Last week, the media company, Bloomberg LP, opened extensions to its offices in Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. To mark the inauguration, the company founder, Michael Bloomberg, a first time visitor to South Africa, tweeted: "Africa's role in the global economy is larger than ever."
He then unveiled a new venture that shows him putting his money where his mouth is: Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa, a $10m philanthropic intervention focused on business and financial journalism in Kenya, South Africa, and Nigeria.
This initiative will fund scholarships and fellowship programmes for young African journalists, as well as provide funds for research and innovation. It will also fund the creation of new training programmes on business, economics, public policy and finance, to be hosted by partner universities in the selected countries. (The University of Lagos and the Pan African University, in Nigeria).
Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City between 2001 and 2013, believes African media organisations are going to have to quickly come to terms with the reality of globalisation.
"As the world gets more linked together globally, a (news) service that just offers a small microcosm of what goes on in the world is going to have a tough time attracting clients," he told me by phone from South Africa. "Johannesburg's future rests on lots of things taking place outside of Johannesburg, outside of South Africa, outside of Africa. And as Africa develops, that's going to become truer, not less."
He believes that technology will play a strong role in enabling the African media industry to more efficiently deal with the realities of a globalised world. Looking around the continent, at the way people are embracing and adopting technology, there's much to be hopeful about.
"If you just went back 10 years, it would be inconceivable that Africa would have 50 per cent of people having a cell phone. It just wouldn't have happened, and yet, it did happen. In the next few years, technology will change more than it's changed in the last 30 years," Bloomberg says.
The leveraging role of technology is something he is very familiar with. His eponymous company, the world's largest provider of business and financial data, earns most of its revenue and profits from the proprietary computer terminals it sells to hundreds of thousands of clients, which gives them access to real-time financial markets data and analytics.
It is a very similar type of "access" that is sweeping across Africa in unprecedented ways, transforming the lives of hundreds of millions of ordinary citizens. Armed with mobile devices, Nigerians are consuming ever-increasing amounts of news and information, and not always from the traditional sources. Blogger Linda Ikeji is featured on MTN's breaking news subscription service, alongside traditional (print-based) media; and her blog belongs in the same class with Nigeria's most popular traditional news websites, in terms of traffic.
The new scenario is easy to explain. At the turn of the century, Nigeria had only about 300,000 functioning landlines, and no mobile phone network, for a population in excess of 140 million. Today, there are 121 million active mobile phone lines; almost half of which, according to the Nigerian Communications Commission, have Internet subscriptions.
"People have to know what's going on if they are going to vote intelligently; they have to know what's going on if they're going to make decisions about education or what to buy or how to live. They can't survive without news, we are more connected than ever before," Bloomberg acknowledges.
The big challenge, therefore, will be making sense of the deluge of information.
"It's easy to get information; the greater challenge is to try to figure out what is accurate and what's important. The ability to do that is going to become much more critical," he explains. "In the past, you read one newspaper, you didn't know there was another point of view; you took whatever they said for gospel. Today, people are more sophisticated; they know that news people have agendas just like non-news people, and (that) you need to put things in context."
This "context" is what the future of journalism everywhere in the world will turn on. Bloomberg envisions the media as "somebody looking over your shoulder to point things out"; an analogy which aptly captures the ubiquity mobile devices and apps and social networks have conferred on news. Where once people had to seek out the news, it now stays with them, in their palms and pockets and bags.
However, not everyone is completely bowled over by Bloomberg's plans. South African Journalism and Media Studies Professor, Anton Harber, says he believes, "that a programme of this sort needs to start with an understanding of what the issues are and what Bloomberg hopes to achieve." He doesn't think that understanding is evident from the information publicly available.
In the coming weeks, there will certainly be more questions, more intense interrogation of Bloomberg's Dream. It is to be expected.
But, what is not in doubt is that the media industry in Africa, faced as it is with myriad challenges, needs all the ambitious interventions it can get. And even Harber acknowledges that the Bloomberg Initiative "shows big thinkingÔÇŽ"
Indeed, creating ambitious media interventions is not unfamiliar terrain to Bloomberg. There's the hugely successful behemoth that is Bloomberg LP for one. And as Mayor in 2009, he launched eight initiatives to "encourage innovation (and) create new jobs" in New York City's $30bn (annual revenues) media industry.
Like many other programmes ÔÇô and thankfully there's no shortage of competitions, fellowships, grants and workshops specifically targeted at African journalists ÔÇôBloomberg makes it clear he's focused on raising the "quality" of African business and financial journalism.
No doubt, there are many looking to see an improvement in the quality of business and financial journalism in Nigeria. As things stand, rather unfortunately, the most insightful business coverage of Nigeria comes from outside. Outside of a few specialised outlets, one struggles to find evidence that the Nigerian media is really interested in looking over anyone's shoulders to help them make sense of an economic landscape that is as bewildering as the political.
Our media organisations are obsessed with our oil-driven politics (and this column pleads guilty as charged) to such an extent that we forget that wholesale and retail trade together contribute a lot more to Nigeria's GDP than the supposedly-alpha-and-omega petroleum industry does.
We're sadly leaving a lot of ground uncovered. How, for example, will the "tapering" in the United States affect the rice trader in Daleko market, Lagos, or the leather factory worker in Kano? Perhaps, it won't. Nigerians deserve to know. What does the newly launched Mortgage Refinancing Company mean for the 25-year-old who has just started his first job in an insurance company in Abuja, and is already thinking about his home-ownership chances? How will the new automotive policy affect the life of a driver in Umuahia saving up to buy his second taxi?
Finally, in Bloomberg's move lies a serious challenge to Nigeria's own billionaires, to step up their game. Our philanthropy needs to get better organised, and more sophisticated. It should be a lot more than just doling out cash and food and poverty-alleviation items (sewing machines, okadas, keke etc) or donating buildings to universities.
We need to expand the coast, focus on a wider range of programmes and initiatives. Arts and Culture, and the Media also deserve a lot of funding, especially considering how ubiquitous they are in our daily lives, and how easily they are able to combine that very functional goal of "poverty alleviation" with wider social and emotional impact.
Piling on a little more ambition into our philanthropy also wouldn't hurt. There are several Nigerians who could effortlessly match Bloomberg's commitment. (By way of information, Bloomberg is involved in several other philanthropic initiatives in Africa, ranging from public health to the environment. Lagos is one of the cities in Bloomberg's C40 Cities Group ÔÇô "a network of the world's megacities committed to addressing climate change.")
Ultimately, Africa needs to take charge of not only its problems but also its stories. The importance of African agency can never be overemphasized.
Bloomberg appears to share this point of view.
"If there's quality journalism here (in Africa), people who have experience, understand the issues and can express themselves well, then, you'll find that the people here are going to be running the agenda elsewhere rather than have the ÔÇśelsewheres' running the agenda here," he says.
Follow me on Twitter @toluogunlesi