Dr Reginald Mengi built more than just a media empire

The world is still digesting the news that the international athletics body is considering banning one of Africa’s top athletes from competing again unless she takes drugs to lower her testosterone levels.

The reigning women’s 800meter champion, Caster MokgadiSemenya lost an appeal to a decision banning her from competing with other women because her body naturally produces a lot more testosterone and thus gives her a competitive edge over other women athletes.

I must confess that the scientific bit of her saga is confusing to me now as it was back in school when the topic of genetics was being taught. What I know is that all high achieving sports personalities were naturally gifted in a way that gives them a competitive edge over the rest of us.

I hope the IAAF has thought about the precedent they are setting here. The stakes in sports keep growing and this has resulted into more scrutiny into all competitions. Look at football and its Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for example.

Closer home, the passing of Dr Reginald Mengi came as a huge blow to East Africa as a region. The Tanzanian tycoon passed away in Dubai where he had gone to seek medical treatment.

Many outside Tanzania may not have known who Mengi was besides the usual businessman and philanthropist accolade and yet Mengi owned one of the largest media conglomerates in Africa, IPP Media which runs a total of 11 newspapers, radio and television stations as well as internet properties.

He also owns Bonite Bottlers, the sole bottler of Coca-Cola products in Moshi, Tanzania as well as Kilimanjaro brand of bottled water. He built his empire starting with a pen assembly factory and when the money was indeed a lot, he was kind with it, sending so many children with heart ailments to India for treatment among other things. Building a media empire in East Africa is no mean feat and Mengi deserves all the accolades in this regard.

I have mentioned before in these pages that the business community, sometimes without knowing, shapes the concept of the East African Community. For example, Dr Mengi’s East Africa TV and Radio that used to broadcast beyond Tanzania did a lot in popularising Tanzanian music but also East African music in general.

It was through the videos on East Africa TV that many got introduced to what was then referred to as Bongo Flava with the likes of Professor Jay, Mr Blue, SaidaKaroli, Ferooz, Juma Nature, Mwana FA, A.Y and many other artistes.

The Tanzanians also got to know about music outside their borders especially when the artistes put together enough Swahili lines to keep the attention of the good folks from the land of Nyerere.

Today, the music industry in the region has grown by leaps and bounds but still the Tanzanians remain ahead of the pack. With some of their musicians like Diamond Platnumz even owning media houses of their own. It was during the peak era of EATV and EA Radio that DJs started appreciating East African music and would play it as a whole session in clubs around the region.

I know a veteran journalist who argues that you can tell a country’s development by looking at the news stand the moment you land at the airport. I had this thought when I travelled to Tanzania my first time.

I was shocked to see they had broadsheet newspapers and newspaper stands with so many titles. There were so many Kiswahili papers but also some in English. During my stay, I enjoyed reading The Guardian newspaper from Dr Mengi’s IPP stable and even got inspired to do some stories for this paper.  

Last year, Dr Mengi launched his autobiography titled, “I can, I must, I will: The Spirit of Success.” The book that essentially talks about his life’s journey and is filled with lots of words of wisdom for those finding their feet in the business world today.

In a region where the reading culture remains poor and many having to rely on oral narratives, it is really commendable when one sits down and documents things for posterity. It is always good to walk into a bookstore and find so many books by African authors.

For a man whose empire included a pen factory and several newspapers, a book at the evening of his life was quite a fitting way to sign out. It is fair to say that the old man lived a full life and left a legacy worth emulating.

May he rest in eternal peace.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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