Sometime in 1987 on the streets of the Tanzanian capital, Dar es Salaam, Joe Kusaga had his two feet planted firmly on the ground, but his head was as much in the clouds as Mount Kilimanjaro. The 21-year-old barely had two shillings to rub together, but dreamed of making a vast fortune by getting his fellow Tanzanians dancing to his beat.
More than 20 years later, Kusaga has the ear of East Africans; a multi-million dollar turnover; three radio stations; a magazine; two music ventures; and a promotion company which employs 170 people. His company, Clouds Media Group, turns over $3 million annually and plans to expand beyond East Africa. In a recent national survey, KPMG ranked the company 17th in the top 100 best-performing mid-sized companies in Tanzania.
“In a few years, this turnover should read double digits,” says Kusaga.
Kusaga made his fortune from the liberalization of the Tanzanian airwaves, in step with the freeing up of the economy after decades of socialism, in the 1990s. He decided Tanzanian radio was far too conservative and started to recruit young, funky broadcasters at his tiny
studio in Dar es Salaam in a bid to take the airwaves by storm.
“It was not easy at first. It’s a risky business, and sometimes we had to invest our little funds at the time to make things happen without any sponsorship,” he says.
In 1998, Kusaga took a deep breath and borrowed just over Tsh40 million ($24,660) to start his company with a business plan aimed at reaping the advertising dollars that came with the growing young and affluent middle-class. He founded Clouds FM in the same year and in 2002 added Choice FM, an easy-listening English radio station, and Coconut FM, Zanzibar’s first commercial radio station which is dedicated to Zanzibari music and culture, to his repertoire.
“We offered a platform for our young people to create employment for themselves. It was a take-off for many things musical in this country,” he says.
It was the bend in a long road that began in 1987. “I had just finished school and I began by managing some nightclubs, organizing theme nights,” says Kusaga.
He graduated to promoting shows as far as the Democratic Republic of Congo in a risky business that took timing, perseverance and passion—a perfect grounding for his foray into the tough radio business.
As the new century dawned, there came Clouds TV, which is projected to have coverage across the entire country by the end of this year.
Since then, Kusaga has founded the first digital music recording studio in the country, from where he manages the Smooth Vibes record label in Dar es Salaam and is responsible for authorizing music from Tanzanian artistes for iTunes.
You could say this media group has shaped how Tanzanian youths look and listen to the world. In the last few years, he has brought names like Eve, Fat Joe, P Square, Shaggy, 50 Cent, Kevin Lyttle, Koffi, Jay Z with MTV Base, Ja Rule, Hugh Masekela, Mya, Miriam Makeba and Youssou N’Dour to the East African country.
A little stardust from an entrepreneur with his head firmly in the clouds can go a long way.