Guereza, a Nigerian animation studio, is developing an animated miniseries to educate children aged 6 to 12 on COVID-19 across Africa in collaboration with the African Union Africa CDC, GIZ (German Agency for International Cooperation), and CCHub, with assistance from Canadian/Iranian animation studio, Double Dot Animation. Titled Umoja, a Swahili word for unity, the miniseries is a comedy/sci-fi with a five-minute episode each.
Austin Osas, CEO of Guereza Animation, explained that in Africa, where more than 90 per cent of the population is still unvaccinated, and many people remain unaware of the effects of COVID-19, informative, pandemic-focused content for children is needed for them to educate their parents and peers.
Guereza launched in July 2019 to build a series of animated kids content focused on African stories and folklore, but the unprecedented COVID-19 tilted Guereza’s course to educating children about the pandemic.
The new miniseries, Umoja, is centred around the COVID-19 pandemic and the misinformation that accompanies its spread. Set in Kilimanjaro, Umoja tells the story of four kids, Udo, Rehema, Patra, and Arnold, who tried to stop two villains, King Pin and the Mad scientist, from spreading misinformation about the Coronavirus in their town. The lead character in Umoja is an albino, and his character will promote diversity and awareness.
On the series being sci-fi comedy, Osas said he chose that genre because humour is a way of building friendships and becoming part of a larger group. “It also helps them realise that they are part of a connected system by introducing them to real-world issues using humour,” he said. “And for sci-fi, they are going to live in a future more advanced than ours, so it is only right to prepare them for the world they are growing in and put them on the right track to independence.” Osas also mentioned that the female characters are tech-savvy, a deliberate effort to promote STEM education among girls.
Guereza Animation intends to collaborate with non-governmental organizations such as Learning Equality and Learning Life Africa, which provide services in these areas, to overcome the barrier of intermittent power supply and access to smartphones, which may be a constraint for the target population.
Although the media and countries in which the miniseries will air are not yet determined, the animation company is in discussions with major TV networks and streamers locally and internationally to make it available to a wide range of audiences. “We are also looking at broadcast opportunities with networks in Francophone and Arabic speaking countries, as the cartoon will be available in those languages,” Osas said.
Umoja isn’t the first pandemic-focused kid content Guereza Animation would be creating. Last year, at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in Africa, it produced a comic series called the “Adventures of Adunni and Lazerboy” to educate kids. This was in partnership with the African Union, Africa CDC, German Agency for International cooperation, and CCHub. The series reached millions of kids in Africa thanks to collaborations with MTN mPulse, Ubongo (edutainment platform in East Africa), STEMcafe, learning equality, Under the Same Sun Foundation (NGO catering to kids with albinism in Tanzania and East Africa), aKiddie, etc.
The five-page comic teaches kids to protect themselves by washing their hands, sneezing into their elbows, and using hand sanitiser. The comic series reached about 1.6 million users through MTN Pulse and got readers in countries like Iran. Umoja is expected to surpass this reach. The intellectual property has been acquired by a Nigerian printing/publishing business, which plans to release it as a serialized comic book with physical and digital editions to bring it to a larger audience.
Speaking about the partnership and how it feels to handle such an important project, Osas said, “It has been a great opportunity, learning of all of the great projects and services provided during these times. It also opened our eyes to the level of work they have been doing in general, and how everyday Africans are unaware of the extent to which projects undertaken by them affect their lives. We are looking at opportunities beyond this project to create more awareness about their work and educate kids on the issues they are solving.”
Written by Agbetiloye Adekunle