Some people’s lives are written in the stars. Ever since Chakuchanya Harawa stood in front of a studio microphone when he was 12, it was love at first sight. Today, when he talks into the microphone, the whole world listens.
“I played a small acting role in Theatre of the Air on Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) when I was 12. A few years later, I became a regular on the show and then I got a lead role on another popular weekly radio soap. I presented my first radio show on African Bible College FM station where I was studying communications,” Harawa explains the genesis of his remarkable story.
His break into a broadcasting career took off after he graduated from ABC College and had a short stint at Capital FM before finding his way to MBC.
During a scouting exercise that the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) conducted in Malawi 13 years ago, Chaku emerged as the sole victor, and has risen through the ranks to become one of the most reliable producers at the international radio station’s Network Africa segment.
“Life has its ups and downs, but overall it’s been a great ride. I love what I do. I also work with amazing people who share a passion for giving our audiences original, impartial and high-quality output—people from different parts of the world who are experts in various fields. Most importantly, it’s also been satisfying to be able to offer the organisation my expertise and skills for the benefit of our audiences,” he tells Society.
Over the years, Harawa, who is younger brother to famed drama legend Vipya Harawa, has played various roles in radio and television, working at the BBC’s Africa programnes Network Africa and Focus on Africa. He has had stints with global news programmes The World Today on radio, and BBC World News on World television.
Currently, Harawa works as senior broadcast journalist with the BBC’s TV programmes for Africa—BBC Swahili’s Dira ya Dunia and Focus on Africa on BBC World News—these programmes are rebroadcast by TV channels across the continent. He also does weekly global and African news analysis for a number of FM stations in Africa which rebroadcast the BBC’s radio programming.
“I’m grateful to God for the opportunity,” is his explanation for the opportunity he has had.
Harawa, who says he hails from T/A Mlumbe in Zomba although his late father came from Rumphi, has also been actively enhancing his academic credentials, studying for a Master of Arts degree in International Relations and World Order and Masters in Media Studies, both obtained in 2006.
The broadcaster, who calls himself an international affairs expert and multimedia journalist, notes that there is no specific moment which he can claim to be memorable as every day is a special moment.
“When you work in news and current affairs, every day is special. Some days are more intense than others, but the goal is to tell stories in a clear and unbiased manner. At the end of each working day, you feel really satisfied if that has been achieved. And that is the most important part of my work as a BBC news journalist,” he says.
But how does it feel being a trendsetter; the first, and so far, only Malawian to work at the BBC headquarters in London?
“It felt great when I got the job and became the first Malawian. But the party only lasted a day. The next day the focus shifted to the road ahead. I wish there were other Malawians, not only here but also at other international media organisations. Malawi has fantastic broadcast journalists who could easily work anywhere in the world.
“Over the years there have been Malawians at SABC, Radio Deuschewelle and other media organisations outside Malawi, and they have all done well. Those who’ve done it will tell you it’s an experience worth aspiring to. You learn and explore other ways of doing things. However, I must emphasise that working for an international broadcaster doesn’t necessarily mean that one is the best. There are many who have excelled working at home,” says Harawa, stressing that him being the only Malawian at the BBC made him work even harder.
“My being Malawian has no bearing at all on anything. It’d probably have been better if I’d found other Malawians upon joining, but I knew from day one that I was all by myself, so I simply had to get on with it. I’ve made friends from all corners of the earth and that has made things easier.”
For aspiring broadcaster, Harawa says there is no single prescription to success.
“Things work out differently for different people. Be prepared, so that when the right door opens you are able to walk through it with confidence. And the best preparation for tomorrow is to make sure today’s work is done.
“Work very hard. Read extensively and widely. Stay focused. Believe in yourself, even if it appears you are the only person who does so. Don’t underestimate what you can do. Think outside the box and do not limit yourself to one skill. Some of the finest broadcasters Malawi has ever produced were multi-skilled. Benson Tembo and Maria Chidzanja-Nkhoma for example were top DJs, but they also read news competently and could do many other things.”
Chaku, whose versatility is reflected in his other skills as a singer and recording artist, says his music is an attempt to fuse the Malawian traditional sound with Western elements.
“At college I sang and played guitar in a band called Chaku and the Afro-Praise Band and on a recent visit to Malawi, I was surprised that my music still enjoys considerable airplay,” he says.
And finally, the lessons learnt?
“Learning is a never-ending process. The lessons have been many, and I continue to learn from both good and bad experiences,” he muses.