‘Our elders say that the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them.’ -Chnua Achebe, Things Fall Apart (1958)
When last week I published an article on an African News Network, an African Union of Broadcasting (AUB) conference was convening in Kigali.
On its closing, President Paul Kagame, as the guest of honour, revealed that the idea (of a continental network) had been brought to him before, by Dr Hamadoun Touré, former Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), who asked him to mobilise his peers to invest in the project.
The President indicated that he immediately bought the idea, assisted Dr Touré in mobilising buy-in from other African Heads of State, but it seems, the project never got off the ground, in spite of their best intentions.
I thought I’d use Chinua Achebe to complement my senior Dr. Touré, and approach this project from a business perspective and say business doesn’t wait for consensus!
And I’m glad the original idea never came through, because in this fast moving information era, a media powerhouse of global scale can simply not exist at the pace of our highly beloved African Union.
I know what you are thinking; it’s not an attack on our AU; this is true for Aljazeera and the Arab League, BBC and the EU (well, that well is poisoned already) or CNN and the Inter-America Union.
When elder Chinua Achebe says the sun will shine on those who stand, he urges those of us who are ready to get on with the job, while others catch up at their moderate pace.
Let me paint you the picture of how a joint, AU-owned media house would look like: The editor in-chief would have to be Cameroonian, the chief editor Togolese, the head of content Nigerian, the graphic designer South African and the announcer a Rwandan.
The CEO would employ only his keen, leading to a proper ‘state-capture’; Did I mention that editorials would have to be submitted to voting, and breaking news postponed due to lack of quorum?
For a cutting age, world class media house to thrive; it must be founded or run by one independent individual or a conglomerate of likeminded business personalities.
It doesn’t mean the said media wouldn’t advance collective aspirations.
Anyway, President Kagame knows this, which is why he chose his team of reformists outside the quota system, yet instructed them to take into account all African aspirations.
Africa and Africans have a new thinking. Africans are not villagers; they do not think in terms of ‘us’ against them. They are optimistic, open minded and progressive.
It is not a privilege of western experts to run ‘global think-tanks’, ‘international institutes’ and ‘multinational companies’, all thriving in third countries without selling shares to ‘locals’.
It is untrue that only a Rwandan can advance Rwandan interests, or a Nigerian Nigerians’.
Take, for example, Fred Swaniker, a Ghanaian who has his African Leadership Academy in South Africa, his African Leadership University in Rwanda, and his African Leadership Network in Mauritius.
In that regard he is advancing Rwandan interests more than many Rwandans I know, and I know many...
When we started here, Kenyans were the biggest investors into our economy. This country is a laboratory of progressive Pan-Africanism in action, not in mere words.
Back to the network; for it to exist, it needs limited bias; Al Jazeera can be accused of being biased on only one country: Qatar, not simply biased in general. CNN and BBCs of this world were created to advance their countries’ respective agendas.
Our brother Mo-Ibrahim created an African outfit, shockingly aimed at advancing Western values – on to us. If anything, he is, like all of us, a victim of the same propaganda, and African bioethics is lost on him; and western bio-ethics, in his mind, fit for us all.
I wish he can espouse this idea and put some money into an African outfit that advances African values. That would prevent more wars and bad governance on the African continent, than focus on term limits or presidents.
That’s not how business is run. Our experience with the now-defunct ‘Air Afrique’ Airline should enable us to avoid the common pitfall of mistaking certain visible attributes of an industry for its underlying structure.
In the previous story I talked of hitting the ground running.
One person ought to take this project and run with it. $145 million is not money that requires contributions of an entire continent, one company, and one businessman/woman can raise it.
The African outfit must be owned by a businessperson who’s money make him independent and bold or, for instance, a president whom - in his own words - says ‘he has authority over how he thinks and what he says’; that’s what we want, a tool that is not captured by continental politics.
In a business, board members are chosen for their expertise and look out for the interests of the company rather than their own.
A board in which everyone is consulting the ‘capitals’ before making a decision, or pulling for themselves, is the best strategy to bring the company down.
In operation terms too, processes are meant to be swift, not ceremonial and cumbersome.
We have a place to start, having attended the summit of African Union of Broadcasters, I realised the best way to launch the African Network and get all Africans to tune in, is to unite them around the thing they like the most: Football.
When-not if- the Network launches, the first flagship programme will be to have exclusive rights for broadcasting the African Cup of Nations affordably to all 54 countries.
Alas, as it turns out, I didn’t invent the idea of a Pan-African Network. It has been, it seems, in the pipeline for a longtime, and if I heard right, I think the President pledged money; didn’t he? Things look up!
The views expressed in this article are of the author.