Residents take part in the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages project in Suswa village, Narok county, Kenya, last month. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
A digital broadcaster is forging links of friendship between China and people in countries across the continent.
Francis Tchiegue's busy Beijing life is becoming even busier due to what he calls his "mission".
In addition to filming TV shows such as Francis Tells Tales and Francis' Tricks for Chinese at the headquarters of StarTimes in the city, Tchiegue also revises multilingual scripts and drafts.
The Cameroon national has lived in China for more than a decade. In 2003, he won a scholarship to study for a PhD in Beijing as part of an exchange program sponsored by China and his home country.
As a huge fan of Chinese culture, Tchiegue speaks Mandarin fluently and he has become a TV celebrity adored by Chinese audiences.
Six months ago, he started to work full time as a host and consultant at StarTimes, one of the largest TV service providers in Africa.
"I came to China to see what I could do for media and cultural exchanges between China and Africa, and StarTimes has been dedicated to this kind of work for years and years. That is why I chose to work here," Tchiegue said. "It is my mission."
In 2002, StarTimes set a goal that distinguished it from other television operators in Africa at the time: To provide affordable and excellent digital TV services for every African family.
That goal has now taken root in the continent and won wide recognition from the public and various governments.
StarTimes has also registered and set up subsidiaries to provide digital TV services for nearly 20 million users in more than 30 African countries, including Rwanda, Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and South Africa.
As its name suggests, Star-Times is a rising star on the continent, presenting images of the world to households across Africa.
The sight of a family gathered in front of the television enjoying time together is now increasingly common in African countries.
A family in Suswa watches StarTimes' Kung Fu Channel on TV. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
In 2002, when Pang Xinxing, founder of StarTimes, and his team traveled to Africa to assess the market, they were surprised to discover that there were more opportunities on the continent than in the European and American markets.
After much consideration, they decided to compete in the digital TV market.
"At that time, digital TV services were a luxury enjoyed by only a small number of people," said Pang, noting that the initial installation fee in many African countries was as high as $200 and the monthly subscription ranged from $50 to more than $100.
The root cause was monopoly, as large corporations divided and dominated the African market, crushing anyone who challenged them.
However, the arrival of StarTimes changed the game.
Acting on the philosophy of serving the people through business, StarTimes' subscription was reasonable for most ordinary families. Initial installation cost $10, while the minimum TV package which offered more than 10 channels cost $1 a month.
Customer-centered service was also crucial for StarTimes' prosperity in Africa. The unstable voltage and frequency of electricity in many African countries meant TV sets and decoders broke down easily, but few operators offered aftersales services to ordinary people.
"When we first started the business in Africa, we were quite dismayed by the high rate of after sales maintenance. However, to our great surprise the local people were very grateful because every time they returned a broken TV we gave them a makeshift one and fixed the problem as quickly as possible," Pang said.
StarTimes' after sales service was revolutionary. The wholehearted effort in solving technical problems for local people quickly saw the brand become popular and trusted in many countries.
Students from No 1 Primary School in Marracuene show their appreciation of the engineers' efforts.
This game-changing service and business model was underpinned by StarTimes' technology. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Since 2008, the company has seized the chance to boost investment in TV technology and built four basic networks, comprising signal relay, direct broadcast satellite, digital terrestrial TV transmission and online video.
StarTimes' TV signal now covers the entire African continent.
More than 480 programs in 11 languages, from local stations to China's mainstream media, world-famous channels and StarTimes originals, are broadcast via the platform, with topics ranging from news to sports, along with movies and fashion.
StarTimes is now striving to promote its digital TV services in rural areas of Africa as part of its effort to carry out the Access to Satellite TV for 10,000 African Villages project initiated by China in 2015.
It is a challenging task, but for many African people it is an amazing gift and a gateway to the outside world.
Joseph Runyenje Lopeyok, an ardent soccer fan, lives in Likii village, Laikipia county, in central Kenya.
He was able to watch this year's World Cup tournament thanks to the clear signals guaranteed by the StarTimes decoder installed in his backyard.
"Even my wife and daughters, who are not normally soccer fans, were enticed by the games," Lopeyok said.
'A natural connection'
The first time he traveled to Africa, Pang felt a kind of "natural connection between me and the African people".
"Once I asked an African leader what the most complex human relationship in the world was, and without a second thought he said: 'That between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law'," Pang said.
That answer is echoed in traditional Chinese culture and countless TV shows.
StarTimes' Sino Drama channel is a big hit in Africa. It broadcasts popular Chinese TV dramas, such as Doudou and Her Mother-in-Law and The Journey of the Flower, dubbed into different languages.
In 2011, the company established a translation and dubbing center. With output capacity of 10,000 hours, the center dubs programs into eight languages: Chinese, English, French, Portuguese, Swahili, Hausa, Yoruba and Luganda.
To attract more talent, StarTimes also holds TV drama dubbing competitions, and the winners are offered jobs at the company's Beijing headquarters.
"One principle we always stick to is that we will never lower our standards in the African market. Providing a less qualified service would not only be disrespectful to the audience, but also disrespectful to the arts," Pang said.
On its 43 original channels, home-produced dramas, kung fu shows and dubbing competitions are all popular with African audiences.
"Compared with many other foreigners, African students are more gifted in learning Chinese, either in terms of pronunciation or comprehension of the language," Tchiegue said.
That's part of the reason African voice actors and actresses have few cultural barriers in dubbing Chinese TV series, especially family dramas.
The connection between Chinese people and Africans constantly inspires StarTimes to move forward.
To make more Chinese TV shows accessible to African audiences in rural and suburban areas, StarTimes sent out TV caravans to provide broadcast services.
Wherever the caravans went, children chased after them and danced to the music they played, while villagers would sit on chairs they brought with them, happily waiting for the show to begin.
China has been adhering to the principles of sincerity, real results, affinity and good faith in its African policy. In Pang's view, the benefits African people can gain from such cooperation are fundamental to the principles.
StarTimes is expanding and accelerating its localization year by year.
Currently, it employs more than 4,000 people in Africa, with locals accounting for more than 95 percent.
Meanwhile, there are more than 7,000 StarTimes agents across Africa, and they have generated around 50,000 jobs. "Any company that really wants to take root in Africa should make an effort to boost social and human development in Africa. Creating more jobs is part of its social responsibility," Pang said.
StarTimes' engineers install a satellite dish in Marracuene, Mozambique. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
China-Africa relations have reached a stage of growth unmatched in history. While an increasing number of Chinese are visiting Africa, many more Africans are choosing China as a destination to work and live.
Gabon national Bolabola Joelle Zita has worked as a fashion host and voice actress at StarTimes's headquarters for 17 months.
Zita earned a bachelor's at Beijing Language and Culture University and a master's at the University of Science and Technology Beijing.
Back in her home country, Zita was a government employee who dreamed of working in the fashion industry.
However, until she joined StarTimes she never imagined that her dream would ever be realized.
"I appreciate the opportunity and environment that StarTimes has offered to help me grow as a TV host. It is a company that is willing to teach and listen to you," she said.
Now Zita's makeup show S-Belle is broadcast to African audiences via StarTimes channels, and it can even be seen in small, remote villages.
"Although I have to get up at 5 o'clock every morning and work all day, I never get bored or tired, because I am doing something I love. TV shows give me a better understanding of the different cultures in Africa and the world," Zita said. "It is amazing, isn't it - I'm getting to know more about Africa while in China." Brice Icigumije, from Burundi, has lived in Beijing for a year. He works on a TV show called 100 Cine which focuses on movies.
"I try to give African audiences a glimpse of the latest movies from across the world and encourage them to go to the cinema," Icigumije said, with a smile. "This is a job I feel passionate about."
During the 2018 Beijing Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which concluded on Tuesday, Tchiegue spent time helping African embassies in China with receptions and arrangements for meetings.
"Many of my friends didn't understand why I went to China rather than European or American countries, but now they are all happy for me because I have finally found something I enjoy doing which is not about money," he said.
"Through the TV shows we make together, I hope the Chinese can get closer to the real Africa and Africans to the real China."
Tchiegue is also an enthusiastic cultural ambassador. He makes tours and delivers speeches across the world to help people learn Chinese and get closer to Chinese culture. When we met him, he was looking forward to taking part in the people-to-people and cultural exchange events at the summit.
"I will definitely participate in the events," he said. "It is a kind of priceless happiness."