The work life of former news anchor WINNIE MUKAMI, 35, has undergone extreme ups and downs, from selling porridge at construction sites to becoming a household name before suffering retrenchment, and then rising above the adversities that come after the glory. As told to WANGUI GITHUGO
When you first meet her, the first thing one notices is the striking smile. A smile that has won the hearts of many, especially during her seven-year stint as a news anchor at NTV.
But behind it are little known tales of her not-so-rosy life before she became a screen star, and after a retrenchment that moved her out of the broadcasting life.
To Winnie Mukami, life is a series of chapters. Some have happy endings, others a hook to the next chapter, and she seems to have taken to life as the famous Johnny Walker mantra: “Keep Walking”.
“I am a lover of challenges and I have actually been nicknamed ‘Tenacity’. Throw me in the sea and I will swim with the sharks,” comments Mukami as the interview begins. Her career journey has indeed been characterised by challenging ups and downs.
Hardship before stardom
Before joining the media industry, Mukami survived on selling porridge to manual workers at Kitengela construction sites, and would use the earnings to assist her parents in providing for her three siblings.
The tough life after school pushed her to the tailoring industry, where she worked at EPZ as a tailor. It was during her daily hustling endeavours in 2001, that she caught a glimpse of a poster calling on interested parties to audition for a job at the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), which was the leading broadcaster at the time.
This opening at KBC attracted over 1,000 applicants, including Mukami. The auditions and ultimate selection was a multi-phased process that she endured and eventually sailed through.
After taking on TV presenting and radio hosting roles at KBC for two years, Mukami, in 2003, moved to NTV (then known as Nation TV), where she rose to be a well-recognised senior newscaster, until 2010.
During the period, her ratings were high, often ranking as one of the top 10 news anchors in the country, alongside Katherine Kasavuli, Swaleh Mdoe, Sophie Ikenye, Jamila Mohammed and Louis Otieno, among others.
Her most memorable TV bulletins were during the 2007 post election violence, when she had to be in the studio every day announcing the sad series of breaking news.
“I remember how a couple of my colleagues at some point could not make it to work as they were stranded in their homes as a result of the chaos across the country,” recollects Mukami.
Another example is when she was the anchor on duty at the time of the announcement of the ‘Ocampo Six’, that included the now president and the deputy president, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, respectively.
“I can tell you I had butterflies in my stomach. But I had to deliver the news boldly and authoritatively,” she says. There are many other news stories that Mukami got to break for Kenyans, which form part of the highlights of her TV career. But as fate would have it, change was coming and she had to change with it.
She says there is an emotional story behind her exit from NTV, that she chooses not to focus on. Despite moving out of the broadcasting career, Mukami affirms that journalism is still her first love.
“I got out of my job in 2010 when a ‘Tsunami’ (as it was called then) broke out, sweeping off a team, so as to usher in a new breed of journalists and anchors.
Well, I cannot say it was easy despite having considered the idea of leaving even before the retrenchment announcement came,” recalls the former news anchor.
Mukami says she joined the broadcasting world at a time when presenting news was about being content-oriented and authoritative, and also when people watched news bulletins simply to know what was going on around them and in other parts of the world, unlike a decade later when presentation of news has undergone a complete revolution.
This revolution has seen a new breed of mainly female journalists slowly taking over the scene. She finds that these days media houses and newsreaders’ try to cash in more on physique, fashion and charm for ratings amongst viewers.
She was among the few female news anchors who read a full news bulletin while seated, with a serious look on their face. This was also a time when news was read mostly by men like Ngulamu Mwaviro, Anaklet Araba and Khamisi Themo among others.
Life after outside
Unlike a number of once-famous broadcasters who quit the trade or are laid off, Mukami took her circumstances in stride and rose above the adversities that come after the glory and the fading away of the spotlight. Today, she is a reputable public relations consultant.
“I enjoyed my time in the media and when my time was up, I embraced it and started thinking of a way forward. Now I am an established businesswoman who also thinks of how to give back to the community, even though getting here has not been an easy task,” explains Mukami.
Through her own established public relations company, Winners Frontiers International Limited, Mukami has specialised in coming up with public awareness strategies for government and non-government projects, and also focuses on individual personal branding for public figures.
Her niche area is in crafting publicity campaigns. She worked as a publicist behind the Mau Forest campaign, which addressed the illegal occupation of Mau Forest in the Rift Valley as one of the environmental challenges. She has also contributed immensely in the campaign of intersex people, that gained momentum in 2016.
Commenting on her current occupation, she says business is not a quest for the weakhearted, exemplifying the challenges of accessing corporate and government tenders.
Delayed payments are another common pain that business people have to endure. She notes that she has, however, learned to deal with these issues and is content that things are panning out.
Her advice to entrepreneurial youth on obtaining tenders is to patiently keep trying and to position themselves for every available opportunity, in order to achieve their goals in life.