BEHIND THE SCENES: TV presenting made him famous, but he now chooses to work behind the scenes. And starting his production house has not been a smooth sailing, writes Joseph Ssemutooke
From a promising novice only getting out of the teenage zone, to becoming one of the most celebrated lifestyle presenters in the land, to becoming a regionally renowned director and producer, Junior Dave Kazoora has almost walked the entire gamut of TV business. It appears what is left for him to have walked the entire length is getting to have his own TV station, something Kazoora reckons will also soon come to pass. Yet it’s a journey that all of us should already know hasn’t been a smooth ride –at least if we can all remember the unfortunate story of his arrest and charge with fraud in Rwanda last year. We sat him down.
Let’s start with how Kazoora made the switch from presenting to production.
I began doing production while still presenting Jam Agenda at WBS, way back in 2002. I had been on the show only a few months when my director and producer left and I had to take on those roles. Soon I started producing other shows like the late Bangi’s Goldies. It gave me the confidence to start my first production house, Face To Face Partners, with David Okello and MP Dan Kidega. But it didn’t do well because TV business in Uganda was so young and TV stations weren’t buying content then.
So when does your big break as an independent producer arrive?
I had to wait until after I had completed my Master’s degree in TV Production at Wales’ Salford University. I went to Wales in 2006 and returned home in 2007 and started working with Pepsi, but while at Pepsi I was really looking at starting my own TV production house, so the money I made there enabled me start Buddies Productions. At that time I had invested in Buddies Bar in Ntinda, and I was also doing events management. I set up the production house in the bar. Pepsi were one of my very first clients as I produced for them shows like Motozella and Kyaba Too Much.
A few months after starting out, Buddies was doing event activations, shooting TV productions, commercials and doing radio activations. I was able to buy a lot of production equipment and the production house quickly garnered a reputation for good work and more deals were coming in. Before I knew it, I was even spreading beyond the Ugandan borders to Rwanda.
How exactly did you get to Rwanda?
I got into Rwanda in November 2012, when Airtel Rwanda contacted me to help them with one of their promotions dubbed Birahebuje. I had commendably executed Airtel Uganda’s promotions, and as Airtel Rwanda had encountered production and activation problems shortly after starting their promotion, Airtel Uganda advised them to bring me on board to help out.
So many stories have gone around portraying your Rwanda experience as a sad chapter that almost strangled Kazoora the TV producer and his Buddies Production to death, especially after you were put behind bars for alleged fraud. Tell us what exactly happened.
I don’t know if the experience really had a chance of finishing me off as a producer, and finishing off Buddies as well. It didn’t have a chance, because I was not really involved in crime like so many stories have claimed. Get the story clear now. What happened was simply a case of a business partner –someone who was really more like my employee– attempting to fleece me and trying to use the Rwandan authorities at it. When Airtel contacted me to help it with the Birahebuje One promotion, I chose to set up an entire branch of Buddies Productions in Rwanda so that the company could have full-time presence there and even attract more business besides Airtel. That’s how I brought Davis Genza, a Rwandan national who was then in events organisation and promotion, on board. I had met him on my earlier travels to Rwanda as a TV presenter. It’s this Genza who attempted to fleece me. I owned 80 per cent of the shares in the company, and Genza’s stake was 20 per cent but even that was registered in his sister’s names and not his.
The story that has gone around is that it’s you who tried to fleece Genza. Aren’t you cunningly turning the tables upside down?
That story isn’t true. It is only what Genza sold around, using the advantage of having contacts in the Rwandan Police and the Rwanda Development Board (the government authority charged with registering and overseeing companies in Rwanda.) After we did Birahebuje One successfully, Genza, who was acting as MD for Buddies Productions in Rwanda and taking a percentage off every job we did, began misusing the company money. So when Airtel contacted me to do Birahebuje Two, I registered a new company and called it Buddies TV Rwanda to execute the work without having to work with Genza. I explained to Genza what I was doing and why, and he agreed because he even owed the company money he had misused. Later Genza turned around and claimed I had tried to fraudulently change Buddies Productions into a new company called Buddies TV without his knowledge. He claimed I was duplicating Buddies Productions and he used contacts in the police and in Rwanda Development Board to frame me up in a case to that purpose, and that’s how he got me arrested and the story went around portraying me as a fraudster who was trying to rip him off.
So how did that battle end –by what means and after how long did you come out of prison anyway?
I stayed in prison for about four days –Genza and his accomplices had ensured they arrested me towards the weekend so I would wait till the new week to appear in court and get out. Of course it also involved the intervention of the Ugandan High Commission in Rwanda and Interpol. When I got out of prison, the case seemed to die (Genza didn’t appear to follow it up) and I also decided to first take a break from Rwanda as I was angry and also feared for my life. The case only resurrected in June this year when my lawyer called me and said a date had been fixed for hearing. We will be back in court later this month.
It is rumoured that you were banned from doing business in Rwanda again, and now that you’re back in Rwanda others say that a few months ago Airtel talked to the Rwandan government to allow you back…
Most of those rumours aren’t true. I was never banned from Rwanda, both Buddies TV and Buddies Productions remained registered companies with active accounts in the country, and it’s only me who chose to first give it a break. And my return to the country is entirely my own choice. When the hearing of the case started in June this year, I went back to Kigali for the first time to attend court, and the growth I witnessed in their TV sector persuaded me to resume operations there. So I have resumed working there and I’m already producing a number of programmes. However, I’m not yet working with Airtel Rwanda again; it is my former employee whom I took with me to Rwanda in 2012, Davis Kizza, who set up a company that’s now working with Airtel on their productions.
Talking of going regional, we read that Buddies Productions has recently spread further across the region to Tanzania.
Yeah, it’s true that we are growing across the region. Even before I went to Rwanda it had been my plan to grow Buddies Productions into a regional giant, and after I pulled out of Rwanda, I continued to seriously strategise for the region. To get into a market, you set up small presence, which is what I did with Tanzania, and last year when Airtel Tanzania began a promotion giving out cars, they hired me and Buddies Production to do it because of the company’s past experience with me in Uganda and Rwanda. After that, I set up a fully-fledged production house in Dar-es-Salaam and we now have more than 10 programmes running on Tanzanian TV stations. We are also doing the Airtel promotion this year, which is about supporting youth entrepreneurship.
We have also set up in Kenya and Zambia. We are also looking at South Sudan, Ethiopia and maybe Somalia.
On the local scene, what are some of the programmes you produced?
Those are very many because home is where we are biggest now. We produce about 15 programmes – among them the likes of Be My Date, Inspire Africa, Beera Mu Class, Bifuna Kiralu, About Town and Airtel Trace Music Star.
Your fans surely wonder what chances they have of seeing you back on air. You should tell them about it.
The truth is that I’m now more into production and the business side of it, but I see myself one day returning on air as a big show host doing my own show syndicated across the region and maybe across the continent. I’m thinking of something like the David Letterman Show, or a media mogul with their own TV show like Oprah Winfrey. I’m actually trying to establish my own TV network, first locally and then an East African channel.
And the challenges you see in the Ugandan TV production sphere today?
First of all, there’s the positive thing that the industry has grown and now there are so many opportunities. TV stations now buy content, unlike 10 years ago, and especially with the moving onto the digital broadcasting platform, there are set to be so many stations all seeking content. I even know of people from as far as South Africa who are trying to come in and acquire local content. But on the downside, so far we all have to rely on corporate companies and when they don’t come on board, business hits a snag.
Genza’s side of the story
In the case that led to Kazoora’s arrest, Rwandan national Davis Genza (who was his business partner) accused him of fraud, registering a new company, Buddies TV Rwanda, to duplicate Buddies Production work, hence side-stepping him. Though this newspaper wasn’t able to get through to Genza for his side of the story, published reports indicate that in June last year, it was upon Genza’s complaints with the authorities in Rwanda that Kazoora was arrested and charged with tax evasion and ‘breach of trust’ (fraud).
On the tax evasion side the charges reportedly amounted to Francs30m, about Shs120m. Kazoora says the tax charges arose out of Genza misusing compnay money and that he has since cleared RRA. But the bigger bone of contention was the fraud one, where Genza reckoned that together with Kazoora they had started Buddies TV Production, only for Kazoora to later go behind his back (following a disagreement) and registering another company with similar names. Genza reckoned that Kazoora was trying to use the new company to execute the same business ventures as the old company they had formed together, even using the same reputation and claiming to represent the old company when dealing with clients.