By Modupeola Oyebolu
“The narrative will glorify the hunter until the lion learns how to write.”
Many Africans dislike the coverage of their continent by the American and European media. Komla Dumor, a well-liked BBC correspondent who died suddenly earlier this year, ended a December 2012 TED talk on this issue with some great advice: Africans must tell their own stories. As if in response to Dumor’s counsel, Ebonylife TV was launched in Calabar, Nigeria, on the 1st of July, 2013. “We believe it’s time for Africa to tell its own story, from its own perspective,” the network’s website says, describing its driving motivation.
Ebonylife TV is the brainchild of Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu, a Nigerian talk show host and TV producer. Abudu was a successful human resources executive with Exxon Mobil before her foray into the media industry, according to a profile of her featured in The Independent. Her talk show, “Moments with Mo,” was the first syndicated daily talk show that aired on MNet, a South African cable network that has audiences across Africa.
Despite the talk show’s success, Abudu had a bigger vision in mind. She wanted to start a network that would be dedicated to showing the Africa that she knew and loved. Abudu was motivated by her frustration with negative perceptions of Africa that she had encountered in her interactions with non-Africans. During a segment of “Moments with Mo,” for example, she stood at London’s Marble Arch asking people what came to mind when they heard the word “Africa.” Abudu got all kinds of responses, including mentions of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, giraffes, safaris, and poverty.
“I think the nicest thing I got was sunshine,” she told Etan Smallman of The Independent. It is not that giraffes, safaris and poverty do not exist in Africa, Abudu just thinks, like many Africans, that it is important to share other narratives of the continent. “We watch Hollywood as if all of America is Hollywood,” she said in another interview with the Associated Press. “In that same vein we need to start selling the good bits of Africa.”
Ebonylife TV is targeted at young people who it describes as “the custodians of the present and the future.” The network airs mostly original African content including series, short films, and talk shows. Other shows are western programs adapted for local audiences. For instance, The Fattening Room, fuses a tradition of the Efik ethnic group of Nigeria preparing women for marriage with the western reality show format. The network has also bought rights to Desperate Housewives from Disney and plans to make its own version of the show, Desperate Housewives Africa.
In an interview at an African media industry event, Abudu said she had been asked on BBC radio if these western formats could truly cater to an African audience. She insisted that African audiences are not different from any others. “I told them, ‘do you think we, as Africans, don’t have the same aspirations and obsessions, and passions as anyone else?’ I said ‘we have that!’ There’s no point re-inventing the wheel, this [Desperate Housewives] was one of the top-selling, award winning series in America. Let’s take that story, let’s localize it and then let’s make it our own,” she said.
Comments on social media suggest that Ebonylife TV is well received by the African public. The network’s Facebook page receives compliments from various parts of the continent from Zambia to Namibia and Ghana. Of course, the network is not without its critics, but the staff stay on top of responding to comments, clarifying misunderstandings and apologizing for errors. They also look frequently for feedback on the reception of their content. If Ebonylife TV can maintain and incorporate knowledge from this engagement with its audience, it is likely to grow into the pan-African force that it envisions itself to be. This will allow the network to provide a new narrative that truly represents all of Africa and will help demonstrate the diversity and complexity of the continent to the rest of the world.
Image from Nkemonwudiwe at en.wikipedia via Wikimedia Commons, at http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mosunmola_Abudu_1.jpg