From a young boy passionately nursing a dream and ambitions of becoming a pilot, to a versatile hands-on broadcaster and twice director general, that is the short of the long story of Benson Tembo.
He has been in broadcasting for a little over three decades now, quite different with some veterans who have lived their entire life in corridors of a radio station. But in these years, Tembo has curved a name, rising all the way to the top.
Even from early primary school, teachers chose Benson to read passages to the class. Little did they know they were grooming a radio legend as this made him improve delivery of speech, self-confidence and language proficiency.
“I must have also developed the interest to be listened to. Besides, I enjoyed reading various books and magazines. However, my passion was not in broadcasting as much as it was to become a pilot. I was always envious of people who carried their pilot bags, putting on black trousers and white short sleeved shirts, with their shoulder rank tags walking on the apron into the airplane and flying this huge thing into the horizon,” he said.
The closest he came to working for an airline is when, after completing his secondary school education, he picked a temporary job as an aircraft food and beverages clerk at Chileka Airport, a short distance from his home village.
“I did the job for three months but, having failed to make it into that profession, I tried my luck with the public broadcaster where I was taken and trained to become an announcer, a producer, an events commentator, a news reader, a scriptwriter and indeed a broadcast manager,” recollects Tembo.
When he joined MBC, there were more than 2 500 candidates that had applied for the post of announcer, but there was only room for two people.
“It was after fulfilling all that, that I and Chrissy Msyamboza were recruited. I worked as a booth announcer for about five years after which I went to Kenya for training in production and presentation with the All Africa Conference of Churches Communications Centre.
“There, I had also the opportunity to obtain courses at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, and did some attachments with Voice of Kenya, the Daily Nation and Kenya News Agency. The highlight of that training was when I covered the State funeral of the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta,” remembers Tembo.
Upon return, Tembo was promoted to initially senior announcer and later principal producer.
In 1989, he was among the first four public broadcasters from the Southern Africa region who won the Southern African Media Education Programme scholarship for a degree programme at Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, USA. He graduated in 1991 and proceeded to do a Master of Science in Communication Studies degree majoring in Film Communication.
Later, he enrolled into a Doctor of Philosophy Communications degree programme on part time and distance education basis.
Said Tembo: “When I returned home in 1993, I was promoted to the post of head of presentation, and later to deputy general manager MBC. But to facilitate my studies for the PhD, I sought to change my work environment and took a sabbatical leave in 1995 and worked for Unicef as information and communications officer.
“Unfortunately, I was forced to prematurely terminate my contract because government wanted me to coordinate the Television Malawi [TVM] project, which I started in June 1996. This was a tough decision as I had made inroads to become an international civil servant in the United Nations system. Painfully, I sacrificed to work on the project for the sake of my country. I continued studying privately though.”
TVM was launched in 1999 and Tembo became its first director general in 2001.
In 2001, Tembo was appointed to Malawi’s High Commissioner to Kenya and on, non-residential basis, to Uganda, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and India. He was also Malawi’s Permanent Representative to UNEP and UN Habitat based in Nairobi.
After a year and a few months, he was transferred to become Malawi’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe until 2009 when his contract expired. In 2010, he was appointed to the Malawi Housing Corporation Board where he became chairperson until 2012.
Over a decade out of the ainstream media, Tembo bounced back in a more or less dramatic
manner, as on April 2 2012 he received a telephone call from State House in Lilongwe, summoning him for an audience with the late President Bingu wa Mutharika.
“It was in that meeting which lasted over an hour, that the late president told me how he wanted for more professionalism at MBC which he felt was seriously lacking at the time. He told me to consider taking up the leadership of MBC at that point. He also asked me to provide some input on the administrative set-up of Galaxy Radio, which I did. I accepted the offer.
“But sadly, the President passed on just a few days after our meeting. However, the incoming President Joyce Banda did make the appointment on April 10, returning me to MBC as the 12th director general until January 6 2015 when government decided to assign me to Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority [Macra] as technical advisor on digital migration,” he said.
Obviously, it has been a long journey, but the legend thanks God for leading him.
“I see my life and my professional journey as a miracle as I grew up from humble beginnings. But God allowed me to rise up to where he wanted me to be and has continued to guard my steps so I may not stumble or fall as some would have wanted me to. I am grateful to my wife, Gladys for her support and advice, and my children for bearing with my absences and long hours at work, and my late parents for what they instilled in my foundations,” he said.
Tembo believes communication is a core element of human existence and there is no way one can retire from it.
“I will continue to communicate until I get tired. I want to be remembered as someone who has made a small contribution to the media development in Malawi, as someone who played a crucial role in setting the foundations of the first ever national terrestrial television in Malawi, as someone who was involved in the first free broadcasts in 1994 when the election results were being announced, and as someone who has selflessly offered professional assistance to anyone who needed it in the media fraternity,” he said.n