Eugene Anangwe has cultivated a reputation for station-hopping, having had stints at most of the major broadcast houses in Kigali, both radio and TV.
He has cultivated another parallel reputation and distinction on account of the way he pronounces the name Anangwe at the beginning of his broadcasts.
I asked him why he calls himself “Arrr-nangwe” while on air and here was his response:
“Let me tell you this; there are a lot of good journalists and reporters in this country but I don’t know why they don’t feel proud of themselves and what they do. It starts there. You can’t go to the field to report a story and you don’t express self belief. You’ve got to impose your presence and that is drawn from the confidence you have -knowing at the back of your mind that whatever you’re doing is actually the right thing.”
He explains that the name bears a special meaning to him:
“I’m super happy and proud of my name. Anangwe is from Western Kenya. My grandfather is called Anangwe and the name has had different interpretations -one of them is the son of a leopard because ngwe is a leopard and we all know the characteristics of a leopard -it’s fierce and vicious and doesn’t fear anything. That is why I always try to live by my name whether it’s on air or whether I’m MC-ing at a corporate event.
So for me, how I say my name is just a way of rubber stamping or putting a signature that I’m here and it’s me who did it and it’s me you’re watching. For anybody or anything, identity is very key. Even as a country, Rwanda has some things it does that make it stand out and that one can identify the country with. This should also apply to us.”
About three months ago, Anangwe left his previous job at Royal TV to take up new responsibilities at the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA): He produces and hosts the popular ‘In Focus talk show’ that runs on Sunday nights from 9:00 pm.
But RBA is not a new work address for him, in a broadcast career that has seen Anangwe serve stints at a handful of local TV and radio stations. He is just returning to familiar territory.
Eugene hails from Kenya, from where his broadcast career started off with a stint at a radio station called Maumini FM.
In 2008, he came to Kigali to work at Contact FM, which was still setting up structures and building capacity then.
“Contact FM brought me here and a team of other young journalists from Kenya -it was to come and help pioneer the English news broadcasts on the station and I’m so proud that we did a good job,” he explains:
“Before that, people used to rely on the Voice of America and BBC to know what is happening in Rwanda in English. But starting English news broadcasts on Contact FM now gave reason for Rwandans to tune in to local media for local news in English.”
He worked briefly at the station before another opportunity presented itself at TV 10, the first privately owned TV station in the country.
“Again my duty was to play that pioneering role alongside the team that was there. I was among the team that pioneered the English news.
After TV 10, I went back to Contact FM and for me this was testimony that you should never burn bridges. You can have differences with your employer, but never burn bridges because the moment you burn that bridge you’ll never be able to cross back there whenever you need something.”
At Contact FM he was among the team that was in charge of starting Contact TV.
“I trained many young media practitioners who after the failure of Contact TV to start then, went on to work at other media houses and I’m happy and proud of them.”
But things didn’t work out at Contact FM as expected so he went back to Rwanda Television, in 2013.
“At RTV it was again working on something that had never been seen before -Debate 411, a show where I brought people and they agreed to disagree on live TV, and national TV at that,” he explains.
“Then Royal TV came as this new baby that needed help from someone who had been on the local media terrain for quite some time. That is how they approached me with a request to have Debate 411 on their station. And that was possible because the show was my concept and it was my own production so I owned all the rights to it.”
He reveals that the decision to quit RBA at the time was not easy:
“I remember having this conversation with the Director General Arthur Asiimwe and the head of Television, Kennedy Munyangeyo and it was one of my most difficult moments because I had cultivated a very personal relationship with Asiimwe when he took me in, so this felt like betrayal as I was leaving at very short notice.”
Thanks to his personal mantra of not burning bridges, Anangwe found himself back in the welcoming hands of RBA. He now describes himself as “a full time employee of RBA.
“Apart from producing and moderating the In Focus talk show, I’m also part of the newsroom where I contribute to the news. I do news features for the news department and when there are special events happening in the country I’m also a special correspondent on the ground doing live reporting, commentary and panel discussions.”
As a talk show host he has had the opportunity to interview the high and mighty in political and governance circles, diplomats and celebrities alike.
Two weeks ago, he had one of the more spectacular panels on his In Focus talkshow -one that he admits drew more online views in a short time than any other show he has hosted before:
The debate revolved around the recent hike in prices for gorilla tracking permits from the previous $ 700 to $ 1,500, announced by the Rwanda Development Board on May 6. On the panel was RDB CEO Clare Akamanzi, and Davidson Mugisha, a local tour operator and proprietor of Wildlife Tours Rwanda.
These were joined by Amos Wekesa, a Ugandan tour operator and CEO of Great Lakes Safaris and Uganda Lodges Ltd; and Carmen Nibigira from the East African Tourism Platform. The two flew in from Kampala and Nairobi respectively, and specifically for the gorilla permit debate.
It was perhaps the first time that a local broadcaster had stringed together panelists travelling from so far and so wide just to be on a live show.
“A lot was going on in social media but the conversations were not conclusive. RDB CEO Claire Akamanzi spent a lot of time receiving invites to radio stations and media houses to explain this issue but I was like that is not enough;
What if we bring all the players on board and have that conversation? At least every panelist had a different take on the issue, and not just that but also tried to suggest solutions.”
Anangwe admits he was overwhelmed by the feedback that kept pouring in from the region and beyond:
“That is part of the reason I actually started these talk shows; so that we can start our own narrative as a country so that whoever writes reports about lack of freedom of expression in the country can have something to be referred to. And it happened on national TV, where ten or fifteen years ago you would never have heard of such a thing. The kind of shows that I do are out to demystify that notion of lack of freedom of expression and lack of a space for debate.”
Once a juggler between the radio and TV airwaves, Anangwe has since dropped the former to concentrate on the latter:
“I miss radio and hope to be back on it one time. Radio for me is where it all started. I used to record my voice on my father’s cassettes and I loved reading out loudly in literature class. I’ve had some offers to do once-a-week shows but haven’t taken up any yet.”
With such a proven track record of station-hopping I ask him how long it will be before he changes station frequency;
“Let me set the record straight and make things clear on this issue,” he starts:
“I had misunderstandings with my former employer and RBA graciously welcomed me back although I know it wasn’t easy for them because there were loyalty and trust issues. The question was, could I be trusted again?
But is was really good that it happened because I learnt my lessons and today I can say I’ve found the final home for me and my content. Based on the nine years I’ve spent in Rwanda as a media practitioner, I’ve told myself that this is it. Here in Rwanda it is Rwanda TV and no other media house. This is something that I’ve committed myself to, that I’m now part and parcel of RBA. I know people who might start new stations and ask me to be a part of it, but it will not happen. I’ve learnt my lessons. All along this is what I’ve been doing -helping stations to start up, building capacity and opening up new frontiers. I feel it’s time for me to settle and also build my career as well.”
With a sizeable following of fans, Anangwe is already looking at the kind of legacy he wants to leave behind:
As he celebrates ten years of his broadcast journalism career in Rwanda in March next year, Anangwe will be launching the Anangwe Mentorship Program, “to mentor others and groom the next generation of journalists who will take over from us.”
“I had a mentor called Sputnik Kilambi that has since died. She was the one who actually spotted my talent back in Nairobi and she’s the one who actually brought me here. So it’s important that I provide mentorship to other people as well.
I will call upon interested people, they send me mail and state why they would want to be part of the mentorship program, and specific areas they want to be mentored on. Those areas where I’m not able to mentor, I have friends in the industry that will step in. I want to launch it and give back to society.”