In Senegal, protecting the environment isn’t exactly a concern for most people. However, a Franco-Senegalese man and his team want to change that, starting with the country’s youngest citizens. They just launched “Mia Moké”, a cartoon featuring a spunky little girl heroine who teaches kids about the environment. At the same time, Mia Moké gives African children a role model who they can identify with.
The communication agency Advise, which is based in Dakar, launched the "Mia Moké" cartoon in late September. "Moké" means "little" in Lingala, a language widely spoken across West Africa. A team of four people work on the multi-platform project which includes old-fashioned comics as well as high-tech versions that kids can explore on an iPad or tablet.
Karim Gadjigo, 50, is one of the people working on the project. Gadjigo grew up in Senegal before going to France for university. He went back to Senegal about 20 years ago to work in the communications sector.
"We wanted to create a hero for children who looks like them"
We started working on “Mia Moké” back in 2011. For us, this cartoon is a response to the pressing environmental and cultural issues that our society is facing.
First of all, we noticed that if you look at a group of kids leaving school, they all have backpacks decorated with cartoons ranging from “Dora the Explorer” to “Barbie” to “Hello Kitty”. However, you never see any kids with backpacks celebrating African heroes. For us, that raised a lot of questions about the place of the African identity within the dominant cultural models in the world. What impact does it have on children’s personal development when they grow up without little heroes who look like them?
Honestly, you can see the consequences all around. For example, I don’t think it is surprising that skin-lightening products have such a huge market in Africa. This is one reason that we decided to create a little African heroine who could help to change people’s mindsets and, eventually, contribute to progress in our society.
“People keep on throwing their rubbish on the ground”The other issue that we noticed is that people in Senegal have very little awareness about environmental issues. As in other African countries, environmental protection is not a priority. That’s why behaviour doesn’t really change — for example, people keep on throwing their rubbish on the ground. However, we want to use our little heroine to teach children about the natural world by explaining how to protect it. For example, we decided that Mia Moké would live in a village in the countryside instead of a big city. However, her hometown is special because the residents there live in harmony with their environment and have good practices like sorting their rubbish and recycling.
“We created an app about deforestation”
We’ve also created an app for tablets that talks about the issue of deforestation, which is a major problem in Senegal. At the heart of the story is a village where all the birds have disappeared. The app challenges children to solve a sort of puzzle to find out why. Through the game, they come to learn that the birds’ disappearance has to do with the charcoal production that has developed in the region, which has led to deforestation. The game is peppered with information about caring for the natural world and alternatives to charcoal. It includes lots of interactive elements, including a quiz and a karaoke where kids learn to sing songs about the environment.
Our app costs 3.99 euros on the Apple Store, and we're aware that we won’t be able to reach everyone via this channel. We’ve actually only sold about 100 subscriptions to the game in the past two months. However, it is a useful platform to help get our message out there. Moreover, there are already 50 million tablets in Africa and the number of people using them will only increase in the next two or three years.
We also launched a comic strip and colouring books that talk about the environment. We sell each of them for 2,500 CFA francs [3.81 euros]. We also created a kit to help kids plant a tree. The kit, which comes with seeds, costs 3,500 CFA francs [5.34 euros].
Four different book stores in Dakar sell these products, which are more accessible for a wider range of consumers. Some schools have bought them from us. We’ve also donated some to various organisations.
Currently, we are in the process of creating 30 episodes of a TV cartoon series as well as a video game. We are also working on two new apps for tablets about marine biodiversity and pollution, especially plastic waste. Our little animated heroine stars in all these different projects. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough money to develop an app for smartphones.
“We’d like to develop the project without being so dependent on grants”
We would like our project to be profitable, so that we don’t have to depend on grants. If it works, we’d be able to work on strengthening our ties with different associations, as well as making our products reach a larger audience.