CNBC Africa (DStv channel 410), opened its eighth African bureau in Zambia as it continues to widen its African reporting footprint. The bureau, a joint venture with Zambia’s national broadcaster, ZNBC, will be based in the Zambian capital, Lusaka and opened for business on 25 July.
It’s the channel’s second bureau this year following Mozambique where, the company also teamed up with the local national broadcaster, TVM. The other bureaus are in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Gabon.
“The new bureau is continuing testimony to our vision to provide comprehensive coverage of Africa’s growing markets. Zambia is one of the new groups of African economies expanding at more than 7% per anum whose story remains largely untold outside its borders,” said Godfrey Mutizwa, CNBC Africa chief editor.
The channel plans to be in Rwanda and Ethiopia in the last quarter of this year. By 2014 it plans to be in 20 African countries, making it the only media company in Africa providing complete business and economic news across the continent.
CNBC Africa’s country bureau representative Debbie Baillie comments; “CNBC Africa has been active in Zambia for the three months, conducting live interviews on Zambian markets, business and economic news. The channel, which turned five last month, has grown to become the primary and biggest source of business news in Africa since 1 June 2007”.
CNBC Africa co-founder Rakesh Wahi, who performed a bell ringing ceremony at the Lusaka stock exchange to mark the opening of the bureau, said the company’s presence in Zambia marked yet another milestone in its brief history.
“Zambia has been an integral part of our journey in Africa. With a well-diversified economy, 14 million people and a GDP of $22-billion it is one of the top economies in the continent with consistent high growth and progressive and consistent policies”, says Wahi.
“We are privileged to have been able to strike a strategic relationship with the Zambian Broadcast Corporation. Part of this will be the facilitation of having Zambia on our editorial calendar and report on all the progress being made in this great country”, he said.
“We went and bought real estate in downtown Moscow at a time when people didn’t even want to walk the streets there,” he recalls. “That turned out to be a great exercise and we made a bit of money.”
He dabbled in the Russian banking system, learning much about banking, regulatory environments and dealing with political volatility.
A few years later came a personal turning point and an opportunity to put some of that banking wisdom to use. Wahi met American investment banker Rick Michaels, who was visiting the Middle East looking for business opportunities. They clicked, and soon Wahi was involved in investment banking and asset management as the local representative of the US-based Communications Equity Associates.
“One of the greatest beliefs I have in life is that people mould your future to a large extent. You meet people like Rick Michaels for a reason,” he says.
“We went on to raise about $100 billion and we were managing that money in sectors like media, telecoms, [information technology] and technology.
“I never looked back because the experience and knowledge I gained was wonderful,” adds Wahi.
He continued to work in corporate finance and private equities in India and the Middle East, with CNBC India being among those in his portfolio.
Time to re-evaluate
But in 2002, it was time for a re-evaluation.
The technology bust had occurred and Wahi was taking stock of things. “I had made a certain amount of money and was looking at what I wanted to do with the next phase of my life – and I thought the best thing to do was to become an entrepreneur again, rather than manage money,” he explains.
“The question was: what sectors do you invest in? So I looked at businesses we had successfully invested in and exited, and CNBC was one of them. The business model of this particular genre in TV is very exciting.”
It was around that time that he met another person “for a reason”. This time it was Zafar Siddiqi, a one-time auditor who was looking to set up the CNBC franchise in the Middle East.
With his investment banking background and knowledge of CNBC India, Wahi was well able to assist and, in 2004, aided Siddiqi in setting up CNBC Pakistan.
Wahi takes up the story: “At the end of that year, we were looking at the map and wondering where to go next [with a franchise]. Our options were to go north and set up in Russia, or to look at Africa.
“I had never been south of Egypt, so I took a journey in October 2004 to South Africa, fell in love with the country, made some great friends, and got involved in setting up the business.
We finally launched CNBC Africa in 2007, and it has been a wonderful experience.”
“We have very good senior management and they’re effectively running the businesses.”
But he does admit he likes to keep “a very close handle” on what is happening. “A business is like a child; you bring it up and then you can never be removed from it,” he laughs.
Instead, Wahi focuses on key touchpoints such as finance and human resources. “No organisation is built on the back of one person. So it’s important to understand the strengths of your people. I read all the personnel files in the organisation at least twice a year.”
Strategic development is also important. “The TV side of the business is done. We now have huge growth potential around the other areas of business news. If you look at our vision, we want to be Africa’s leading aggregator and disseminator of business content,” he says.
While CNBC Africa has yet to turn a profit, Wahi says he is happy with its progress and it is about halfway to a viewership target of between 400 000 and 500 000.
“In the next two to three years, we should be in that ballpark,” he remarks.
South Africa and Africa
One of the key strategies is to increase the channel’s presence in the rest of Africa, and Wahi is bullish about the continent as a business and investment prospect. He believes the South African market, in isolation, is too small to attract major investment, but that it is a key bridgehead to grow into the rest of a rapidly developing continent.
“From an economic point of view, the whole world is looking at Africa – whether it is the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians or Russians.
“Anyone who has money wants to be here today. It is a place of opportunity in every sense,” he observes.
“There was a time when people would turn around and say that Africa is extremely volatile and vulnerable to interference. But things are changing. In each and every country, we will see there is greater transparency and people are questioning things. What somebody could get away with 10 years ago, you can’t get away with today.”
A self-confessed fan of emerging market economies, Wahi speaks from experience when he enthuses about Africa. “The adrenaline pumps much higher when you are in emerging markets. Where you are dealing with a lot of volatility – that is where you can get maximum value.”
Still not satisfied
Although he has achieved much in a bewildering array of international markets and spheres of business, Wahi shows no sign of slowing down. “I guess if you ever achieve everything you want to, you are dead. I don’t believe I have reached that stage yet because I still think about new things – for example, our ecotourism venture in the Philippines.
“If you are an entrepreneur at heart, I don’t think you can be satisfied.” ▲