How long have you been in the broadcast industry?
I’ve been in the broadcast industry for about 12 years now. I started out as a TV and radio journalist in Kenya before moving on to become a presenter on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation, a radio news editor for Citizen TV and a news anchor on Kenya’s NTV.
How did you land up at the BBC?
One can only go so far when working in broadcast in their home country. The BBC advertised the position and I jumped at the opportunity even though it meant that I’d have to relocate and be away from loved ones. I joined the BBC in 2009 as a presenter on Focus on Africa on BBC World Service radio. Then in 2012, I moved to my current position.
How different is being an anchor/producer for a global media corporation to when you worked in Kenya?
Firstly, working at the BBC has forced me to think out of the box and my comfort zone, which was Kenya for the longest time. My world as a reporter/anchor is no longer just limited to Kenya but to a wider global audience. Whenever I work on a story or interview a prominent leader, I always ask myself how I can make the story relevant and relatable to the multi-national audiences that we serve. My core mission through this job is to tell true African stories on an international platform. Someone needs to constantly challenge the dire picture of Africa the world has painted, and the only way to do that is for more Africans coming to the fore to tell their stories.
A lot of the time, when international media houses tell African stories, they are either distorted or treated with pity. What do you think the main problem is here?
Africa has been underreported on for a while because we don’t have enough African journalists working on these international platforms. There also aren’t enough good news stories about Africa being exported to the world. What is different about Focus On Africa is that we have reporters on the ground in different African countries whom we give the platform to report on African news genuinely. We took this approach because we felt that there was an urgent need for African stories to be told with dignity and not through the eyes of a foreign correspondent.
Would you say that you’ve finally found a home at Focus On Africa?
How many African women do we know who are out there telling Africa’s story on the world stage? I don’t see myself leaving the show until I feel there are enough people telling the African story through our eyes.
Of all the prominent African leaders that you’ve interviewed, who was your favourite and why?
Every leader that I’ve interviewed was different but all of them made a mark in my life and career. There’s always this perception that leaders are supposed to project a serious aura all the time but there have been some leaders whose characters have surprised me. That has actually taught me that leaders are humans too but they happen to have been elected into these positions of power. With that said, I have to admit that interviewing the President of Tanzania Jakaya Kikwete was challenging. It was one of those push-pull interviews where my little journalistic tricks to get answers out of him didn’t work. My interview with the widow of the first Angolan President Maria Eugenia Neto was also a memorable one. We spoke poetry, love and many other non-political subjects. I enjoy getting a sneak preview into the lives of these prominent leaders.
How often do you visit Kenya?
I go back home every three months because my family and friends are still there, but more so because I don’t want to lose touch with my roots.
A homesick Lupita Nyongo, recently posted a picture of her eating ugali (pap) on Instagram. How do you get around your nostalgia?
I try to cook Kenyan dishes whenever I miss home, but obviously the flavours and textures aren’t the same.
Would you say that you’re finally practicing what you’d set out to achieve with your journalism career?
I’ve always loved finding out about things before everyone else and being the one who narrates the story. My curiosity definitely works in favour.
How do you achieve that ever-elusive work-life balance?
It may come across as weird but I don’t watch TV, purely because as journalists the first thing we want to do is watch the news to see how a certain story is unfolding. That to me is the equivalent of working because chances are, I will want to follow it through. I also avoid any little gadgets that could tempt me to work. My weekends are for lying in until 11am, reading and doing household chores. I find that these activities help get my mind off work.
Focus on Africa airs on BBC World News, DStv Channel 400 from Monday to Friday at 19:30 – 20:00