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My passion for Africa: when we started, the obstacles, difficulties and risks in Africa didn't scare me. On the contrary, I welcomed the challenges and the opportunities. I was not in it for the money ... I have given my life to African publishing and I have thoroughly enjoyed it.

My life story is a love story with Africa, where I was born and where I am still domiciled. I spent my first 19 years in Tunisia before moving to Paris and finally settling down in London with my family. I had the chance to study at two world-famous business schools, one in France and the other in the USA.

I always wanted to work in journalism. I started my career in the early 1960s. It was already clear to me that the future of my profession was not going to be very bright in Africa and the Arab world. I was young and motivated. The obstacles, the difficulties and the risks didn't scare me. On the contrary, I welcomed the challenges and the opportunities. My generation saw the end of formal colonialism in Africa. In the 60s, the majority of African countries became independent. The total liberation of the continent was just a question of time.

It was the dawn of Africa and new countries and nations were in the making. A whole continent was on the march. It was a fascinating, exhilarating and exciting period. We were euphoric, full of enthusiasm and idealism. We knew for certain that we were right and that our struggles were not in vain. Justice was on our side, and we were the victims.

Looking back at the past 40 years, I am astonished that over that long period we, at New African, African Business and The Middle East, have made only a few--and far between--mistakes in analysing and reporting the affairs of Africa and the world.

I still vividly remember the conflicts and divisions continually confronting the continent and the world. Some of our leaders were failing in their duties and our continent was being exploited. We had to take sides, even if sometimes we paid a hefty price for that. We were credible and independent. We had a mission.

Our magazines have been the voice of Africans and Arabs. We see the world from the African and Arab perspective. We offer a different mirror. Sometimes, I can't resist wishing that those who rule the world took some time to read our publications. They might avoid making, in the short and long term, costly errors in Africa and the Middle East.

I wonder, in retrospect, how we have been able to last so long when most of the odds were--and still are--stacked against us. Publishing in Africa is a deadly risky business, and only two pan-African groups have been able to survive up till now! All the others, even when disposing of unlimited funds, ended in disarray. Why?

The reason is simple. You have to be a real professional, exclusively and wholly dedicated to publishing, and to nothing else. I have given my life to African publishing and I have thoroughly enjoyed it. But it has never been an easy life. Most of the times, the going was extremely rough and I have never lost faith. Luck was on my side and I always managed to pull through, whatever the difficulties.

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I have had the best of times in Africa, I love the people, I love the continent and I am always happy there. I have a tendency to remember mainly the good things in life. One of the perks of my job is that you can easily meet intelligent and clever people. With them, I learned a lot. They made me a better man and changed the course of my life. I have the greatest respect for them and will always remain grateful.

I enjoy travelling. My first trip to West and Central Africa lasted three months. Since then, I have visited almost all the African countries and many other parts of the world. I have witnessed first hand the making of history of the continent. I have met Africa's leaders in politics and business, artists and writers, students and ordinary men and women. Some have made a lasting impression on me.

With hindsight, many of the most famous and acclaimed leaders of their time have not kept their ranking in the history books. Some have even left us a legacy of a hidden time bomb, ticking and still crippling their successors and harming their countries.

Over the years, we have trained a great number of journalists and professionals, many of whom became famous. At one time, we were publishing magazines, newsletters, books, directories, yearbooks, traveller's guides as well as organising exhibitions and conferences.

We had subsidiary companies in Japan, the USA, France, Great Britain and some African countries. We had offices in Tokyo, New York, Cleveland, Chicago, London, Paris, Tunis, Lagos, Accra and Nairobi. Success brought success and the sky was the limit.

One of my main weaknesses is that I easily stretch myself too thinly by doing too many things. It keeps me hyperactive and gives me the adrenaline I need. Being a workaholic, I don't mind diversifying and extending my activities. Thus sometimes, I don't do justice to some essential parts of my core business which really requires my undivided attention and energy.

I have always had a tendency to be complacent when confronted with the harsh realities of my business affairs. I was not in it for the money. When some of the marginal activities of my group were not making profits, I kept them going for as long as I could, contrary to everything I was taught at my business schools. It was only under extreme duress and when forced into a corner that I sold some of my businesses or closed them down.

As I said, we had very good years and very bad ones. At one time, we were making considerable profits in the UK by billing all our overseas customers in US dollars. Suddenly, the dollar started to go down and down and the UK pound up and up.

All our expenses were in strong pound sterling, and our revenues in depreciating US dollars. We were in real trouble. We had to mortgage our whole business to secure a big bank loan. We learned our lesson the hard way, and since then I have never played the currency game.

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There was also a time when most African currencies were outrageously overvalued. Our pound sterling advertising rates were then relatively cheap when converted into local currencies. Our salesmen and women made us--and themselves--a fortune. That situation lasted a few years, and before long with devaluations succeeding devaluations, our products became more expensive and more difficult to sell in Africa!

On another front, we lost a considerable amount of money when two governments in West and East Africa used front men to sue us for libel in the UK. The best we could do at the end was to settle out of court. To my consternation, the only people gaining from defending the libel cases were the British lawyers who were earning very fat fees.

Since then, we apply a strict policy imposed on us by our insurers and we are extremely careful to avoid litigation. With experience, we found that the best way to get out of trouble is the African way. If we make a genuine mistake, we try to correct it at the first available opportunity.

We are a small organisation and we have to compete with the best magazines in the world. We have limited resources and we have to use them very efficiently. We plough back all our profits into the business and are constantly investing for a better and brighter future.

This month, we are celebrating in London the 40-year anniversary of New African, an international monthly title on sale in over 100 countries. We are celebrating also in Paris the 50-year anniversary of the weekly Bulletin de l'Afrique Noire. We now publish in English and in French 13 titles altogether serving Africa and the Middle East.

The youngest of our titles has been in existence for 25 years, and our business is now very mature. We have to reinvent ourselves to keep with the times. A new generation is getting ready to take the lead. I wish them luck.
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Title Annotation:Anniversary issue: We are 40
Author:Yedder, Afif Ben
Publication:New African
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Words:1357
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