|Jeff Koinange; in the front row even back then|
Jeff Koinange is a Kenyan award-winning journalist and talk show host on KTN. He has previously worked at CNN, NBC News, ABC News, Reuters T.V. KTN and K24. He talks to BINGWA about his time in school, his love for sports and his exciting life as a journalist.
How was your childhood like?
I am the fourth born in a family of four; two sisters and one brother. I was born on January 7th, 1966 and exactly two months later, my dad died of a brain hemorrhage. He was one of the sons of the Gikuyu tribe’s most famous chiefs, Senior Chief Koinange wa Mbiyu (from the third of his six wives). We were therefore brought up by my mother, a former headmistress and strict disciplinarian. Growing up in the Kiambaa countryside, we’d commute to school every day. We never lacked anything and were very close as a family.
What were your favourite subjects?
My favourite subject was history (European, American and African). I had this gift (and still do) of remembering dates and events.
Did you like games? Which ones?
I was a pretty good sportsman and played just about every game; rugby, soccer, hockey, basketball and swimming. I was even captain of my school’s first rugby team (1984) and was selected to represent the country in the Combined Schools Rugby Team.
Which schools did you attend?
I first went to Hospital Hill School (1972-1974). In 1975, I changed schools and went to St. Mary’s where I did my A-Levels (1984). I was then recruited as a flight attendant for Pan AM World Airways (1986). It was while I was here, flying the ‘friendly skies’ for a year and a half, that I discovered my communication ‘talent’. When I did announcements on the plane, passengers applauded every time saying they loved my voice as well as how I did the announcements. After I quit, I joined Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York where I studied Broadcast Technology and Management. I graduated top of my class (with honours) and got a scholarship to study at the prestigious New York University. I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Broadcast Journalism (Class of ’91).
How did you relate with other kids?
I was always a people person, never shy and always looking out for those who were less fortunate.
Who was your role model then?
My greatest role model was my mother. I never had a father growing up and she doubled-up as both mother and father. I think she did a pretty good job.
How do you think your upbringing contributed to the person you are today?
I have learnt that there’s nothing as important as a good, solid upbringing. No matter how strict your parent/s are, you have to always respect authority, be obedient and polite.
Have you always been a public speaker?
I did a lot of public speaking while at St. Mary’s. I also participated in various annual school ‘operas’ like ‘The Mikado’, ‘Pirates of Penzance’ and many more. In 1984, I wrote and acted in a play called ‘It’s Only A Matter Of Time’ which the school entered in the Kenya National Drama Festivals and which was declared the best in Kenya (1984)
When was your big (career) break?
My big career break came when CNN was ‘shopping’ for a bureau chief for their office in Lagos, Nigeria. I refused at first, until I was invited to the CNN Center in Atlanta to check out the facilities. I took up the assignment almost immediately. I worked for CNN (Lagos) for six years before moving to Johannesburg, South Africa where I served as Senior African Correspondent until I left.
Describe your most memorable moment.
I had always wanted to meet Oprah Winfrey. When I did get a chance to do a story on a school she’d built with her own funds ($50 Million) in Johannesburg, I was nervous. I arrived in Soweto with my crew and as we waited for her to arrive, I kept wondering how I would address her. When her convoy drove up and she got out, the first thing she said was, “Hi Jeff? How’re you doing? I watch you all the time.” Wow! I’ll never forget that moment.
What's your favourite food?
I love pasta……and traditional foods like njahe and mukimo. I can cook pretty decent Ugali. I also love to barbeque, so nyama choma is up there among my favourites.
If you were to go back in time, what one thing would you do (or change)?
Not a thing! I’d live my life the very same way….. maybe with less fame. Fame is fleeting. Going out, eating out and doing ‘normal’ things becomes difficult. If I was less famous, I would be free to go out more.
What advise would you give to BINGWA readers?
Enjoy your childhood as much as you can because these are the best years of your life. Also, if you know what you want to be when you grow up, go for it! Don’t let anyone discourage you and never ever let anyone tell you that you cannot do something or you cannot be somebody. Everyone is born great, it’s now up to you to live up to it.
-Moran of the Burning Spear, 2007- Awarded by President Mwai Kibaki for his contribution to Journalism in Kenya and Africa.
-First African to ever win a TV EMMY for a story he did on famine in Niger, West Africa (2005)
-George Forster PEABODY Award for coverage of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, USA (2005)
-Prix Bayeaux for War Coverage- for a story he did on rape victims in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) (2006)
Some significant stories covered
First published in BINGWA Magazine Issue 3 2010