Stories are powerful. They can change faiths, influence thinking, dictate government policies, or simply pass the time. The best are passed down from generation to generation and take on new meanings as time passes by.
Last October, as part of De Montfort University Leicester’s (DMU) Black History Month celebrations, alumni and journalist Haddy Ndure shared her story and feelings after seeing Barack Obama being announced as the first black president of the United States.
Having heard the election result, she walked to school, aged 14, with a new sense of energy and pride. “I had never seen a black person celebrated in that way before”, the 28-year-old reflects. “Not only did I feel like a winner, I felt like a tribe of winners”.
Haddy grew up with her grandmother in The Gambia, West Africa. A confident child, she knew from an early age the importance of stories and wanted to follow in her aunt’s footsteps and become a journalist.
Setting her sights on reporting, she got her first taste of the newsroom when she was 11, reading the national news for her country as part of UNICEF’s Children’s Day of Broadcasting initiative.
Just one year later, she moved to Daventry, a Northamptonshire town of approximately 25,000, in which 0.7 per cent of the population identifies as black according to the 2011 census, to live with her mum and found the adjustment initially quite hard.
“Every story I cover is there to teach and uplift that young girl that walked to school with her head held high knowing that she is part of a tribe of winners. What I know for sure is, that as black people, the most powerful tool we have is our stories. I'm especially proud and inspired by every black person who has felt strong enough to share their powerful stories,” Haddy continues in the video as it rounds to an end.
Her monologue is powerful and harks back to a time where a young girl was first starting to feel that ‘identified’ purely for her skin colour. But when Barack Obama became one of the most powerful men on the planet, Africans around the world felt that they too had discovered that power. It’s one of those stories that will stick with Haddy.
This Black History Month, instead of looking back for inspiration, Haddy is focussing on the here and now. She has been spending the last 18 months pursuing success stories from her homeland as part of an ongoing project to promote Africa in the media while working full time at Cambridge University Press.
Stories from the Continent with Haddy Nudre first launched on the Fatu Network – one of The Gambia’s largest news networks – in June 2020. It’s simple in its construct – a one-on-one interview over Zoom with no fancy graphics or gimmicks, and this seems to have resonated with audiences.
“Emotions have run high in the past 18-odd months,” Haddy said. “We’ve seen anger and resentment following the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and a global pandemic.
“Now, more than any other time in recent history, people are taking the time to observe and feel the world around them.
“For me, it was the push I needed to start this project. The media’s representation in the west can be very one-sided and I get that because bad news sells. However, there’s a disconnect there – African success stories often go unreported and, for young people, in particular, not seeing your culture represented positively can be damaging.
“That lack of representation can translate down to school. During my primary school days in The Gambia, we were taught British history because it’s a former colony. I’ve always been searching for my own history but there are barriers to that and that can put off people.
“That’s why I wanted to give successful Africans, from all walks of life, the platform to share their message. It can be easy for us to see poverty or civil war in Africa and use it to enhance stereotypical views of the continent, but these problems are everywhere.
“There needs to be a fresh approach to looking at Africa to move forward. We need to see Africans using their own voice to share their success and inspire young voices.”
Her first guest, Dr Neneh Sallah, a senior research fellow at the University of Cambridge in genetic epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and tropical diseases, shares her story of moving to the UK to study Biomedicine at Manchester and how her passion for learning pushed her outside her comfort zone.
From that first live stream, high ranking African figures such as Human Rights activist, Eleanor Roosevelt Medal of Honour winner and Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Jaha Dukurah and former Vice President of The Gambia Fatoumatta Jallow Tambajang, have appeared as guests on Haddy’s show.
The show also delves into the entrepreneurial minds of businessmen such as Modou NS N’jie, who formed the first online fruit and vegetable store in The Gambia, Farm Fresh. Mustapha Njie, CEO of property development TAF Africa Global, which has a presence in eight countries across the continent, discusses how young people can advance in the construction sector.
“I’m in awe. I didn’t think this little idea would take off as quickly as it did, but it shows the appetite for showcasing the potential of Africa,” Haddy said.
“There’s a lot to be proud of in Africa at the moment. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala has just been appointed as the first woman and first African to head up the International Trade Organisation. To see an African woman with that level of responsibility is truly remarkable and such a huge inspiration.
“This is why I enjoy sourcing these success stories and so far I’m getting good feedback. I’ve had young people from both Africa and the UK messaging me, explaining how the series has inspired them to pursue certain career paths.
“If there’s one thing I want people to take away from Stories from the Continent, it’s that by believing in yourself and taking that first step, you’re already well on your way to achieving what you want.”
DMU provided a helping hand for Haddy to achieve her goals. Combining her love of history with her dream to become a journalist, she enrolled on a History and Journalism joint honours. Leicester proved to be an environment in which Haddy flourished and the confidence which had initially been shaken by moving to the UK was back.
During her third year, Haddy beat more than 1,200 hopefuls to land a highly sought-after graduate role with ITV, having previously pursued internships at BBC World Service, BBC Manchester and BBC Cambridge. She would go on to claim a First-Class degree from the university.
“When I moved to the UK and started secondary school, I was the only black student there. While at DMU, I was in a diverse newsroom, with people of different ages, ethnicities and ideas coming together. It was an inspiring time and I enjoyed mixing with all these cultures.
“Having the opportunity to combine both was just perfect for me and this made DMU stand out. Leicester is obviously a diverse place, and one of my history lecturers, Chris Zembe, was African and having that representation in university made me much more comfortable.”
Haddy’s time at DMU is just one of many stories this young British Gambian woman can tell. For now, however, she’s back looking to share more tales of success from the continent she calls home, having recently returned from The Gambia and filmed several face-to-face interviews.
Stories from the Continent with Haddy Ndure is available to watch on YouTube through the Fatu Network. A second series is set to launch in 2022.
Posted on Tuesday 19th October 2021