(I don't really like the title, but this is great!)
How 'Africa's Oprah' conquered a continent
Mo Abudu has built a media empire -- without any training.
(CNN) -- Oprah, if you're reading this, for goodness
sake return this woman's calls. Ask your assistants if there's a box of
yellowing fax messages lying around somewhere in Harpo Studios -- she
sent you one daily for a while.
Track down the ton of
letters asking -- pleading -- for your help starting a Winfrey-style
talk show in Africa. Because this isn't just another eager fan. Her name
is Mosunmola Abudu, and in the last eight years she's done it -- and then some.
With no TV experience
whatsoever, Abudu has become the "Oprah of Africa" -- it's impossible
not to read an interview with the glamorous 49-year-old without the
moniker cropping up. And with good reason.
Breezing into CNN's
London studios, electric blue dress clinging to her slim figure, glossy
pink eye shadow and lipstick to match, Abudu is in her element, the
sound bites coming thick and fast.
And why wouldn't the mother-of-two be comfortable in front of the camera? This is the face of "Moments with Mo,"
the hugely successful talk show Abudu founded in 2006, attracting such
high profile guests as Hillary Clinton and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.
The manicured Mo and her
guests lounge in plush apartments, chat over coffee, contemplate
tasteful visual cues. Africa's first syndicated talk show was so slick
that people initially questioned whether it could actually have been
created in Nigeria.
Abudu assured them it was. There was more to come. Nine months ago she started Ebony Life TV -- Africa's first global black entertainment network. Oprah who?
"When I started my
journey into television, there was nothing that I didn't try, to reach
this woman," says Abudu about her early attempts to contact Ms Winfrey.
"We sat for days on end,
would send daily faxes, would send weekly faxes. At some point, when we
didn't get a response, we realized that Oprah wasn't going to save us,
she wasn't there to help us to get this talk show of Africa started. And
then I just basically got out there and said 'let's just do the very
best that we can.'"
Mo's big moment
Winfrey or not, in less
than a decade Abudu has built a TV network creating 1,000 hours of
programming yearly. And there are plans to make even more channels --
all under the Ebony Life banner.
At some point, when we didn't get a response, we realized that Oprah wasn't going to save us
But what makes Abudu's
story remarkable is not that she conquered African TV -- but that she
did it without any prior media experience.
"I went on a training
course for learning how to present, went back and said: 'Here I am and I
want to produce my own talk show!'" said the British-born entrepreneur
in an interview with CNN's Stephanie Busari.
"Of course, there were
many knock backs along the way, many people telling me 'you can't do
these things.' But I think what's important in life is that you believe
in yourself and the things you can do."
Before she was the queen of African chat shows, Abudu was a head of human resources at oil giant ExxonMobil for a decade. Then there's the consultancy firm she set up, the executive-training center she developed, and the charity she founded.
The 'other' Africa
So where did this drive
to be on TV come from? Abudu puts it down to a "deep-seated passion to
tell Africa's story." Even if that meant standing in the middle of
London with a microphone.
"A couple of years ago I
stood there with a microphone, and just randomly stopped people in the
street," explained Abudu. "I said: 'When you hear the word Africa, what
comes to mind?'"
"I heard 'starving
children, poverty, HIV, Mugabe.' I heard 'babies with flies on their
faces.' And my next question was: 'Why do you think this of Africa?' And
the response was: 'It's what I read in the newspapers, it's what I see
on television.' Because that's the popular notion of Africa."
Not if Abudu has
anything to do with it. Her show celebrates a very different continent,
one brimming with entrepreneurs, academics, and artists, all taking
their place on her coveted couch.
"It's glossy, it's got razzmatazz," she says about her network's distinctive style.
"It shows that there's a
new generation of Africans out there that want this content they can
identify with, that speaks to them."
Born in London, Abudu
spent her early years between the UK and Africa. On holidays she would
visit her grandparents' cocoa farm, and remembers them spreading out
beans to dry in the Nigerian sun.
Growing up in 1960s Britain was tough for one of only three black children in her school. She was asked questions like: "Do you guys live in tress? Do you dance around fires? What do you eat for breakfast?"
When she was 11 years
old, Abudu's father died, and her 73-year-old mother still remains a
huge source of strength and inspiration.
"She is very prayerful
woman. I am very prayerful woman. So I find that through working hard
and praying hard a lot of things just get done," she said.
Edited by PurplePhase - May 05 2014 at 1:33am