Mo Abudu is described as Africa's most successful woman
Her daily talk show was the most syndicated across the continent
How do you get from a talk show sofa to boardroom chair? If you ask Mosunmola “Mo” Abudu, it’s being motivated by an eagerness to dispel ignorance - more specifically about Africa.
In eleven years, this female entrepreneur has transitioned from simply hosting a television show to owning a multimedia empire. The 52-year-old has been labeled as Africa’s most successful woman by Forbes.
In 2016, her studio’s romantic Nollywood comedy, The Wedding Party, broke box office records in Nigeria becoming the first film to pass the 400 million naira mark ($1.3 million) despite being released amidst a recession in the country.
Diversity on screen
Born in England but partly raised in Nigeria, Abudu would indulge in black and white musical classics starring Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
Back then as a Nigerian child growing up in the mostly white suburb of Tunbridge Wells in London, “You didn’t have much to call your own,” says Mo Abudu, chief executive at EbonyLife TV, a global entertainment network. “Sammy Davis Jr was about the only actor on TV that you could see on those films and that you could actually identify with as someone of color.”
As a result her perception of race and difference was quickly established. “I would be asked questions like … do you guys live in proper houses? What do you guys eat?,” she explains. “You then have to ask yourself, what actually shapes being asked these questions?”
After a career in human resources working for oil giant Exxon Mobil, and with no television experience she started her own talk show host, Moments with Mo, envisioned as a pan African daily that would give Africa its own Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey.
Through it she’s interviewed political figures from the likes of Hillary Clinton to Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The show became one of the most syndicated on African television.
Following a move to her parents’ hometown in Nigeria, in 2006, she launched EbonyLife TV. The network runs in more than 49 countries across the continent and has expanded beyond the region airing in the UK and the Caribbean. It’s aim? To show Africa from a different perspective, one which could represent its young and increasing middle class urbanites.
“It’s important for us to ensure that EbonyLife TV as a platform can sit in a global space because the world,” she says, “must understand who we are as Africans. Especially this generation.”
Her first foray into film, Fifty, detailing the lives of four Lagosian women was 2015’s most successful movie in Nigeria, and was the only Nigerian movie to screen at the BFI London Film Festival that year.
“We’re building a community that has made us brand ambassadors for the entire continent,” says Abudu. “As a black person sitting here today, I know how important it is to have people I can look up to that represent me in media,” she adds.