In this photo taken on June 28, Mo Abudu, chief executive officer of EbonyLife TV, speaks to Associated Press during an interview in Lagos, Nigeria. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
by Michelle Faul
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) — A woman who could be considered Africa’s Oprah Winfrey is launching an entertainment network that will be beamed into nearly every country on the continent with programs showcasing its burgeoning middle class.
Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu wants EbonyLife TV to inspire Africans and the rest of the world, and change how viewers perceive the continent. The network’s programming tackles women’s daily life subjects — everything from sex tips to skin bleaching.
“Not every African woman has a pile of wood on her head and a baby strapped to her back!” the glamorous 48-year-old told The Associated Press from a hotel’s penthouse floor against a backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean and high-rise buildings flanked by palm and almond trees.
“We watch Hollywood as if all of America is Hollywood,” she said. “In that same vein we need to start selling the good bits of Africa.”
Months of work to provide original content includes the flagship program “Sistaz!” about two Greek-Nigerian sisters and a British-born Nigerian friend who check into the Eko Hotel for a holiday reunion and rediscover the passion of sisterhood and the vibrant city of Lagos.
“It helps show that you can go to Africa for a holiday, you can go to Nigeria on holiday, you can go to Lagos” and enjoy a vacation, Abudu said of the much-maligned Nigerian financial capital that is much improved since the country transitioned from military dictatorship to civilian rule in 1999.
The characters are as cosmopolitan as Abudu, a tall and elegant woman with sculpted cheekbones. She was born in London, came to Nigeria when she was a youngster and returned to Britain after her father died when she was 12. She returned to settle when she married a Nigerian at age 28.
Once her children were in their teens, Abudu, a former executive with the oil giant Exxon-Mobil, abandoned a 20-year career in human resources in 2006 to become a self-taught television talk show host. “Moments with Mo” became the first syndicated daily talk show on African regional TV and also is aired in Britain on a Sky TV channel.
She has interviewed celebrities from Hillary Rodham Clinton, former African presidents F. W. de Klerk of South Africa and John Kufuor of Ghana, former England soccer skipper Rio Ferdinand, musician R. Kelly and American fashion icon Diane Von Furstenberg.
A telling moment for Abudu came she was standing at London’s Marble Arch and decided, on a whim, to ask people what came to their minds when they heard the word Africa.
The answers ranged from Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s dictatorial ruler of 33 years, the British charity Oxfam and famine to babies with flies on their faces. “The nicest thing I heard was ‘sunshine,'” said an appalled Abudu.
Years later, she is setting out to transform that vision by shining a bright light on the so-called “dark continent’s” riches — its super-talented young entrepreneurs, fabulous art scene, up-and-coming fashion designers, provocative authors and sassy musicians.
One program is hosted by rhythm and blues artist Banky W and singer-songwriter Tiwa Savage. Their first program discusses why more and more Nigerian women are bleaching their skins and whether men prefer lighter-skinned black women.
So the network will not ignore some of the darker sides of Africa’s realities, though Abudu promises “a different reality.”
It will feature a specially commissioned movie, “New Horizons,” from award-winning filmmaker Tope Oshin Ogun that bares the plight of women across the continent subjected to domestic abuse, a prevalent crime that is not often addressed.
And radio host Oreka Godis stars in “Love Lounge,” where she will ask the cheeky questions for which she is known of sexologists, life coaches and psychotherapists.
While Nollywood movies also are notorious for often poor quality, though this is improving, Abudu aims for the highest quality in a network she hopes will eventually be broadcast beyond Africa to the millions in the diaspora.
“What we say is ‘Everything you think you know about Africa is about to change,'” Abudu said.