BFP: What do you do?
BN: I am the Senior Reporter and Markets Editor of ‘Foreign Direct Investment’ (fDi) Magazine, which is part of the Financial Times Group. It is a bi-monthly publication, and I write articles and in-depth special reports that cover Africa, Asia and Middle East. I track these regions’ markets and I report on the business of crossborder investments. For this I interview political and business leaders, ranging from presidents and ministers, to CEOs and managing directors. I also represent fDi Magazine at international summits and conferences, acting as a speaker, panellist and moderator.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
BN: Travelling and meeting all types of fascinating individuals. My work has taken me across the globe from some global destinations like Tokyo in Japan; Dubai in the UAE; to Nairobi, Kenya; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; Seoul, South Korea; and Casablanca, Morocco. My job has also taken me to less well-known places. For example, I went to meet the president of Gabon in his palace in Franceville, Gabon; I met the finance ministers of Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and South Africa in Arusha, Tanzania, and I interviewed some dynamic managing directors in Chengdu, China. I have met some interesting people along the way, made good friends, and tasted exotic dishes too! I enjoy public speaking and I have widely spoken on the business of foreign direct investment in several conferences. I spoke about Tunisia’s investment opportunities in Tunis, in the country’s first investment conference after it went through the Arab Spring uprising, and that was really exciting. I went back home to Kenya (where I am originally from) to speak at an Africa Caribbean Pacific Economic Zones convention in Mombasa and I enjoyed meeting some local players from the private sector. I have spoken at a host of other conferences around the world, and I have enjoyed every moment of it.
BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?
BN: Learning on the go has posed its challenges. I was relatively inexperienced in business reporting when I started my role. As my educational background is in Politics, it was very challenging learning and getting used to some of the economic jargon that I had to write about on a daily basis. It felt like I was learning a new language.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges?/ What advice, would you give to others?
BN: Immersion. I went straight into it and just read it over and over again until my brain could process it, a little at a time. I drew this experience from another similar occasion. While studying Politics as a student at the University of Nottingham, I applied to study in Paris as an Erasmus student and I was successful. The excitement turned into fear when I got to Paris, and realised I could not speak a word of French. I chose to study in a French university called ‘Insititut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris’ (Sciences Po, Paris) as I have always wanted to speak French. I did not realise it would be so difficult but I faced the challenge head on. I read French children books, French magazines, watched French films (which I did not understand for some months), but my brain slowly processed it, and I left after a year conversant in the language, with many French-speaking friends. I applied the same principle when I started my current role. I read fDi Magazine and the Financial Times newspaper on a daily basis, Googled unfamiliar terms, read ‘Economics for Dummies’, and after a while I begun understanding it. If you want something, go for it. Do not be afraid of challenges, for you may surprise yourself if you persevere. Do not expect quick fixes either. It takes a while. Yet anything worth working for does not come easily.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
BN: My advice is if journalism is what you want to do, intern as much as you can at newspapers. If you cannot get into the big mainstream papers, go for the smaller ones. If you still cannot get into those, go for small the start-up student papers or the independent journals. If you still cannot get in, either start your own paper, or intern elsewhere. It is less about where you intern, and more about the experience and the skills you acquire, and how you can illustrate that you are hardworking, driven and entrepreneurial, in your own way. For example, I interned in two non-governmental organisations as a researcher in Senegal and Cameroon. This helped me get my big break, when I got onto an internship as an Editorial Researcher for another Financial Times publication called ‘This is Africa’. It was while I was there that I searched for opportunities and landed my role with fDi Magazine
BFP: Finally; what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
BN: I want to learn about how I can practically address Africa’s development challenges in my own way, as I believe one of the continent’s solutions lies in the private sector. Africa needs a larger private sector that can absorb more of its citizens, and teach them the skills that can make them move out of poverty, as well as grow their countries’ economies. I joined Business Fights Poverty as I want to learn more about this. I enjoy reading the articles posted and I want to learn more from the community, to see how the private for-profit sector can be harnessed to promote development, and make profits, on the continent. I am also interested in adding to the debate. I have a new book that is due for release called “Building Brics: The new scramble for Africa”. This looks at how Brazil, Russia, India and China are altering the continent’s investment landscape, and I question this much publicised concept of a “scramble for Africa”, by looking at whether the continent’s new partners are benefitting Africa. I present examples of corporates from each of these countries (i.e. China’s petroleum company Sinopec, Brazil’s aircraft manufacturer, Embraer, etc) and I illustrate how they are changing the continent’s business dynamics, through using current examples, which draw from my work and visits to the continent. This will be available on Amazon from next week.
Thank you to Barbara Njau for taking the time to do this interview.
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