Henry Nzekwe, WeeTracker

Henry Nzekwe, WeeTracker

In our spotlight this week is Henry Nzekwe, Tech journalist and Assistant Editor of Weetracker who shares his journey from listening to foreign news programmes/talk shows on TV and radio as a child to his freelance writing gigs before finally getting into tech journalism.

What led you into journalism, and what would you be doing if you weren’t a journalist?

The short answer is happenstance, but then, a given kind of happenstance is more likely than others if you are drawn to certain things. So, I believe I took to journalism because I have always been fascinated by news, storytelling, and media programming.

Thanks to my dad, I watched and listened to a lot of local and foreign news programmes/talkshows on TV and radio as a child. NTA was the only thing we watched at home at one point and I looked forward to Newsline every Sunday. I remember goofing around by myself, sometimes playing pretend reporter and presenter, mimicking the things I had seen and listened to even as a kid in Primary 3.

Eventually, I picked up an interest in newspapers, magazines, and novels – reading anything my dad brought home or anything my siblings or neighbours could give me. As I grew into my teens, I had begun to see a lot of local and foreign movies too and I guess I absorbed all that content like a sponge. I recall finding a lot of enjoyment in using some of the new words and expressions I had picked up on while writing some short stories of my own, as well as the essay topics school teachers would ask us to write on.

But that part of me took a backseat once I got to Senior Secondary School, you know, doing science-y stuff, which I found I was good at. A bit of an internal conflict, but it was a time when schools would send you to the arts only if you suck at science. I eventually got a University degree in Industrial Chemistry but the writing and reporting genes jumped out at every opportunity – seminars, reports, presentations, applications, announcements, etc. Even OBS at NYSC camp, lol. But I never really, actively sought a career in journalism.

After University, however, I did freelance writing gigs on Fiverr for a while and it led me to tech journalism, which I had developed some latent interest in following some blogposts I had enjoyed ghost-writing. I decided to try for a job that explores the African context and the rest, as they say, is history.

If I wasn’t a journalist, I would quite likely be doing any of these;  talking on radio, crafting enjoyment in the labs at Nigerian Breweries, or becoming an academic that tutors undergraduates and/or postgraduates.

I have also learned that tech journalism is better done and appreciated when you have an actual story to tell, beyond the tech itself, which fuels our approach at WeeTracker, strictly focused on bold, original journalism.

When you’re researching stories, what compels you to work on sharing a particular story with your audience? Any hot trends we should look out for in the coming months?

I explore the possibility of developing a story from the state-of-mind of the degree of relevance and whether it would resonate with the audience. The African tech landscape is a hotbed of activity, but some activities are more compelling than others, and therein lies the stories worth telling. I try to separate what is signal from noise, and extract a condensed narrative that is representative of the most compelling developments shaping African tech right before our eyes.

Usually, stories that take lead from a person who’s witnessed or lived an observed important experience that may or may have not made the news cycle are desirable, but sometimes the biggest stories are in ongoing trends, well-known companies, and forward-looking beats.

Other times, it’s about garnering industry insight and even specialised knowledge, such that you can identify stories worth telling in cases where there isn’t necessarily tech on the surface but there are veiled tech elements that you can help people see and understand by guiding them to it through a human-centred story weaved around the tech. I have also learned that tech journalism is better done and appreciated when you have an actual story to tell, beyond the tech itself, which fuels our approach at WeeTracker strictly focused on bold, original journalism.

We are witnessing a fascinating metamorphosis in real-time in the context of African tech and I consider myself privileged to experience the thrill of documenting a small part of it, and more so at a time when the ecosystem is at an inflexion point. Despite the current lull, I expect to see some consolidation across sectors and eventual exponential growth.

Why is African business so unique and what makes it so exciting to report on?

Many African businesses are operating in sectors where reinventing the wheel, as undesirably arduous as that may seem, is a luxurious option because there isn’t even much of a wheel in the first place. They are building veritable solutions that are transforming lives across areas of need that have long been either neglected or underserved and they are getting stuff done despite the massive odds stacked against them, creating immense value in the process. It is quite exciting to be able to contextualise the journey from within; sharing both the highs and lows as candidly as possible moves the local ecosystem that bit closer towards sustainability.

Which sectors or industries do you like to cover most and why? 

My beat on WeeTracker revolves around my interest in digitalised commerce, financial services, on-demand services, and online marketplaces. I believe these are the sectors with the optimal combinations of bits and atoms needed to move the needle at this time across demographics on the continent. Sectors and industries that foster multifaceted trade usually have the knock-on effect of yielding the sort of economic upliftment that would eventually turbocharge other sectors. Every once in a while, I come upon a tip or discover something controversial and I naturally chase it down like any decent journalist would.

Many African businesses are operating in sectors where reinventing the wheel, as undesirably arduous as that may seem, is a luxurious option because there isn’t even much of a wheel in the first place.

Why is it important that people around the world get to hear about young, growing companies on the continent?

The reporting in the media pushes narratives that feed perception and the African continent is still exorcising the demons of years of misrepresentation or lopsided accounts from external sources, devoid of adequate context. It is our responsibility to hammer into global consciousness that Africa has gone from having just a foot in the door to owning a seat at the table in the area of tech entrepreneurship. There’s an explosion of value that is ongoing and the world is becoming increasingly aware that it can be part of a contemporary success story.

How can we encourage more people to join the writing community and dedicate their energy to telling stories about African tech and business?

People are drawn to endeavours that give them a sense of meaning and purpose, and they are likely to be encouraged by coverage of the local tech scene that yields meaningful impact and foster accountability. I think the onus is on us as practitioners in this moment to consistently raise the bar and generate the sort of impact that drives interest.