What’s Up Africa describes itself as “Europe’s first video blog focused on Africa.” Produced in the Netherlands by lawyer-turned-broadcaster Ikenna Azuike, it is slowly building an audience, bringing us “… what’s hip, creative and making the news in Africa.” 26 episodes later this is the place where the new land grab by European firms of African agricultural land is described as ”buying 10 Hollands,” he skewers leaders like life presidents like Yoweri Museveni, does sketches (since episode 3) and also Ikenna recruits his parents to do silly things on camera. Questlove from The Roots, a fan, has raved on Twitter that “a star is born.” (The right kind of celebrity endorsement always helps.) Anyway, I really enjoy the show, not least because we appear to mostly read the same sources (he shouted us out here), but also also because of Ikenna’s incisive commentary on media and cultural politics delivered with irreverence and humor. Ikenna agreed to answer some questions for AIAC.
Where did the idea for What’s Up Africa [hereafter WUA] come from?
I got the idea to start WUA after watching US video blogger Ray William Johnson, he’s my inspiration for the style of the videos. I’d go as far as to say he’s defined an entire new media genre. As for the content of my show, I was inspired by one of my comedy heroes Jon Stewart of The Daily Show. I knew about lots of great blogs sharing news about cool stuff going on in Africa but couldn’t find anything offering video content or Daily Show style news satire, so I decided to start myself. I love raising the profile of African creative talent with a wider and international audience. It‘s great for those artists and it’s fantastic for “brand Africa”. But, WUA is not just about pointing out good stuff I use my show to be critical about serious issues, comedy is undoubtedly a powerful tool to change people’s attitudes.
Though you occasionally throw in Dutch references, it was clear from the start that it was a global show.
I focus on sub-saharan Africa but, yes, I do like throwing in Dutch references now and then.
In your day job you’re a journalist and producer at RNW. Can you tell us something about what RNW wants to achieve with its broadcasts?
Actually, I split my time at the moment between making WUA and working on Strawberry Earth–a blog and events company I started together with my girlfriend. Africa and environmental issues are my passions in life.
Our goal with WUA and the radio shows at RNW is to offer people a fresh and original perspective on news in Africa (with a little fun thrown in too). We have a broad network of correspondents throughout sub-saharan Africa, a young an dynamic team on the desk in Hilversum and we’re developing a distinct tone of voice in our reporting. A voice that is critical and fair without being patronizing or ‘institutional’. It’s also fair to say that WUA is there to show that RNW is an innovative and creative journalistic platform.
What is the influence, if any, of RNW in “global news”? Tell us about its reach? Do Africans listen to it? Can they get it on their radio dial?
Stories from RNW are picked up fairly regularly by the Reuters and (the Dutch) ANP news wires – that happens because we’re writing strong, balanced and insightful reports and getting scoops. It’s worth mentioning that the Dutch journalist of the year in 2010 was from RNW last year (for a report on abuse in the Catholic Church which sparked an international outcry). Aside from that though, because the ICC is located in The Hague a lot of international news agencies look to us for news and updates – we are closest to the action in a way. Our African focussed programmes are getting increasingly popular too – we have over 200 partner radio stations throughout Africa who download and share our programmes. And I’m told, that in the near future Capital FM in Kenya and The Monitor newspaper in Uganda will start hosting WUA. That would be very exciting. I don’t have any specific figures on our website traffic.
Has the Internet put a dent in the dominance of the BBC and CNN as the dominant “global news” players?
In short, yes. But the existence of the internet alone isn’t the only factor. Rather, the quality of other news providers like Al Jazeera and some very successful blogging platforms like Sahara Reporters. More and more people are indeed getting rid of their television sets and getting news purely from the internet so, it is hugely important for organisations like the BBC and CNN to innovate.
The internet offers massive opportunities for everyone. Look at Ray William Johnson. He makes 4 videos a week now (including his LA vlog and his animated music videos). As a result he’s easily reaching over twelve million people a week. I’m not saying that WUA will ever do the same but there is clearly an opportunity out there that is not being grasped by any of the major news platforms right now.
How has the use of social media (which e.g. allow for intercontinental and personal networking) reshaped your identity as someone of African/Nigerian descent living and working in Europe and your relationship to the continent?
Social media has allowed me to become more easily and quickly informed about news throughout Africa, I’m able to easily stay in contact with African friends and family abroad and Africans I don’t know personally are also able to ‘reach’ me through facebook and twitter. So I guess you could say that social media has allowed me to enhance my sense of African/Nigerian identity at a much faster pace than traditional media and in a more ‘complete’ way – i.e. I’m not just reading traditional news articles about Africa and occasionally talking to friends via the phone, instead I’m interacting on a daily basis with Africans and even able to keep track of niche subjects like particular genres of African music, and talk with others interested in the same topics – that would have been more difficult in the days before social media. This is especially important because it’s also enabled me to share experiences with my Dad (who’s Nigerian) – something I couldn’t do in my previous career as a lawyer.
What’s your favorite episode?
Hmmmm. That is a tough one because I like sketches from some shows and newsier items from other shows. I definitely don’t feel as though I’ve made the perfect ‘complete’ episode yet. That said, I really enjoyed: Leather is Surprisingly Comfortable because it features my Dad and perhaps my favorite music review.
Which audience do you hope to reach with WUA?
Some marketing friends of mine talk about the need for me to reach “African cultural creatives” living in Africa and in the diaspora. They might be right but I just want to reach anyone who has an interest in African news, and anyone looking for inspiration in the fields of art, design and music. The response so far has been fantastic. There’s no hiding the fact that I speak with a heavy British accent so I was slightly concerned at the start that I wouldn’t be accepted as a commentator on content from inside Africa. But it’s been the total opposite. I’ve had emails from West, East and South Africa and people in the US, UK and further afield, all saying they love the show. I am immensely proud of my Nigerian roots and I’m passionate about sharing news from all over Africa, I think that shows through my presenting. Plus, people seem to like me making a fool out of myself… hmmmm… maybe that’s all they like actually. Brilliant.
And the latest episode: