Fighting the Elephant in the Room

Fighting the Elephant in the Room:  The Case of Weka Condom Mpangoni Campaign
By Felister Makandi
Last month national AIDS and STI control programme (NASCOP) found itself in a tight spot due to a condom advert it was sponsoring. The advert dubbed “weka condom mpangoni” in English translated as “include condom in the plan” starts with two women having a casual conversation as they walk to the market. The two discuss about their families and one complains about her drunkard husband who is not living up to his duties.  She says she is happy with her new found love who works in the same market and she is comfortable with the arrangement. The other lady asks if they use condoms with the other man after noticing the lover in question is speaking to a younger woman. She then continues to advice her friend to use condoms with a new found boyfriend to protect her loved ones because there are many diseases out there.
The advert happened to be aired frequently at prime time and Kenyans would rather not watch it at that time. Religious leaders and some members of the society complained the advert was an insult to the institution of marriage and it was propagating immorality. The negative reactions left NASCOP with no other choice but to withdraw the advert. The debate took centre stage in many media platforms and as I sat in traffic I couldn’t help but listen to the heated discussions in a call in session in one of the local fm stations. Men and women alike called and gave their opinions about the advert and one thing came up. Most of the callers said that the advert would influence women to indulge in extra marital affairs and that the advert was an insult to the institution of marriage. I could not believe that this is what an HIV prevention advert had been reduced to: A toolkit for unfaithfulness.
Kenyans must be enlightened that in the fight against HIV/AIDS we all have to remain vigilant. That is why Kenyans need to face the following facts. Firstly, an HIV/AIDS study in 2009 showed that about half of new HIV infections occur in marriage. Secondly, the infection rates are much higher for women than men. Thirdly, both married men and women engage in extra marital affairs. These facts justify the move by NASCOP to sponsor the advert although I believe a better time would have been chosen other than the prime time to air the advert. Yes there is the question of what our children may learn from it but let us not lose track here. This advert is a wakeup call telling us something needs to be done. Religious leaders should understand that people dying of HIV are part of their congregations same as those having extra marital affairs. The best they can do is face the issue forthright and preach good morals.
This advert was not meant to encourage women to engage in extra marital affairs, but it was used to give women education and access of information in order for them to make free and informed sexual and reproductive health choices. We can preach “wacha mpango wa kando” but not everyone can heed to that advice.  For the purpose of inclusion it is important to understand that no one should be left out in fighting HIV/AIDS and that is why the advert was designed for those who would not heed the advice. We live in a patriarchal society and that is why Kenyans have formed stereotypes such as it only men who engage in extra marital affairs therefore they are the only ones entitled to a “wacha mpango wa kando” advert. The duty of using a condom should not be left to men alone but women too should be included. It is everybody’s duty to preach safe sex and HIV/AIDS awareness.
What are your thoughts on this? Should the advert have been pulled out?
Felister Makandi is an Intern at the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET). You can connect with her on twitter @makandigitonga and email

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