Akwasi Dayo Sarpong
Student name: Akwasi Dayo Sarpong
Course: MA International Public Relations
Year of graduation: 2008
Current employer: BBC World Service
Being one of the compelling voices on the BBC World Service, Akwasi works hard at his job, navigating difficult hours and presenting complicated socio-political debates on BBC Africa.
With hindsight, he says that socialising with people from diverse backgrounds in Cardiff taught him about the issues that resonated with people.
He also fondly remembers his lecturers who advocated painstaking care and fastidiousness when completing work, a trait worthy of his current role in the BBC.
Why did you choose to study at Cardiff University?
Before I came to Cardiff I had practised journalism for almost seven or eight years in various roles in Ghana – I had been presenting programmes and anchoring the news.
After a number of years working in the industry, I decided to go and get a new perspective. I wanted to go back to school, re-energise, recharge my batteries and diversify my thoughts. It was exciting, new and empowering. I knew that I needed to see things from another perspective, rather than just a West African one.
Did you enjoy your time living and studying here?
Cardiff University was the most amazing time of my life. I had a great time in Cardiff academically and socially. I also had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. It was doing something out of my comfort zone - there are so many experiences that I wouldn’t have gained elsewhere.
What is your current role in the BBC?
I produce and present two current affairs and news programmes of the BBC for Africa - the breakfast programme called Network Africa and the late afternoon news magazine, Focus on Africa.
I have just been assigned a third programme as presenter/producer which sees me travelling every month to a different African country to moderate a debate with a live studio audience of about 120 people - comprising experts, students, politicians, social commentators and so on.
Any issue that is topical and at the core of the existence of our listeners must be heard on the BBC World Service. If it matters to Africa, we will debate it. I have just returned from Nairobi as a presenter for the BBC Africa debate. The current debate is whether Africa should be on trial in the International Criminal Court. We had spokespersons, advocates, lawyers and a live studio audience of 120 people with interest in the issues.
The next debates will question Africa's global image: is it prejudiced or justified? That will be in Kampala, Uganda and then to Lusaka, Zambia where Africa will debate China's role in Africa.
How does an average day or average week look like?
The Network Africa breakfast show is a 10-hour night shift. From the moment I walk through the door, it’s all systems go!
I throw myself in the deep end with interviews with our correspondents via satellite phone, telephone and Skype. For example, when I talk to Heads of State they could be in their home countries or elsewhere. This means you need to be kept up to date by reading a lot of material to be able to appreciate and understand what is currently happening in those countries. Most importantly, you have to be good at interviewing and asking relevant questions. The sort of information you generate should be specific to citizens and nations, because you have a pan-African audience as well as a global audience.
What is the biggest challenge of your job?
I have to be constantly alert and think on my feet. From 22:00 till 03:00 I am very busy so I don’t have time to feel tired. The preparation of the show involves creating scripts, recording interviews and preparing for live interviews. It’s exciting and there are always new things to work on.
The breakfast programme starts from 03:30 and ends at 08:00. We rise with the sun in South-East Africa and set in West Africa. There are five editions every morning at every hour and the content is tailored for each part of the country.
Putting the programme together is exciting and then the show airs at 3.30am. I need to be awake and energetic. I don’t use coffee or energy drinks because I like to depend on my natural energy. That is a challenge of doing the breakfast programme. But you can look back at the morning’s work and know that you did a terrific job.
What is the most rewarding and meaningful part of your job?
To know that what I do makes a difference in peoples' lives. The reason why I have chosen media and journalism is because I want to be able to tell stories to people who are in the position to do something about it. If these people actually hear what I’m saying, they can take some action.
Today, the work I do is testimony to the last 12 years of hard work I've put in. Working on the BBC World Service commands the platform for Heads of State to listen to you. People can listen and actually use my commentary as a primary source of information. I am able to give power to the public who do not have the means or access to voice their opinions. What I aim to do is use my platform to give a voice to the voiceless.
What lessons have you learnt at Cardiff?
The MA was research-based which taught me to be very thorough and clear in my work. I learned how to think critically and be analytical in my writing.
A valuable lesson I learned was from a lecturer who told me:
“You did not travel all the way from Africa to stay in your comfort zone, you are here to benefit from the diversity that this master’s programme offers you.”
I learned to step out and engage with colleagues from elsewhere: China, America, Canada, Asia and India. I learnt their culture and shared my perspectives with them. This aspect of university allowed me to deal with real people from diverse backgrounds and be able to talk about issues that resonate with them. These are skills I have built over time and being in Cardiff helped hone that skill especially with my current role in the BBC.
What would you say to a student from Ghana who is thinking about coming to Cardiff?
It would be money well spent and an experience you will never regret. Cardiff is an amazing place to study, to meet people and to enjoy nightlife.
The materials that are available to you academically are limitless. Lecturers here make time for you, they talk to you and give you different perspectives that are useful for when you have to write your dissertation. They relate to you and give you the coaching that you need.
Cardiff is not an expensive place to live and I was very comfortable. You come to find that other cities in the UK are much more costly. I had little worry about money, so I had all the time to concentrate on my academic work. It was also very easy to find student work opportunities while I are there.
I worked with Halifax as a customer service adviser and many of my colleagues found similar financial institutions to make money to pay for their expenses during studies. This also gives you work experience for your CV. It shows you have a life outside the campus and can engage with people in a work environment. It can also help build a work ethic which is very important for when you graduate from University.