, 23 June, 2020 / 11:00 PM
Church-run projects in Eastern Africa and across the continent struggle to survive beyond their founders owing to gaps in succession planning and management, a Religious Cleric based in Kenya has explained in a new book set to be launched in the “coming weeks” at one of the Catholic institutions of higher learning in the East African country.
In his book, “The Elephant in the House: Leadership and Future Sustainability of Church Media Projects in Eastern Africa”, Fr. Andrew Kaufa, a member of the Montfort Missionaries (SMM) highlights the problems bedeviling Church projects in East Africa with the example of Catholic media institutions, which he says need to find new ways of doing things in order to survive beyond their founders.
“We are not good at using management principles that have been scientifically tested and proven to work. In the management of media organizations, there is a lot to learn about how newsrooms operate in the secular world,” said Fr. Andrew in an interview with ACI Africa Monday, June 22.
He added, “Secular media have organized systems of a board of management that oversees the running of activities of the media house. In our Church-run media projects, however, we can only trust that the Bishop will appoint the most qualified Priest to run the entire project. This is one big challenge we face.”
The Malawian-born Cleric who coordinates the Social Communications department of the Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA) says he was inspired to probe the challenges facing Church projects in 2007 while pursuing his Master's degree in Media Studies at Daystar university in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.
“I had a lecturer who told me something very interesting and which kept me thinking for a while. He said that Catholic media institutions rarely survive beyond their founders,” Fr. Andrew says and adds, “This instilled a big fear in me considering the fact that I was just trying to establish a television station back home in Malawi.”
He oversaw the running of the Montfort Missionaries-founded Luntha TV and for a while, he forgot about the founder-survival narrative until 2018, more than a decade later, when he was appointed AMECEA Social Communications Director.
“In my first years at AMECEA, I did some digging in archives of Catholic media institutions and it hit me that indeed, a majority of the media institutions that had been started some years ago in all the AMECEA member countries had died. That was when I started thinking deeply of investigating the cause of this collapse,” says Fr. Andrew.
His intention, as he delved into his doctoral research in 2012, was to sample three Catholic media institutions in each of the nine AMECEA member countries. But in total, those who came through were nine institutions from Uganda, Zambia, Malawi and Kenya.
“Kiongozi newspaper in Tanzania stands as the best example of best succession and management strategies,” Fr. Andrew says of the Catholic newspaper started in 1937 in the East African country, and adds, “The newspaper was started very many years ago and is still doing very well.”
In his native country of Malawi, he highlights the case of Montfort Press, which collapsed due to poor handing over strategies. In Kenya, he highlights the case of Ukweli Video Productions. He also speaks about Nyamitanga Press in Uganda’s Mbarara Diocese, which died. In Zambia, Chipata Diocesan Print is a reminder of poor managerial strategies that led to the collapse of Catholic media institution in the country.
“I talked to many people in my research,” the author says, and adds, “I even traced people who founded the media institutions that collapsed and they shared the frustrations of seeing the ideas they were passionate about disappear just like that.”
He also traced and spoke to expatriate missionaries who started some of the Catholic media institutions that collapsed the moment they left.
“There is a whole chapter in my book where I address the fact that unlike in the past when Church projects were run by expatriates, the projects are now run locally by Bishops in our dioceses. Unfortunately, the missionaries did everything for us and they didn’t teach us how to run the projects before they left. They didn’t leave us the money to move the projects forward either,” he says.
According to the 51-year-old Priest, White Fathers have the best system of handing over Church projects to dioceses.
“White Fathers initiate the handing over process by first asking the Bishop of a particular diocese to identify the best suited Priest to take over the project,” he explains and continues, “The priest is then given a scholarship to study in the particular project are and allowed, on completing his studies, to work for a while with the founder under observation before he is allowed to take over the project. Even then, the founder hangs around for a while trying to provide guidance and support until they are satisfied that the project is in good hands.”
Fr. Andrew suggests that the Church in Africa starts looking at Catholic Projects as family businesses that require succession planning and management to prepare younger people to take over.
“We talk of the Church as a family and we therefore need to start looking at familial entrepreneurship in our Church-run projects. How do we run family businesses? It is all about preparing the young ones to take over,” he says.
Additionally, there is a need, the Priest says, for Catholic media institutions to adapt to new realities and to answer to the needs of the Church.
“Catholic projects including schools and hospitals and even media institutions are usually not for income generation. They exist to answer the needs of the Church and they can’t survive if they don’t respond to these needs,” he says.
On whether or not Church projects can be used to generate profit, Fr. Andrew says he finds no fault in these projects bringing in money for their own sustainability. But there is a catch.
“Is it justifiable for the Catholic Church to make money from its economic projects?” he poses, and asserts, “It is allowed. Provided it is for the good of the people and not to enrich a particular individual.”
The member of the Montfort Missionaries, a Religious Order that is also known as the Company of Mary, says that Catholic media institutions in Africa play a crucial role of propagating the Catholic faith but continue to face challenges that cut across the continent, key among them overreliance on external funding.
“There is no guarantee for future sustainability of our Church media if we continue depending on external donors. We need to have African solutions to our Africa problems,” Fr. Andrew says.
He adds, “We need to move away from continually writing funding proposals and interrogate what secular media are doing to survive.”
It is also high time dioceses started considering lay people for the management of Church projects, he says, adding that in the past, the Church has been hesitant to empower the lay people to lead some of the Church projects “when some of them are so good at it.”
Fr. Andrew has also authored spiritual books including “You Follow Me” published in 2005 and “The Song of Mary” released in 2009.
Published by the Franciscan Kolbe Press in Nairobi, the new book which the Cleric says is an eye-opener for individuals and organizations who wish to see “a successful sustainability of service-oriented projects” will be launched at one of the Catholic institutions in Nairobi, Kenya.
“We just came out of press of Friday and I am thinking of launching it at either Hekima College or Tangaza University,” he says, adding that he is in talks with learning institutions in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and other African countries to purchase the book for their learners taking media studies and management courses.
Those who wish to purchase the book that goes for Sh800 (USD 8) will get it from the Catholic bookshop at the Holy Family Basilica, Nairobi, from the AMECEA Secretariat and from the Montfort Bookshop in Malawi. The publication is also available as an eBook on Amazon bookstore.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa