The comic was launched in 2010, partly in reaction to the election violence of three years earlier. The title means ‘heroes’ in Sheng, a new youth language which mixes English, Swahili and local mother tongues, and the comic aims to educate and entertain the young people of Kenya. (See 'Reinventing Dickens for youngsters in Kenya' for more about the comic.)
As well as carrying storylines with moral messages, the comic gives advice on everything from planting maize to which documents are needed for obtaining an official ID. The print copy of the comic is distributed through the Daily Nation newspaper, but some of the target audience is reached by radio broadcasts and social media. For example, the Facebook page has more than 20,000 fans. Shujazz can also be accessed at Safaricom’s mobile money ‘M-Pesa’ kiosks.
The mobile phone company is one of the key supporters of Shujazz, which is also funded by the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), USAID and many other groups. Two-fifths of its funding comes from the commercial sector, though the consultancy behind Shujazz, Well Told Story, would like more commercial backers.
With the next national election scheduled this year, Shujazz is now running storylines about political violence. So for example, in one story, its main character, DJ Boyie, a 19 year-old boy who can’t find work and runs a pirate radio station from his bedroom, sees two women trading tribal insults at each other in the street. In response, Boyie decides he can’t just ignore what’s happened and contacts a hotline to report hate speech. The idea behind the hotline is that it enables young people to take action if they believe any situation in a specific location or among certain tribes is getting out of hand.
For the creators of Shujazz, it’s vital that story lines help Kenyan society by enlightening and empowering young people. However, they are also keen to make the Shujazz stories and characters entertaining, hoping to expand the reach of Shujazz to 10 million Kenyans in the future and a million comics each month. The Shujazz producers are extremely proud of the International Digital Emmy they won in Cannes last April. Speaking to The Guardian, the head of Well Told Story said the award was “the most exciting thing” for the team, because it wasn’t given for their development work, but for “the quality of the story”.