As 2017 gets into full swing I am reminded of the launch of CNBC Africa 10 years ago on June 1, 2007. To say time flies is an enormous understatement. I can only imagine how the Founder and Vice Chairman of the Africa Business News Group, Rakesh Wahi, must feel considering he first arrived in Africa with just a briefcase in hand 12 short years ago. Now he has a business news conglomerate with Africa’s only continent-wide business channel and Africa’s number one monthly business publication, namely and FORBES AFRICA respectively.
Back in 2007, months of rehearsals finally led to the evening of June 1 when CNBC Africa, with a flick of a switch, came to life. Then South African President Thabo Mbeki was the first interviewee on that auspicious occasion. Corporate South Africa was in full attendance. The rehearsals paid off and CNBC Africa’s first broadcast to 48 countries across sub-Saharan Africa went off without a glitch.
The next morning, broadcast began in earnest with eight hours of African business aired around the channel’s flagship shows: Open Exchange, Power Lunch, Closing Bell and Business Tonight. Ten years ago, the Africa rising story was burning bright but aggregating business content across Africa was still an enormous challenge. CNBC Africa was pioneering territory that no one else had attempted on such a large scale. Businessmen and women across Africa were not well versed in regular, live television interviews and market commentators were still relatively media shy.
Over the last 10 years the channel has played a significant role in unlocking the continent’s business talent and today, as the depth and breadth of African capital markets rapidly improves, African business interviews are happening with regularity at across the continent.
Today, CNBC Africa is taking regional integration to the next level. It’s hard to beat a real-time pan-African conversation with Lagos, Nairobi, Kigali and South Africa all simultaneously on screen exchanging West, East and southern African business news throughout the day.
Those early days also bring to mind some of the many lighter moments that are an inevitable part of any TV channel’s launch phase. One such moment was with my then co-anchor Byron Kennedy, who now heads up corporate affairs for Vodacom. Let me try and talk you through this.
Business Tonight was in full swing, Byron and I were co-anchoring. In the early days we were heavily reliant on the shows production script which detailed which guests were expected at what time during the show. Two guests down and the live show was progressing well. The third guest was seated and, relying on my script, I confidently introduced the guest as Kevin Weeks, Head of the South African Automobile Association. At this point we were on a wide shot – the audience could see Byron, myself and the guest, who was shaking his head violently. Byron immediately jumped in and stated to both the audience and to me “No, it’s definitely not Kevin Weeks…”. But he had no idea either who the guest was and threw me a hospital pass. The director had at this point not established that we were in trouble and instead of cutting to a commercial break – the default if something goes horribly wrong – he maintained the wide camera angle which meant that the audience was not missing a beat. I had no option but to lean over slightly and asked the now bewildered gentlemen the following question “Excuse me sir, what is your name?” followed by “What are we speaking about?”
Needless to say, we have come a long way from then. I felt much better when I was told to google “BBC Taxi Driver” and realized that it happens to the best of us.
But back to the present and the fact that we are now all grown up, in business years that is. Happy 10th birthday CNBC Africa in 2017; it’s been an incredible journey and I look forward to the next decade as we continue to tell the African business story unlike anyone else.