Television programs originating in Africa are beginning to make their way into American homes, thanks to a new network called the Africa Channel, which has been making its debut in various US markets since September of last year. The station is headquartered in Los Angeles, California, and is financed by an executive board that includes African-American civic leaders like former UN Ambassador Andrew Young and former Alabama senator Donald Stewart, as well as professional basketball players Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliffe.
One of the private company’s main objectives is to demystify Africa for American viewers and change common North American perceptions from images of hunger, poverty, jungles, and natural disasters to those that celebrate Africa’s rich and diverse cultures.
The outlet’s Zimbabwe-born chief executive officer, James Makawa, tells English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser, “First and foremost, we are an entertainment network that is designed to inform and entertain. And we are also very well positioned on the Internet. There are some exciting things that we’ve got planned that will tie in directly to what we are doing on the television channel. So the idea here is to showcase Africa in a way that people are going to be surprised, engaged, and will see a whole new way of living and life that they’re not used to seeing.”
Most of the programs running on the Africa Channel originate in Africa, particularly in South Africa. The content ranges from “Africa Music,” a kind of MTV musical experience, to the contestant program “Big Brother Africa,” to “Carte Blanche Africa,” a fast-paced news magazine show, to a daily dose of the African soap operas “Generations,” and “Isidingo,” which have never before been carried on stations in US media markets.
CEO Makawa says he’s hopeful that Africa Channel is about to sign a distribution deal with a major American cable carrier that will greatly expand its penetration of US cities. The goal is to eventually have its lively program lineup also carried on stations in Europe and Africa.
Last September the network made a rather extraordinary debut in its first US market in the southern state of Louisiana. It went on the air in the city of New Orleans the same week that Hurricane Katrina wreaked unprecedented devastation across the Mississippi Delta region.
Despite the widespread loss of electricity and means of communication, James Makawa says, “People in the middle of the hurricane were sending emails and information saying this is the most colorful channel they had ever seen. They couldn’t believe the fashion that they were seeing. They couldn’t believe the music they were hearing. And so the initial feedback we have received from those specific markets has been absolutely tremendous.”