First a caveat; Marie is African by marriage. Does that qualify her to star as an ‘African’? Well, I obviously think so, so here we go.
Marie Lora-Mungai was once upon a time, a television journalist for CNN. Bored with the studio side of things, she jumped ship and moved to Nairobi, Kenya, where she lived her dream of doing field work. She reported for CNN, Reuters TV, AFP TV and the BBC World Service on everything from conflicts in Somalia, Darfur or DRC to presidential elections from the US to Kenya, Sierra Leone or Angola, to fashion shows and film premieres. Marie holds a Masters in Political Sciences from Sciences Po and a Masters in Marketing from ESCP Europe Business School.
The award-winning journalist, embarked on yet another venture in 2007 when she co-founded Buni Media, a multi-media company which produces the flagship political satire show, the ‘XYZ Show’ in Kenya. It has been hailed as the first show of its kind, using puppets and computer-generated backgrounds. The XYZ show has grown in leaps and bounds and reportedly has over 8 million viewers. Besides The XYZ Show, Buni Media produces documentaries; publishes books through its publishing arm BuniPublishing, and produces various animation projects through BuniVisualFX, its animation studio. Buni Media recently shot the pilot for a children’s program about ancient African history which also involves puppets. BuniWorkshop, creates puppets and props not only for its own productions but also on commission for other companies. Buni Media is also set to produce its first feature film project, on the life of John Githongo. Buni means ‘innovation’ in Swahili.
Marie is very passionate about Africa, and fervently preaches the gospel of an Africa that is not only beset with wars and famines, but is riding a crest of innovation and economic renaissance. According to Marie, at a 2013 interview, “It seemed more exciting to participate in this creative and economic boom than to continue covering it.” Out of Buni Media, Marie also birthed Buni TV, a video streaming service with content from a dozen film makers across the content from Egypt to Gabon and Mozambique. Buni TV is positioning to distribute African content without the prohibitive dues extracted by broadcasters.
Marie graciously answered some pertinent questions for Konnect Africa; enjoy!
KA: Now I know you are French, but I am still convinced you are African, if not by marriage, then by naturalisation. Would I be right to think so?
Marie: I was born and studied in France, and left close to 10 years ago to work in the US and in Kenya. My nationality is French, but I am married to a Kenyan, have a Kenyan last name, and my business is in Kenya. I do not have the Kenyan citizenship yet but I plan to apply for it as soon as it becomes possible, which is in 3 years.
KA: Why Africa? Why did you choose to begin your fieldwork in Africa?
Marie: My first career was in TV journalism and after 2 years working at CNN’s New York bureau, I wanted to be in the field and report on bigger stories. Because of my language skills (bilingual in French and English), Africa seemed like a good choice, so I moved to Kenya in January 2006 to work as a foreign correspondent. I didn’t have any particular connection to Africa, didn’t know anyone there, but I showed up and made it happen. [Spectacular!!!]
KA: Buni Media and its subsidiaries have quite a few irons in the oven; how do you juggle all of these projects?
Marie: We’re really busy! But our team is quite big now – 88 people – so that helps. We also have team members spread out across the world (Nairobi, Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, London, Barcelona…) so there’s always somebody awake somewhere and we work around the clock.
KA: What has been your entrepreneurial experience? Would you do things the same way if you got a second chance?
Marie: It’s been great. As my life journey probably makes it clear, I thrive by taking on massive challenges and starting things from scratch. To me there’s nothing like moving to a new city and starting your life over, having to figure out how people think in this new place, where the bus stop is, or where to buy power adapters! Creating a TV show, a product, or a company, is very similar. You don’t really know what you’re doing at first but you figure it out while you’re doing it. When it becomes easy or familiar, that’s when I get bored.
KA: TV journalism and multi-media production- what are the similarities, what are the differences?
Marie: There are lots of similarities because the technical skills are the same, and it’s all about storytelling. Among my current projects, The XYZ Show (our hugely popular Kenyan political satire program), is the one that’s closest to journalism. Our writers meetings are just like editorial meetings, where we discuss which stories to cover and from which angle. There’s writing and rewriting, filming, editing… the main difference is that it is satire and that we deal with puppets, not with real people!
KA: You talked about fundraising for Buni TV in a previous interview; Is Buni Media not showing profits yet?
Marie: Buni TV (www.buni.tv) is our new web and mobile video-on-demand platform which aims to leverage Africa’s smartphone boom to revolutionize the way African content is distributed and consumed on the continent and in the diaspora. It was launched in April last year and attracted 300,000 unique visitors and 1 million views in just a few months. It is very much a start-up, and it was incubated within Buni Media, which is the parent company. For Buni TV to continue to grow rapidly, we need an injection of capital, which is why I’m raising money.
Buni Media (www.bunimedia.com), on the other hand, handles the production side of the business, and so far our production projects have been financed through large international grants by organizations such as the Ford Foundation of the Omidyar Network.
KA: Inspire an African youth with one sentence.
Marie: Africa is the most exciting place to do business right now and you were lucky enough to be born there, so go out and make something that brings value to you, to your country and to the continent.