How Hammersmith's Mosunmola Abudu became Africa’s Oprah

From humble beginnings in west London, chat-show host Mosunmola Abudu is out to build a media empire in Africa.


Mosunmola Abudu is still waiting to hear from Oprah

In 2006, Mosunmola Abudu experienced what Oprah Winfrey would call an "aha moment", says The Guardian. She ditched a 20-year career in human resources (latterly at ExxonMobil) to try her hand at television.

It didn't bother the Nigerian businesswoman that she had no experience of TV whatsoever, and her gamble appears to have paid off big time.

Having hosted the first chat show to be syndicated across Africa, "Africa's Oprah" has just launched her own continent-wide cable TV network, EbonyLife. She was recently named by the Hollywood Reporter as one of "25 Most Powerful Women in Global TV".

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Abudu, 49, might have been a self-taught presenter, but she turned out to be a natural. Her hit show, Moments with Mo, has seen her get cosy on the sofa with everyone from Hillary Clinton and IMF chief Christine Lagarde to the musician R Kelly. She's currently gunning for Barack Obama."I'm hoping to get an invitation to the White House soon."

Abudu describes comparisons with Oprah Winfrey as very flattering though she's not above putting the boot into her "hero". When starting out, she studied tapes of Oprah shows obsessively to glean tips and sent "tons of messages" to the world's first self-made female billionaire. "I was really hoping she would give me guidance and mentorship." But "Madam Oprah" never replied.

"Abudu's dream didn't originate in Africa, or even Middle America," says The Independent. It all began in Hammersmith. Born there in 1964, to a caterer mother and engineer father, she only emigrated to her parents' homeland when she was 30. Her time in Britain shaped her considerably.

Growing up in Tunbridge Wells, she was constantly being asked questions that "just boggle the mind", including: "Do you guys live in trees?" "I always felt that I had to prove who I was. Somewhere buried deeply inside was a need to tell Africa's story." Slogging away at British workplaces also helped.

"Believe me, there is nothing I have not sold in England," she says. "I've done all kinds of jobs. It just arms you with the right ammunition to go out there and sell anything to anyone."

That is exactly what she did when she pitched up at a meeting with TV bosses from the DStv satellite company to persuade them that "Africans deserved their very own Winfrey".

She'd already accepted she would be viewed as "mad", but her "passion and belief won through". After showing them her fourth trial episode, they commissioned a series and she never looked back.

But conquering Africa isn't enough for Abudu. She hankers after a global empire (see below) and still wants to meet Oprah. "You have done a, b, c, d; I have done a, b, c, d. You have created a network; I have created a network Maybe there could be some collaborations I will continue to make my requests."

Her plan to break Hollywood

The company operates in 50 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and is growing fast. "The success of pay TV is closely linked to the growth of economies and expansion of the middle class," says CEO Nico Meyer.

In an increasingly crowded market, he reckons that "content is our key differentiator" specifically, "our investment in channels made in Africa for Africa". Abudu's show certainly fits that bill, says Etan Smallman in The Independent.

She must surely be one of the few chat-show hosts in the world who, when interviewing the head of the International Monetary Fund, could demand to know what is being done to improve the odds for her viewers "who are living on less than $1 a day".

That said, nothing irritates her more than the usual dismal representations we're fed in the West. One of the purposes of EbonyLife, she says, is to sell Africa in all its modern, vibrant celebrity-filled glory to the world. "BBC and CNN are in Africa, but they don't cover things like this."

When Hillary Clinton was on the show, she told her interviewer: "Mo, people like you have to create an alternative media it's the only way that things are going to change." Abudu is certainly thinking big: her ultimate ambition is "to break Hollywood" and shoot "large-budget movies about Africa", says The Guardian.

In the meantime, she's finalising deals that should see her show broadcast in Britain on Freeview and TalkTalk by the end of the year, and has just signed a contract with Disney to remake Desperate Housewives for Africa. It's doubtful if any of the participants will match her for glamour.