By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY
Africa’s growing middle classes are being targeted by a new generation of media entrepreneurs. This growing group of Africans is ambitious and intelligent, and they want media that matches their aspirational ways. Clever media people are stepping up to feed this trend.
The continent as a whole forms the 10th largest economy in the world. Of Africa’s more than 1 billion people, 900 million can be classified as part of the consumer economy. Out of this group, there a third – approximately 300 million people – make modest sums by Western standards, about US $200 a month, but have spare cash to buy things like mobile phones, DVDs and new clothes, or pay for better schools. They are the population that is overlooked when attention is focused only on the very poor living on less than US $2 a day.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Nigerian journalist Dele Olojede is one of several African media pioneers re-shaping the continent’s media and taking it to the next level. Another is Godfrey Mwampembwa, whose popular puppet television show satirizes contemporary politics and current events and brings a welcome local flavour to a programming schedule packed with foreign imports.
A book by University of Texas professor Vijay Mahajan, Africa Rising, details the phenomenon of Africa’s middle class consumer society. He calls this group of middle class consumers ‘Africa 2’, with the desperately poor called Africa 3s, and the extremely rich Africa 1s.
This new group has expanded far beyond just the ruling elites and government workers. Many of its members work in the private sector, as secretaries, computer entrepreneurs, merchants and others who have benefited from consistent growth rates in many African countries.
And because these people consume products and services – and advertising products and services are the lifeblood of private media – the opportunities are plentiful.
“I’m convinced that Africa is going to be built by Africa 2s,” Mahajan told the Washington Post newspaper. “These are the people sending their kids to school . . . who are the most optimistic, the most forward-thinking.”
Olojede, owner and publisher of Next newspaper (http://234next.com/csp/cms/sites/Next/Home/index.csp) in Nigeria’s biggest city, Lagos, has been able to grab readers by breaking original stories and offering a quality, well-designed publication. Launched in 2008, it has its sights set on going continent-wide by 2011.
“There is a need for a newspaper for the African metropolitan middle classes, along the lines of the International Herald Tribune,” he told Monocle magazine.
Olojede cut his teeth as a foreign editor for the US newspaper Newsday and has used this experience to make Next such a success.
Next has become the number one news website in Nigeria’s highly competitive media scene.
Wisely, Olojede put design at the centre of making his newspaper and website stand out from the competition. He commissioned the experienced newspaper design team of Garcia Media (http://garciamedia.com/blog/articles/in_west_africa_a_new_newspaper_is_born_—online_first) – who have designed for The Wall Street Journal, The Miami Herald and Die Zeit – to develop the template and prototypes.
Kenyan economist James Shikwati (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Shikwati) believes Africa’s middle-income consumers are also a driving force for political change.
“It’s empowering,” he told the Washington Post. “If you give people a sense of freedom in the economic sector, then you deny it in the political sector, you have a problem.”
Kenya-based newspaper cartoonist Gado (Godfrey Mwampembwa) has profited from this phenomenon. Fed up with TV channels sticking to a menu of foreign imports and dull news programmes, he looked to famous puppet TV shows Spitting Image (from Britain) and Les Guignols (from France) for inspiration. The result is the XYZ Show (http://xyzshow.com/blog), which features grotesque puppet caricatures of well-known public and political figures. The show’s blog makes for an excellent entry point into African TV programme-making and its ups and downs. The show is broadcast on Citizen TV in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
“I moved to Nairobi in 1992 when I was 23,” Mwampembwa explained to Monocle. “The Daily Nation, the biggest newspaper in Kenya, had lost its editorial cartoonist so they ran a competition to look for his replacement. I sent in my drawings and came second.”
“I took a year off in 2000-2001 to study film and animation in Vancouver. When I got back to Nairobi I started thinking about the sort of TV programme I would like to make. Kenya needed a show that would make fun of our politicians and expose hypocrisy and I thought a puppet show like Les Guignols or Spitting Image would be a great way to do it.”
“We managed to raise funds for a pilot in 2007 and Citizen TV (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Citizen-TV-Kenya/261061365404), a private station, eventually agreed to broadcast a series.”
Each episode costs US $16,740 and the puppets are US $3,600 to make. The programme-makers could only get money from foreign donors: the French, Dutch, and Finnish embassies and the Ford Foundation.
Despite initial complaints from politicians, the show is preparing for its second season – and, Mwampembwa said, “there will be a lot of big stories for us to cover.”
Making a popular TV show is not an easy thing to do. Mwampembwa maintains a furious work pace to straddle his many roles:
“I have to draw a cartoon every day but editorial cartooning is not a nine-to-five job, it’s 24/7. Whenever I get ideas I have to sketch them.
“It was a steep learning curve in the first season. The show is important for Kenyan TV and everything is done here in Nairobi. We won’t change any of the politics though. We are very hard-hitting and we will stay that way.
“Over the years I’ve got nasty letters, emails and phone calls but that’s OK, it’s part of it.”
As these media innovators show, there is nothing but opportunity for entrepreneurs feeding the hungry news and information appetite of the continent’s ambitious middle class.
And Mwampembwa says becoming better informed doesn’t have to be dull: “We are informing the public but I’d like to think we are entertaining them too.”
- Africa Rising: A book by Professor Vijay Mahajan on how Africa’s consumer economy is growing and growing. Website: http://tinyurl.com/2vk3m9n
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