By SOLWEZI TODAY WRITER
FROM years of broadcasting journalism to international diplomacy, Ben Kangwa, new Deputy Chief of Mission at the Zambian Embassy in Washington DC, United States, has come a long way.
He left the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation (ZNBC) in 2007 at the level of director of programmes and official spokesperson following his appointment as first press secretary to the same embassy. By then he had worked for ZNBC for 25 years with over 10,000 hours of broadcasting in both radio and television production to his credit.
Having served as first press secretary at the Embassy under three presidents—Levy Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda and the incumbent Michael Sata—Ben has now reached yet another milestone by becoming the Deputy Chief of Mission. His latest appointment came in May 2012.
As Deputy Chief of Mission, Ben is second-in-command to the Head of Mission Ambassador and key advisor to the ambassador on all issues relating to the day-to-day running of the Embassy.
In his former capacity as Press Secretary, Ben as the official spokesperson maintained a positive and consistent image of Zambia in the countries of representation such as Mexico, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Belize, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, Costa Rica and Guatemala.
His duties covered various institutions of interest to Zambia in the USA: the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank Group, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), the American Peace Corps and Africare, just to mention a few.
Ben also catered for the Zambia High Commission in Canada to which he was also accredited, upholding Zambia’s relational needs with countries such as Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Jamaica, the Bahamas, Antigua, Barbados, Grenada and Barbuda.
Media relations were a major part of his work in his former posting.
“Working with the Press or the media in general and understanding how people think and why they react the way they do to particular issues were key aspects,” he recalls.
“The Press is not something one can control, but it can turn out to be something very helpful in one’s day-to-day work. It is important to know how the Press works, not only in one’s own country, but in the country of representation. In this regard, a positive attitude to the host country is always paramount.”
Many Zambians will remember Ben on radio or television grilling heads of State, opposition leaders (among them President Michael Sata then in opposition) corporate heads and just about every person of note.
He is credited with having single-handedly produced and presented the 90-minute one-on-one interviews with each of the 11 presidential candidates in the Zambia 2001 tripartite elections on ZNBC.
Ben is the only Zambian journalist so far to have produced and presented a televised business programme for 12 consecutive years. The programme, Business Review, became a staple for business viewing.
Looking back, Ben says his years of practice as a journalist helped him appreciate the importance of speed in responding to media queries.
“By definition, embassies are not (located) in their own country, where the news takes place. So, naturally, the media in the host country would get information from their correspondents in those countries represented,” he explains.
“That said, however, embassies can be very useful institutions for creating news for the local media in the host countries by, for instance, arranging meetings between very important persons or by hosting events that are of importance in their home countries.”
He adds that advance briefings with the media before a visit by a distinguished person provide opportunity to discuss issues that might arise with the Press Secretary.
Ben counsels serving press secretaries in various Zambian missions abroad to ensure they devote their time to preparing ambassadors for hostile questioning. This will keep envoys from being forced to “say something that is not well thought out because that can always go the wrong way”.
“A prepared answer is always better coming from the ambassador because that person speaks with authority about their country,” says the media strategist and political analyst.
Ben earned his Master’s Degree in Journalism and Culture from Cardiff University in Wales. In 1996, the Press Association of Zambia (PAZA) presented him with the ‘Best Financial Journalist Award’ of the year.
In September, 2010, he was recognized by the Cambridge “Who’s Who” for demonstrating dedication, leadership and excellence in his career.
To date, Ben has served on several professional Boards such as the Evelyn Hone College School of Journalism Department Advisory Committee, the Zambia Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, the Yatsani Catholic Radio Station, Zambezi FM in Livingstone, the Salvation Army and the Keep Lusaka Clean Campaign Committee.
He is a regular contributor to a number of local news outlets in Zambia, including Solwezi Today.