Zimbabwe News and Internet Radio

Hopewell Chin’ono: Imagining a better 2019 and reforming our media landscape into the 21st Century

By Hopewell Chin’ono

Yesterday was 2018 and today is now 2019 and yet the difference feels the same, yes it will be unless we do something about it.

Hopewell Chin'ono
Hopewell Chin’ono

It is a bit like having a beautiful intelligent woman in your life, you have to look after her, nurture her and appreciate her so that she keeps glowing or you will lose her to a better man.

Alternatively, she will stay and her ruined-self and you too will continue living a miserable broken life with no sign of happiness in sight at all.

At times you will realize after she is gone that you made a huge mistake, a terrible one, and that you should have done more to keep her.

After realizing your mistake and hoping that it is not too late, you will ask her to give you another chance, a second chance.

If she is a smart woman, she will ask to see your sincerity through your actions and not just mere talk time.

Men are blessed with the gift of the gab and many of us deploy it with terrible consequences, but it is our actions that will ultimately matter.

That is where President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his team are today, on this very first day of the year, they spoke a good game, they now need to deliver.

Everyone else is waiting to see if they mean what they said or if it was just a ploy to get the girl back with the help of some sweet nothings and carry on as usual, a back to the future scenario.

When Robert Mugabe was removed from power in November of 2017, I made a conscious decision to support the transition because I realized that there was no other alternative to the new outcome, it was an inescapable reality.

The soldiers had intervened and removed the figurehead of our biggest headache, Robert Mugabe, why would I not support that momentous and historical act of defiance by the army against Mugabe’s lunacy.

The thousands who marched for days on end side by side with the army shared my view too, you probably did unless if you were sympathetic to G40 or if your were part of it.

The transition from Mugabe’s leadership happened and we now had a “newish” team in place but not exactly what we would have wanted, but I also understood that the new President had to work with what he had in the interim.

I supported the country’s efforts to move ahead and away from the stagnant Robert Mugabe days of terror, repression, economic melt down, selfish inward looking, international isolation, unprecedented corruption and gross incompetence.

I also understood that a new President could not just come into office and remove the whole system at once with an election in sight a couple months from his initial inauguration in November.

He would have been sabotaged from within his party and civil service if he had done so, so he had to move slowly.

I critiqued both sides, ZANUPF and MDCA and for the first time, the opposition MDCA had a new leader in Nelson Chamisa, they were subjected to unprecedented scrutiny as it should always be.

Chamisa’s supporters didn’t like it, they accused me and others who applied critical thinking of being pro-Government each time we questioned their decisions or lack thereof, they were not used to being asked tough questions.

I am not one to just criticize without reason, I also come with solutions but it is up to the other part to take them or not, I do so as a patriot not a party man.

In a democracy, that is how it should work, the opposition comes under heavy scrutiny because they are offering to lead and be different from the current lot.

We asked how different they were from ZANUPF when they started openly using violence and misogyny in their election campaigns?

Those questions were perceived to be anti-MDCA and anti-Chamisa, but as a well-trained journalist, I ignored the political noise and focused on the issues.

The other side also accused me of having an agenda when I exposed scandalous behavior and corruption by folks like Supa Mandiwanzira and Joram Gumbo.

It is part of being a journalist, I do this for free to create a well informed national dialogue, I make documentary films for a living and could have stayed home and watched from the sidelines!

However countries are not built by foreigners, they are built by those who live in them, so it is people like myself and yourself that must make sure that we work for the Zimbabwe that we want to see and bequeath to our children.

In my analysis I predicted that the MDCA would lose the elections because they fielded double candidates, had no structures in rural areas where one needs to win if they are to take parliament and the Presidency.

They couldn’t win without the needed electoral reforms many of us correctly argued, many folks in the opposition were unhappy with that critique including the ZANUPF rejects who had now teamed up with a desperate MDCA getting an incredulous endorsement from Robert Mugabe.

They attacked anyone who dared to raise anything they didn’t want to hear, the language was uncouth and was underpinned by lies that people like Jealousy Mawarire continue to peddle to this very day.

The opposition lost the election as I had predicted, but they argued that they had won the Presidency, but unfortunately for them, the constitutional court ruled otherwise.

When you sign up to processes and they go against you, regardless of how you think they are flawed, you have only one choice, to accept the judgment of the court and live to fight another day.

To his credit, Nelson Chamisa called me as he always does and explained to me that he understood that when I criticize them, I would be doing my work as a journalist.

I respect him for that and as a Zimbabwean, I will continue discussing politics with him as I do with the ZANUPF compatriots, we are Zimbabwe first before political parties.

Before the elections in April of 2018, American senators who were sponsoring the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act 2 (ZIDERA 2) came to Harare.

I was invited to meet them by top Harare commercial lawyer, Edwin Manikai and the American embassy staff that included their deputy ambassador Jen Savage.

Many other business people and myself explained to them that whilst ZIDERA was assumedly targeted at the political elites, it had corrosive and terribly harmful effects on the poor and vulnerable who ironically it says it wants to protect.

I argued that the powerful wealthy politicians would actually use it as a campaigning tool, an elections recruiting sergeant, the senators understood and they agreed that they would take out some of the difficult conditions as concessions.

They did that and the bill they passed was much lighter than the original bill, this was the work of many compatriots and patriots who engaged with these American senators!

After the elections, I met with the Vice President who took me to meet the President, I shared my views about what I thought needed to be done.

These were closed meetings so I can’t say much about the detail of what was discussed.

An international businessman who values my counsel and has been a friend of Zimbabwe for years initiated this meeting.

The meeting left me confident that we were headed somewhere much better and glowing than the place we were coming from.

After the President appointed his new cabinet, the new Minister of Information, Monica Mutsvangwa asked to see me, she wanted to hear my views on the media as a whole.

She met with almost all media stake holders as a way of collating ideas and seeing how the industry can be rebuilt and modernized.

I shared my views on what I thought needed to be done and she asked me to assist her and her team at the ministry of information.

Every sensible government minister the world over does this, they gather various experts and work with them to develop strategies and ideas, it is a collective national effort led by the government of the day.

Again as a patriot I told the minister that my area of expertise was broadcasting and that I would be willing to assist her with any expertise within my skills remit.

Monica Mutsvangwa is very gracious and very warm and at times she makes you feel so at ease such that you forget you are talking to a cabinet minister.

She asked me in the presence of her new permanent secretary, Nick Mangwana, if I would accept a board appointment at ZBC.

I politely turned the idea down on account of my heavy workload, I told her that I had a film, State of Mind, to promote through international festivals in 2019, and that I would be starting production of my new film on Autism at the same time, so I wouldn’t be able to commit to such an important appointment.

I however offered to put everything in place for them in regards to the refurbishment of ZBC, training of its whole personnel compliment and raising the funding required for the project.

She gave me the nod and I started mobilizing funding through six donor partners who were initially reluctant but eventually agreed to do it through the World Bank.

ZBC is in such a terrible state, so it needs international broadcasting partners to help it become a 21st century broadcasting entity, it hasn’t moved from the nineties.

So I first approached CNN for help on the technical side, I reactivated my old contacts at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, in the US.

Hopewell Chin’ono with the founder owner of CNN, Ted Turner in Atlanta
Hopewell Chin’ono with the founder owner of CNN, Ted Turner in Atlanta

I was the CNN African Journalist of the year in 2008 and I did a training fellowship at the CNN HQ in 2008 so I know almost all the big names there including the top boss, Tony Maddox.

Atlanta put me in touch with Roland Nikolaou, the senior Vice President at CNN’s parent company, Turner Broadcasting named after its founder, Ted Turner.

Roland Nikolaou, CNN Senior Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa
Roland Nikolaou, CNN Senior Vice President for Europe, Middle East and Africa

Roland asked me to tell him what I thought needed to be done at ZBC, I told him that ZBC needed training of its personnel and equipment refurbishment as part of a first phase rehabilitation process and then it will need assistance with international programming.

Roland said that he was willing to assist me in these endeavors because I was part of the CNN Journalism Fellowship international community of television journalists.

He offered to provide ZBC personnel with CNN training in Harare and then in London at their European headquarters in Great Marlborough Street.

He also offered to give ZBC an affiliate station status that would give ZBC access to over 900 television stations in the US and around the world, stations that are already party of the CNN worldwide network of news and current affairs.

Roland said that he could send their big guns to Harare to provide intensive training to business and finance reporters at ZBC as part of bringing them up to speed with how to report with accuracy on economic issues.

CNN added that they would give ZBC access to News-Source, which provides the best of the world’s News, Business Reports, Features and Archival material that is accessed online with a password on the CNN portal.

CNN said that they would also give ZBC access to the CNN Breaking News portal that will allow ZBC to broadcast live events as they happen on CNN international when something major happens.

ZBC would also have access to all of CNN’s news bureaus around the world, 4 production centers and its contacts database.

As a filmmaker, I asked him if he could allow ZBC to have access to CNN’s Hollywood Express, a 30-minute daily program covering movies and entertainment, with a wink and a nod, he agreed.

This was made possible because of my many years of working with CNN as a special assignments field producer and contact.

Next stop was my old employers in the center of London, ITV News at Grays Inn.

Geoff Hill, Editor ITV News
Geoff Hill, Editor ITV News

I had spoken to my former boss, the editor of ITV News, Geoff Hill on the phone from Harare at the beginning of October on the need to assist ZBC.

We agreed that we would meet in London on my scheduled private visit in mid October and discuss how this could be done.

I met him at the Independent Television News (ITN) headquarters in London’s Grays Inn Road, ITV News is produced by ITN.

He made it clear to me that he was only entertaining the idea because of my association with ITN and that the history between international media and the Zimbabwean government was not motivating.

He also added that he would deploy his Africa bureau team to train folks at ZBC in news reporting, editing and camerawork.

ITV News also agreed to license their current affairs flagship program, On Assignment to ZBC subject to an agreement with all the other issues.
See On Assignment here: https://www.itv.com/news/topic/on-assignment/

Geoff Hill said that he would only do it if the international development arm of the British government, the Department for International Development (DFID) was underwriting the project for reputational reasons.

Zimbabwe had been turned into a pariah state after many years of repression, corruption and lawlessness so many international institutions are still wary about our commitment to change.

I shook hands with Geoff and Michael Herrod, the Head of Foreign News At ITV News. See ITV News: https://www.itn.co.uk/brands/itv-news/

However before I left London, I also spoke to the leading British broadcast journalist, Jon Snow.

I had made contact with Jon through his wife, Dr Precious Lunga, who is a Zimbabwean born epidemiologist living in the UK.

I first met Jon a couple of years ago at a memorial service for Maggie Eales, the former Senior Vice President for CNN, where we were both key speakers in London.

Jon said that the ZBC project was exciting and that he would like to be involved because it is a skills transfer program to an area where skills are badly needed, he asked me to send him a draft with my ideas.

I did that and he suggested that it was a big project that he thought should involve his employers and not just himself.

John Snow, Veteran British television journalist and anchor for Channel 4 News
John Snow, Veteran British television journalist and anchor for Channel 4 News

Jon Snow is a veteran journalist who covered Africa from the Idi Amin days, see attached video.

He is the Channel 4 News main presenter, Channel 4 News is again produced by ITN who also produce ITV News, they are an independent company who is the biggest competitor to the BBC.

See: https://www.itn.co.uk/brands/channel-4-news/

Independent Television News has the biggest video bank of archival footage in the whole world.

See: https://www.itn.co.uk/brands/archive-footage-sales/

I came back to Harare and presented the offers to the ministry, I assume that they are still deliberating on them with their principals.

As my former ITV News boss had insisted, I reached out to the DFID team in Harare, they tabled an offer to underwrite ITV News’ concerns and to provide a three-year funding cycle for ZBC training to be done through the BBC Trust, the international development arm of the BBC.

These projects were done in the 1980s when we got our independence, but there is no institutional memory left in the system to understand how important they are and how they can be done because of decades of isolation and unfortunately the world has moved on.

Why did I do all these things without being paid? I have been working in broadcasting since 1999 in England, starting with my internship at the BBC.

Hopewell Chin’ono accepting the CNN African Journalist of the year award in Accra, looking on is Ghanaian President John Kufuor, CNN Managing Director Tony Maddox, international journalist Zain Verje and others.
Hopewell Chin’ono accepting the CNN African Journalist of the year award in Accra, looking on is Ghanaian President John Kufuor, CNN Managing Director Tony Maddox, international journalist Zain Verje and others.

I made a name in 2008 when I won the CNN African journalist of the year award and the rest is history, so I realized that my only way of giving back to my profession is by retracing my journey and seeking favors from people who respect me in the industry.

The responsibility of people like myself and many others with the requisite international contacts is to help rebuild our country and its broken institutions.

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa said that we were in a New Dispensation, a New Republic, I realized that my area of work which includes broadcasting, was still in the past, a distant embarrassing past.

That is why I did it, and that is why I would do more things for my country without getting paid because for me to be where I am today, some people went out of their way to assist me.

When the government is ready, all these broadcasters are available to start rebuilding ZBC, and they don’t have to spend a penny, because there are donors ready to assist and broadcasting institutions of repute willing to provide their best talents to do this work for free.

Zimbabwe was the second country in Sub Saharan Africa to have a television station in 1960 after Nigeria, today it is the only country in Sub Saharan Africa with only one television station.

That is a crude indictment on us, now here is the joke, ZANUPF has lost elections in all the places that ZTV is watched for the past 18 years and it has won elections in all the place where ZTV propaganda is not watched.

So what is the point of soldiering on with such a thoughtless futile propaganda mission which costs millions and yields nothing?

I have met many Zimbabweans who are willing to do the same things for the country as I did in their areas of expertise, many talented and well connected Zimbabweans!

But the country’s leaders must have the appetite to allow its people to help them and not fear change that is inevitable, and change that at times poses no danger at all to the authorities but actually enhances their credentials as change agents.

If ZBC is fixed, the masses will be happy and it is the President and his government who will take credit for it, so why are certain folks in government resisting doing the right thing?

Your guess is as good as mine.

In its current state ZBC is a laughing stock, many insiders do not want things to change for various reasons, some even peddle stories that I wanted a job, my response has been, why would I aim so low when I could get a high flying job in Europe or the US?

Our people think very local and are at time very limited in imagining a bigger world out there where bigger things happen, they also can’t imagine that someone can do things for the love of their country without expecting a penny for it, that is a reflection of how corrupt they have become.

That is how corruption has become the main staple within the state, that is why we remain stagnant because we expect a messiah to come and save us, we want dinner with fish but we do not want to go to the river.

Whenever you try and do something that involves the outside world, you are accused of either being a spy or working with an opposing party, many are yet to receive light but we shouldn’t stop because of them.

All these things are said by the enemies of progress who do not want to see the current government succeed in order to confirm their doomsday predictions, these people are both outside and inside the government.

Some will invoke the old and backward Robert Mugabe Western bashing tactic in order to avoid anything that remotely resembles excellency, this technology is Western, even Chinese journalists are training in the US and UK, then head back home.

Hopewell Chin’ono with his former boss and ITV News Editor, Geoff Hill at the ITN headquarters in London recently
Hopewell Chin’ono with his former boss and ITV News Editor, Geoff Hill at the ITN headquarters in London recently

It is the nature of transitions to have negative resistance, but this resistance and inertia which is being seen in many areas of our government will only make it difficult for the governing party to get re-elected in 2023.

A professional and competent ZBC would be able to make its own programs and sell them internationally especially Wild life and tourism making millions, but it is that lack of imagination that I spoke of that makes us buy DVDs about us from England.

A professional ZBC will create employment in the downstream industries through the creation of content production houses across he country.

It will be able to license its films and current affairs programs on airlines like what other broadcasters do to earn extra revenue.

It will sell content online and be able to become the hub for broadcasting services outside South Africa.

It will help the film industry grow because there will be somewhere to put the products of filmmaking, we have many films lying gathering dust on shelves.

So it has nothing to do with just news as some within government fear, it is about creating a watchable television experience and an exciting radio network through ZBC’s radio stations.

As a nation we must develop an inquiring and curious mind, a mind that imagines beyond its current confines, that is how the CNNs and BBCs were built.

People like Ted Turner and John Reith imagined a world with such big Media conglomerates and they built them.

HAPPY NEW YEAR FOLKS!

Hopewell Chin’ono is an award winning Zimbabwean international Journalist and Documentary Filmmaker. He is a Harvard University Nieman Fellow and a CNN African Journalist of the year.

He is also a Fellow at the University of Oxford’s Africa Leadership Institute.

Hopewell has a new documentary film looking at mental illness in Zimbabwe called State of Mind, which was launched to critical acclaim.

It was nominated last week for a big award at the Festival International du Film Pan-Africain de Cannes in France. You can watch the documentary trailer below.

Hopewell can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter @daddyhope