, opposition and outcry grew, eventually forcing NASCOP to withdraw the spots.
Peter Cherutich, head of NASCOP, maintains that Kenyans are avoiding reality. Research shows that as married people grow older, they have other sexual partners, he said: “We are just becoming realistic and addressing the problem as it is, we cannot bury our heads in the sand.” Cherutich said that a survey had shown that between 20 percent and 30 percent of married couples had other sexual partners, yet a majority of them did not use condoms.
Those who agree with Cherutich say HIV/AIDS prevalence is on the rise again, especially among married people, and thus health officials need to encourage safe sex by use of condoms. “A sick person must accept he or she is sick for the doctor to prescribe any medication,” said Kenyan Austin Adrians.
According to the UN, around 1.6 million people out of Kenya’s population of 41.6 million were living with HIV by 2011. The Kenya AIDS epidemic “UPDATE 2012” report shows that while steady progress has been made in scaling back effects of the AIDS epidemic, a worrying trend in new infections is on the rise: More than 44 percent of all new HIV infections are occurring in stable or long-term relationships, including marriages.
In Washington, USAID spokesman Raphael Cook told WORLD that statistic is what led to targeting married couples in the “Weka Condom Mpangoni” campaign. Cook said the publicity drive is part of a larger, three-year, $36-million program funded by USAID. Despite recent setbacks, he said USAID plans to continue to work with Kenyan health officials to reduce new HIV infections, and that the campaign “is targeted primarily at those people who, despite knowing the risks of engaging in concurrent sexual relationships, have made a decision to continue with them.” He said after deciding to suspend the broadcasts, NASCOP officials are “now working with USAID to fine-tune their messages.”
One of Kenya’s lead organizations in the fight to control the spread of HIV/AIDS, the National AIDS Control Council, says it will call a meeting to consider different views and come up with a common position on how to promote condom use as a means of preventing HIV infections. Religious leaders, the council said, will be consulted and involved in the repackaging of the controversial TV condom advertisement. Cherutich said that NASCOP too would like to partner with church leaders by having them teach their members to protect themselves from HIV/AIDS by being faithful to their partners and for those who are not able to be faithful, to use condoms while having sex. —with reporting by J.C. Derrick in Washington, D.C.