Kenyan radio station nudges capital’s youths to take heed of Covid-19 prevention guidelines

by John Masuku

When the number of Covid-19 cases began to rise dramatically in Kenya, health authorities urged communities to stay at home, observe physical distancing, get vaccinated and not go back to work. However there where major concerns that many young people, particularly in Nairobi’s poor overcrowded settlements, were not heeding the warning. In order to effectively persuade the youths in the Kenyan capital Nairobi’s informal settlements to abide by the Covid-19 regulations Radio Mtaani, a community radio station that ordinarily promotes culture and social wellbeing, teamed up with local and international partners to target young people with messages designed to nudge them to accept and embrace the government’s health alerts and guidelines. Young people, getting information from social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Twitter, are exposed to rumors, fake news, and misinformation related to the pandemic and the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

To respond to a need for reliable information, the “nudge” campaign was born. A series of radio talk shows, phone-ins and spot announcements with major poster and sticker campaigns were created with young people’s direct involvement. This approach, according to Kelvin Nyangweso, station manager of Radio Mtaani known by its Swahili name “Sauti Ya Mtaa”, or “voice of the street”, was enough to change the youth’s denial of the crisis.

“We felt that we should create messages that will directly resonate with young people in their everyday environment. after we also fully understood their dire needs and aspirations for work and regular income.”

A biker displaying an awareness sticker. Photo credit: Radio Mtaani

“The ‘nudge’ campaign engages with young people, involving and empowering them to adopt practices that will reduce the risk of getting or passing on the coronavirus. Young people have, so often, felt ignored and disenfranchised by society, that health messages haven’t been getting through to them “ added Nyangweso.

This was an opportune time to get involved positively in their future.

Nyangweso explained that in the “nudge” campaign young people are taken onboard during the production of written and broadcast content. They are able to advise what kind of messages are best suited to their understanding. Some messages are in Swahili and slang, the language youths use to communicate with each other. Before these efforts to reach out to younger audiences were made, it was difficult for younger people to embrace the initiatives of adults. Until Radio Mtaani went with them to the field to distribute posters, as well as to promote the ‘nudge’ programme with the station’s broadcast journalists, some of the station’s messages totally got lost for this age category.

One of the Radio Mtaani journalist asking why the riders not wearing masks. Photo credit: Radio Mtaani

“We’ve issued ‘bodaboda’ (rickshaw) drivers and health workers with special high visibility jackets, with positive health messages on them.Matatus (taxis) have also not been left out in the campaign” stressed Nyangweso.

The “nudge” campaign is also heavily promoted during a radio programme that runs every Wednesday morning on Radio Mtaana. It’s a segment within the early morning show featuring a health slot with a huge following. Amongst its past guests were the Nairobi county government and ministry of health officials who came to talk about different aspects of preventing the spread of the new coronavirus. Complimenting the campaign are succinct radio spots and public announcements.

In partnership with the Health Communication Resources (HCR), Radio Mtaani has organized the distribution of pamphlets which are critical in sending the right messages on care and prevention. The posters that also encourage critical radio listening are spread around areas where the youth normally have social gatherings like halls, stadiums and even street corners.

HCR’s strong values, which include promoting collaborative efforts between local service providers and the communities, blend very well with its “nudge” campaign on Radio Mtaana. Some of these values include the promotion of community involvement, participation and ownership of message production. Equally important is the integration of communication activities with on-the-ground activism.

Mtaani journalist conducting an interview with the chairman of the bodaboda riders during the “nudge” project. Photo credit: Radio Mtaani

Nyangweso is excited with the results brought about by the Radio Mtaana “nudge” campaign project.

“The impact is great. The youth are taking charge of their health. They have managed to persuade each other to follow government and World Health Organization guidelines pertaining to COVID-19 preventative measures.”

As a result of the “nudge” campaign, other initiatives have sprung up, like the provision of water tanks for hand washing and of soaps and sanitizers at an affordable cost. Young people also secured fumigation contracts at local shops and offices, having taken that drive on their own to urge other youths to follow suite and earn some income where possible while promoting much desired healthy living.

John Masuku is a Zimbabwe-based broadcast journalist/media trainer and Executive Director of Radio Voice of the People (VOP). He is a fellow of the CEU Democracy Institute’s Center for Media, Data and Society (CMDS) in Budapest, Hungary. John can be contacted at or via Twitter at @john_masuku.