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My Five Minutes Chat with Eric Chinje by Lambert Mbom.

 

From L to R: Ben Fonlon (MC), Eric Chinje (Honoree), Emma Osong (MC)


Last December 11, 2011, Cameroonian World Bank-IMF Staff Association (CAMWISA) hosted a farewell dinner at the Hamptons Conference Center, Largo for an illustrious colleague, Eric Chinje who was leaving the World Bank after twenty years of service and moving over to the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in London. I caught up with the honoree during the event and in our five minutes’ chat, this is what he had to say:


What are your impressions of today’s celebration in honor of your legacy at the World Bank?

Eric Chinje: I did not expect it. For an event that was put together in one week, if anybody had told me that I would see anything even remotely close to this, I would have laughed it off. I thought I was going to have a handful of my colleagues from the World Bank and a handful of friends from around the community. In one week, to put together an event like this, I am blown away.

All the things that were said, if you are not humble enough, they may go into your head. They just reminded me of putting things in perspective. The importance of even helping others understand we are nothing but instruments in God’s hands.

When I heard everything, I was only saying thank God, thank God, thank God that I have been able to use what I have been given to do this. You know you do things and you walk away. Look at the security guards from the World Bank. They came and not only gave me these kind, touching words but they gave me a card and on top of that money. How do I begin to appreciate something like that?

L I felt so touched and I have learnt to say thank God because it is not about me. I was in school and there were much smarter people. I was at work and there are much smarter people. I even enter a taxi and the taxi driver tells me things I have never known. I go into a hotel and am arguing with a hotel bag carrier and I discover things I could never have imagined. It is all of these things that put things in perspective for me. So when I hear all beautiful things that were said about me, I was genuinely happy and touched but at the same time willing to say thank God.

What are the differences between your work as a journalist in CRTV and as Communications’ Director for the World Bank?

Eric Chinje: Not a whole lot in the sense that in each of those places I try to see how best to use the platform. How do I use this platform to make a difference. With CRTV as you must have heard Herbert Boh say, everyday I came up with a problem we could resolve through Television. That is how I thought I would use that instrument.

At the World Bank, I thought of how we could use the convening power of that institution to put the spotlight on Africa. I used that platform differently.

In a sense, and today when I go to the Mo Ibrahim foundation that is what I would be trying to do.

And in all of these, I am not a super human being. I just pray that God gives me the ability to see how best to use the institution, to use the platform not for me but to see how I could see the instrument to make this world a better place. How to leverage the platform to make the most and touch more lives to make a difference especially in the lives of children.

Times are changing and so too is journalism. What advice would you offer to any young aspiring journalists?

ERIC CHINJE:The nature of journalism has changed. If I were a young man today beginning a career or mid career, I would be looking at how do I use these new instruments of communication to inform a growing number of people throughout the world. How do I leverage everything? You could do it from your bedroom or from your living room. You can blog, tweet, go on FB. You can leverage all of these new media and even through them get the possibilities now. O My God it is just amazing. If I were a journalist today, I would be writing, talking, interviewing, be seeking for information where it exists. The sky is the limit today. It is not just about social media alone. It is also about how you use social media to penetrate traditional media and through that to use vast audiences.

Any last word?

ERIC CHINJE: Three things which I have learnt in my life which I want to share:

  • Learn to listen. Believe me to learn to listen
  • Learn to give. Not only in the receiving; there is a lot of joy in the giving.
  • Learn the lessons of humility. Listen, give and find meaning – internal meaning in humility and you do that you begin to see the face of God.
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CNN and the promotion of African journalism (1995 – 2011) Hip, Hip Hurray. By Lambert Mbom.

It was veteran Cameroonian journalist, Charly Ndichia who cast a damper on my thirst and taste for news spewed by government run Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV) when in one of the usual intros to the newscast, he boldly proclaimed: and now lies from CRTV.

When Nigerian movies made their debut, they became an instant hit and safe for the fact that CRTV is funded by taxes, it should have been something of the past now outclassed by competition.

News junkies heaved a great sigh of relief when with the liberalization of media, vistas to the outside world were opened and CNN became a luxury many guarded jealously and consumed lavishly.

Thanks to CNN, I had the rare privilege of staying up late to watch “Operation Desert Storm” commissioned by President George W. H. Bush. One lived the grim events of September 11, 2001 vividly from far away Cameroon thanks to the live feed on CNN. I will never forget how I pulled an all-nighter just to watch live President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address live. Again, thanks to CNN. One would not be exaggerating to say that CNN is the most watched American channel in Africa.

My first cultural shock then came when I got to the US and discovered that CNN is not that global media juggernaut or enfant cheri of the American population. Yet, I was consoled by the fact that of all major TV networks in the US, CNN is the only network that since 1995 has sought to groom African talent in this elite profession of journalism through its African journalist of the year award.

It would be interesting to conduct a survey on which is the most popular cable TV network among African immigrants in the US. Given that many African immigrants lean towards the Democrats, MSNBC will surely win. This is even more so with an African in the White House and FOX News is often seen wrongfully albeit to be spinning an anti-Obama rhetoric. In this “feud” between MSNBC and FOX, CNN seems to enjoy a comfortable middle ground.

Within the last 16 years, CNN has been in the frontlines grooming African journalists through its African journalist of the year award. Alarmed by the lack of respect for African journalists, Edward Boateng, then regional director of Turner Broadcasting (CNN’s parent company) launched this prestigious award “to try and help them gain recognition for their hard work and commitment.” The competition also aims at “reinforcing the importance of attaining and maintaining high quality journalism while rewarding, recognizing and encouraging journalistic talent across all media disciplines in Africa.

The competition’s history reveals that Kenya and South Africa are the power houses of journalism in Africa having produced six winners each. Kenyan Fatuma Noor last June 25th was named CNN MultiChoice African journalist for the year 2011. With Kenya as the silicon valley of Africa and South Africa’s famous South African Broadcasting Company (SABC) such spectacular feats could not be otherwise. South Africa has produced 49 finalists and Kenya 19 while in the individual categories, South Africa still leads with 24 winners, Kenya 21, Nigeria 3, Zimbabwe 2 and Ghana 1.

One cannot resist the urge to ask where Cameroonian journalists are especially given the fact that one of the reasons often touted to support the union between Southern Cameroons and East Cameroon is the fact that Cameroon was meant to be an epitome of bilingualism in Africa. This is yet another proof of the systemic failure of this experiment.

If this competition is the barometer of journalism in Africa,, then one cannot but lament the fact that Cameroon continues to lag behind. Even though one may argue that it is myopic to measure the true state of journalism in Cameroon by one competition, yet the fact that just two Cameroonian journalists of French extraction have won in the individual category in this competition is a grave call for concern. Originally limited to the English entries, later expanded to Francophone Africa in 2002 and to Portuguese speaking category in 2005, it is shocking to find that Cameroon with Portuguese roots and English and French as national languages has not featured prominently in this competition.

And back to CNN, it is worth noting that this is also the only network with an African – a Sierra Leonean of British background with a mellifluous British accent who appears on cable TV. Isha Sessay who anchors on AC360 and hosts Inside Africa was just the right person to emcee the 2011 CNN MultiChoice award.

While the NAACP last July 6 critiqued CNN for failing to include any African American journalists in primetime news, it would be disingenuous for one not to laud the network for programs like Inside Africa, Marketplace Africa, African Voices that it broadcasts to Africa.

Even though one would have loved to see African faces and hear African voices within the elite division of CNN, CNN must be commended for eschewing the temptation of depriving Africa of its rich talent. CNN could have used this competition to feed itself but rather has sought to groom for local consumption and spared Africa from brain-drain. It is fitting to say congratulations CNN and thank you.

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