My name is Vimbayi Kajese. It’s Shona, one of our native languages in Zimbabwe meaning “Have Faith Small Yellow Bird”. A meaning & destiny I fully intend to live up to. I have recently returned back home to my native land to start my own production company after a 6-year stint in China, where I lived & worked. Most of my immediate family, my parents & 2 younger siblings are in here in Zimbabwe. My oldest brother lives in Texas, US. I am also the proud aunt of 2 nieces and a nephew over the past year.
Journey into Broadcasting
On the surface, getting into journalism looks like it all happened by accident but on close inspection my whole life was basically geared towards a career in TV…I mean I didn’t go to Journalism school nor did I have formal training to start with, but I was brought up on a diet of the news from a young age. In 2008, while in Beijing, I needed a change in career from PR consultancy to allow myself more flexibility and time to pursue my other interests outside work. The financial crash had just started so it wasn’t the most opportune time to job hunt. Nevertheless I pressed on with my decision to leave my job, narrowed down my passions and picked one, the news. I used my resources and my contacts, literally creating myself a career in networking for a few months. From that, I landed an internship at Reuters TV. I learned the ropes producing news packages for news network clients. I was directing, editing & scripting stories. One day my boss approached me and suggested I try my hand at broadcasting. Since Reuters doesn’t broadcast news with anchors (it produces news content for other networks to present) I wasn’t going to get that type of experience there. I remember looking up at the screens, one of the channels was on CCTV, and thinking, “there are no black women on that channel! Heck I don’t think they’ve ever had an African, …and given the extent of our relations, that makes no sense!”
So that moment essentially started the ball rolling. I networked my way into CCTV, faced a few setbacks that would have most people give up…eventually got put in touch with my boss and in August 2009 I was the first African on Chinese Television.
Some Difficulties Faced
It wasn’t easy at the time I was trying to get in. CCTV is huge, 10,000 plus people, over 20 channels. The English channel alone has around 15 shows, which behave like their own mini companies and contacts inside who’d forwarded my CV came back saying I was the wrong colour and that my African accent might be unintelligible to viewers. I didn’t care, I kept trying other departments, I knew I’d come across someone forward thinking enough to see an opportunity in attracting new viewers from a different part of the world…and I did.
Also because I didn’t have formal TV training, I had to teach myself a lot. I didn’t have the luxury of making my mistakes in the privacy of a cubicle or my boss; I made them in front of millions. That was very daunting at first. Plus as the face of the program, you bear the brunt of any mistakes that are made: faulty scripts, technical malfunctions, wrong instructions from the director, they all look like your faults. I used to take such mishaps personally; I thought I was being judged if I didn’t come across as perfect. I had to learn to leave my anchor self and any problems that happened that day, at the station move on, and improve for the next day.
I picked the Chinese language up fast. I started the basics in Kansas at my university as I was preparing to go on a scholarship tour in 2004. It is one thing to learn a language in a remote country…it’s another to live it in its natural habitat. Living in Chinese…living as an African in Chinese, is a fascinating experience because it stretches your brain, your thought process, your tongue & jaw muscles in ways that other languages can’t. I was top of my class at the China Foreign Affairs University when it came to dictation. I could read and write better than I could speak. Reading is wrought memory and writing is memory plus tactic, but speaking…that’s where practice, skill and some serious tongue dexterity differentiate you from all the other ‘laowais’ (foreigners). It took me 6 months to reach a level where I could teach myself.
Other African’s in Media
There are a lot more famous Africans than I in Chinese media and with local viewers, however they are more on the local entertainment side. For example there is a fancy Nigerian pop star called Hao Ge/Emmanuel, my Cameroonian friend, Francis who is a master in the arts of cross talk, and there is my Sierra Leonean friend actor, singer, comedian and host, Maria. I’m very proud of the trailblazers they are and really challenging the Chinese to re-think the notion of Africa.
Outside of being a TV Presenter
I write opinion articles for The Charitarian Magazine as the Women’s Affairs & Sino-Africa Editor
I am the PR & Media counselor for YAPS (Young African Professionals in China)
I work in our family business as a Client Relations Developer
I enjoy spending time with friends I’ve made in orphanages and shelters
I’m a women’s activist and got my early start working for a rape crisis center while in University
My Mission and Vision
I believe my purpose is to inform the world about Africa but first and foremost, inform Africa about itself. And with that information I plan to attract the African diaspora back, redirect the brain drain and make it our brain gain. All too often are we experts in the backstreets and businesses of other nations outside our continent but have never been a tourist in our own country…what more our neighbors? It’s a tall order but if I can have but a miniscule impact on changing one person’s mind to come back and contribute their skills to building their country, thus starting a ripple effect, then I will consider my purpose completed.
I will be doing this with info-taining travel shows around the continent.
My short-term goal is to officially launch my company VAMBOO MEDIA PRODUCTIONS and my travel shows before the UN Tourism Summit takes place early next year in Vic Falls. Then from there, venture into other African countries and expose the continent’s hidden treasures to the world; its diverse people and business opportunities.
Oprah is my main inspiration, plus all the CNN World female anchors.
Lessons I didn’t expect to Learn or Teach
First and foremost I’ve learnt that what I do is not just about me, there is a bigger agenda and I have a part to play. For example there were times when I physically couldn’t get up to go to another broadcast, my health took a beating from all the lack of sleep due to the strange hours. But, on those particularly tough days there were always people who’d write & tell me what an inspiration I’d been; how they’re considering a move to CHINA now; how they now think it’s possible to have a career in TV, in a strange country as a person of colour; how I’d brighten their day; how they used me as an example of WHY China IS safe for black people to live in- especially for all their worried relatives back home.
It was like the bigger agenda had no time for my complaints, there were ripples to start, people to inspire and conversations that needed to be had. One of the many conversations that my role on CCTV stirred up, was the issue of racism in China, and this new immigration trend as Africans to bypass the West as staples of opportunity. So if I can inspire people to move to China, what more Zimbabwe or South Africa or Kenya? Are there opportunities in our countries we aren’t taking for ourselves? So this is why I returned home, to lay the groundwork for the diaspora, show them that incentives do exist in our countries and that we’ll make a bigger impact at home.
Core Foundations that Steered my Path
One, my parents were very influential in how they taught me to think, to see the world and to react to challenges. As a result I am a happy person who is positive thinking and I believe good things happen to happy positive people. I move on quickly from bad things, I don’t waddle in sorrow; I see setbacks as springboards to make a comeback. I always speak in faith; I encourage people’s dreams, and then celebrate their victories.
Two, living and traveling around the world has played a big factor in my journey, I would never have moved to China if I wasn’t open and curious about other parts of the world.
And three, I have friends who truly epitomize the experience of true love. They lent me a couch or a bed when I needed a place, they spread out their business cards when I needed a job, they gave me services that shouldn’t have been for free, but most importantly they prayed for me and encouraged me and let me be all sides of me without questioning or judging aspects of my personality that didn’t add up. To them I am eternally grateful.
Achievements I’m Proud of
My biggest accomplishment is my walk with God, understanding His purpose for my life and being able to have a spiritual relationship that inspires others to bring their spirituality into every aspect of their life.
- I was one of 9 students in a university of 30,000 to win an all expense paid scholarship tour that first brought me to China.
- I was featured on the first Kansas University ” Women of Distinction” Calendar for my academic and community service achievements
- The Chinese government appointed me as a Special Friendship Envoy and Cultural Ambassador for drawing the continent’s attention to China
- I was invited to speak as a panelist at the 2011 Harvard Business School Africa Conference
- I was listed as one of top 100 most Influential Zimbabweans under 40
- I was one of 192 selected amongst thousands across the world by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader this year. I am one of 4 nominated from Zimbabwe since the YGL group started in 2005.
My thoughts on China in Africa, advantages:
Africa has a new and powerful alternative that is bigger than the World Bank or the IMF. As lines of credit and loans are more flexible and ‘conditionless‘- where sovereignty is concerned- the traditional financial institutions represented by Western countries, have to be more creative in how they deal with Africa and not just expect their under bided offers to be accepted. All while we wait decades for anything tangible to come to fruition. The Chinese are superfast and are willing to barter, “give us tobacco and we’ll build you a road since you don’t have cash” is how they negotiate, “we can start next week and be finished in a month”. This is a progressive step in the right direction and music to the ears of our governments from non-traditional economies (Zimbabwe is a perfect example). We are not longer treated as a basket aid-case, but for once a partner for trade. The trickle up effect of this is that China, as a serious competitor for Africa’s goods, will create a bidding effect with increased demand, which will push the market price of our products up.
Some of the disadvantages:
Well, China like any other sovereignty is going to put their interests firsts. So let’s not fool ourselves into believing all the buzzwords of the day. There is hardly ever a true ‘win-win’ situation, and certainly not at this stage of our engagement. For example, China has a history and the power to mass-produce for the masses. Done in Africa undercuts our local prices, forcing small time entrepreneurs out of business. There is also this problem of Africa being China’s latest dumping ground for cheap and bad quality goods. Although this gives the lower economic echelon access to goods they could not previously afford, these goods seep their way into high-end stores creating a negative impression of the ‘Made In China’ brands when they break.
(Now, I get annoyed when the Chinese are labeled as neo-colonizers, folks need to be careful with just throwing that accusation around. No one is putting a gun to our heads, or forcing us to change our religion, culture, language and way of life, while pillaging our resources, our women and our land in exchange for our lives and the ‘opportunity’ to try and produce crop from barren, arid, dust.)
China is a developing nation itself, so its relationship with the environment is also developing. One of the biggest disadvantages I see is the effect China’s presence will have on our delicate and clean environment. I’ve coughed up the black and brown effects of deforestation during Beijing’s springtime’s Gobi desert sandstorms, and I would hate to have such an environmental effect for the sake of infrastructure development, imported to our continent.
Advice to Fellow Africans
Think outside the box to careers that aren’t limited or based on an education system that isn’t even geared towards our countries’ development. Yes lawyers, doctors and accountants are good, but trust me there’s life beyond these professions. We need entrepreneurs to grow our private sector and middle class, we need engineers and folks with technical skills to build our roads and introduce ways of conserving our energy; we need sports men and women to represent our country and we need TV presenters to tell our own stories! What we don’t need is more obscure ‘business men’ because at the end of the day we’ll still just be middlemen asking someone else to build our roads; we should be building our own. Plus aim at being well balanced; build a resume of community service so that you understand how to use your highflying paying job to assist others.
My advice is also at African parents, foster your child’s interests in sports, martial arts, dance, music, the arts etc because these things will keep them balanced and creative in their professions. Plus such extracurricular activities are more likely to take them abroad at an earlier age, exposing them to a broader network before a job will.
For Africans seeking opportunities in China
China is just one example, but we cannot just focus on China alone, there’s a whole other continent of Asia and the entire world. I would say look to your neighbors first before deciding to embark off the continent. Yes, China is at the top of it’s game, because its leading the way for how emerging markets will one day take over the world and change the global economic and interacting landscape. So to use China’s example, we as African’s shouldn’t just depend on one country alone, China hasn’t. We should diversify our economic and cultural partnerships. My suggestion, if you have that itch to leave home, yes do come to China, but also invest in our developing-market, sister-economies, because this is where growth is, and this is where the new money will come from. Traditional industrialized economies are exhausted; their markets are saturated, so unless you’re an iphone/facebook apps engineer or the next Mark Zuckerburg, your talents, skills and education will make more of an impact in our sort of countries. Besides, all of the best talent is being harnessed here anyways.
School wise, the US still has the best tertiary education, hands down; and that’s why it attracts a lot of us, but as far as secondary education goes, the world is your oyster. So as a new strategic career path – for those that are young enough- I’d do part of my secondary education in Chinese at a top Beijing high school, go to the States for university then go back home, and facilitate emerging market to emerging market relations… Or I’d definitely do a post grad here in China in Chinese.
Unknown Fun Fact about me
I was in love with superman when I was 3/4. Christopher Reeves was my first crush, and my dream was to grow up to be Louis Lane and fly around the world’s cities at night with him, go to the moon, check out his village, planet Krypton…stuff like that. I don’t think people realized how affected I was by his passing decades later.
Source: Africans on The Move
Vimbayi Kajese featured in the African Journal documentary, titled Africans in China, watch below