Maureen Nkandu began her broadcasting career aged eighteen, at Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC). Maureen has had an illustrious career. From ZNBC, she joined BOP TV as executive producer and presenter. She also worked as chief international correspondent for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, The epitome of her broadcasting career was with the BBC World Service in London, presenting and producing the BBC’s flagship programme Focus on Africa for six years. She has also worked in senior roles with the UN, African Union’s NEPAD Agency and the World Bank in Zambia. She won the Best TV News Reader at ZNBC for four years running (1989-92), PAZA News Journalist of the Year (1992) and at BOPTV Best TV Personality of Year (1993). She was also nominated by the International Women’s Media Foundations’ for the Courage in Journalism Award whilst with SABC for her coverage of the civil war in the Sierra Leone and the DRC. She is currently writing a book on her experience as one of the few African women to cover civil war and conflict in Africa.
You are one of Africa’s most prominent women in the media having worked internationally prominent international media. What got you to these senior levels?
Several things, but key among them – Faith in God, focus, confidence, determination, discipline and of course my natural intellect! I have always known what I’ve wanted to do and been extremely organized and ambitious about it. This entails, being well researched, understanding what is expected of me by my employers, colleagues and peers, and doing my job well.
Being successful involves hard work and a lot of sacrifices. It’s been my upbringing to exceed expectations through hard work and determination so it comes naturally in my career life. I do what I like, what I think is right and what impacts positively on others. My work ethics have done me good. I stay focused on being professional. My secret is to enjoy what I do, because if it is interesting, rewarding, challenging and making me a better person then I’ll do it well.
Socially, I have a close-knit circle of like-minded friends and we groom and strengthen each other. We tell each other truth and discuss ways of making our lives better, while also having a lot of fun. I walk out of something the minute I lose passion. I don’t waste my time on what doesn’t matter to me. I believe in being happy.
You reported from some pretty difficult places as a journalist; where did you find the courage?
Again, Faith and Trust in God that I’d stay safe and sane in the difficult terrains that I traversed. I am always well-researched, well-read and have good sources of information. So knowing where I was going, what I was going to do there and what I wanted to get out of a region, country or situation was critical. I reported on civil war and conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, the LRA conflict in northern Uganda, Kenya, as well as covered elections, volatile political developments and humanitarian situations in sub-Saharan Africa. It was an exceptional experience of which I am writing about in my soon to be published book.
I went to these different places out of a passion to tell the truth about what was going on, and to ensure that the world knew what was happening. I felt that there was always an important story to tell. For me the most significant aspect was bringing out the voice of the afflicted, or those concerned, mainly citizens who were either victims of war, hunger, human rights violation, or beneficiaries of development support, good governance and the right polices.
What advice would you give a young woman aiming to make their mark in the media?
Although I don’t believe in defining sexes and career choices through the gender box, I’d say that drawing from my experience; it’s a lot harder for a woman to excel in journalism or any other profession by the way, than it is for a man.
I started my career aged 18. I was young, talented, inexperienced but extremely ambitious and confident. There were a lot of stumbling blocks. Fellow women were not supportive; men viewed me and still do, as a sex object. I experienced enormous sexual harassment within my work environment. However, I have excelled despite the many obstacles. I chose to work for international organisations like the UN, BBC, African Union, because of my passion in international relations and because they are more professional.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge I have faced is juggling a highly demanding career with being a good mother and a wife. The husband fell by the wayside so I became a single mother years ago and excelled. I’d imagine that for any young woman wanting to be a successful journalist, getting married or having children, would be grossly difficult to balance. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done, but I have achieved good results. My daughter is now married, my older son is at university and the youngest boy is a top achiever with “A” grades and champion sports-boy at school. That’s my success story!
Journalism in a sense is about people’s lives and gives you unfettered access to a myriad of human situations. What are some of the life lessons you’ve learnt in your work?
Anyone can be a source of news. Journalism is about life, how people live, what affects them and why it matters. Honesty and integrity are important factors, as are ethics and morality. Telling the story truthfully is key. I have also learned a lot about the resilience of the human spirit; how people strive to excel or achieve high goals in whatever they do, as well as how those in very difficult circumstances hold on life and get on by. The most important lesson of all, Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) and be happy.
Sadly, our journalists these days sell out –some out of no choice of their own. They are badly paid, overworked and live in deplorable conditions. Media standards have fallen, with many thinking that only the political story makes you a good journalist. There’s very little investigative journalism going on. I see very few human interest or development stories.
Everyone wants opportunity; how does one attract opportunity?
Depends on what one sees as an opportunity as people have very individual approaches to life. I am focused and always know what I want for myself and those that matter to me. So I approach life with an open mind, confidence, and courage and also caution. I also don’t wait for what’s due to me to fall on my laps. I go for what I want if it’s worth the chase and I get it. I will cross over fire to get what I feel is valuable to my life. I’ve done so in many instances in my career and even personal life.
What would you say your passion is and how do you live it daily?
I have a two-fold passion:
- Professional- I am passionate about journalism and international affairs. I was politicized at an early age because of my father’s journalistic and political career. His work inspired me, as did other politicians around the world. Having worked as a journalist and communications specialist for thirty years, I have a very high regard for the noble profession and for the hard and thankless job that journalists do, often for very low reward. I am passionate about human rights, freedom of speech, women’s emancipation and the dearest of them all, news and current affairs. I am tuned in to what’s going on around the world 24/7. So intense is my passion for news that my sons and our dog sit never miss the news. They have caught on. It’s an addiction!
- Personal – I am passionate about my children and their welfare and the lovely little things that make a big difference to my life; cooking, gardening, painting, interior decoration, fashion, playing the Guitar and needlework.
What impact are you most proud of making?
First, the positive impact and influence on my children. They are focused, meticulous, ambitious and determined. They are also honest and sincere. Like me, my children plan what they will do the next day as well as how they will manage the day. It helps to stay focused but also to attain the goals we set out to do.
I have met a lot of young journalists in Zambia, Swaziland, Namibia and South Africa who say they studied journalism because they were inspired by me or wanted to be like me. I strive for perfection because I believe it’s the right thing to do. If this can rob off positively on others then it is a good thing. It is encouraging to know that my work has had such a profound impact on some.
How do you typically handle challenges and what do you do to keep growing?
I’ve been dealing with challenges from a very young age. Having been a public face when I was only a teenager and coping with the public attention, onslaught and all other things that came with it, gave me the skill and experience to deal with various challenges.
- I am a very positive person, very brave and fearless. I believe that there’s no problem that cannot be solved so I take on situations boldly.
- I pray every day and look to God for guidance.
- I focus on what matters and shut out challenges that are not worth my effort
- I take leadership when things are difficult, mobilize and motivate others towards a better outcome; make the best out of a bad situation.
- I am a private person and often find quiet moments to reflect on what’s going on in my life and to re-energize. I choose my “friends’ carefully and have one or two very close people to whom I bounce off issues or seek advice from.
- I always focus on what’s right and not what’s popular or what others think.
For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.