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7 Women to Watch in Kenya – True Love July 2010

The new age movers and shakers

Empowered, empowering and flowing with creativity, there is a new crop of Kenyan women movers and shakers causing ripples on our male dominated landscape. These women have a global approach to their business and a powerful online footprint.

TRUE LOVE spoke to them and asked industry insiders to give their opinion of the growing talent and tell us why they have proved so exceptional. This list is by no means exhaustive. It is but a glimpse on a rarely scratched surface. By Carol Odero

WANURI KAHIU, 30 DIRECTOR, PRODUCER & SCRIPT WRITER

Her name may be on everyone’s lips now but when she was being profiled on CNN’s The Screening Room last year, Wanuri Kahiu was referred to as an artiste whose praises are never sung at home. She has managed to earn so many accolades we are having a hard time keeping track. She has five films to her credit and a stint as a production assistant in The Italian Job.

In 2009, her film From A Whisper won five awards out of an astounding 11 nominations at the African Movie Awards (AMA) including best director. By the time we were going to press it had garnered yet another for its lead male actor just around the same time her short Kenyan sci-fi film Pumzi won best short film at the Cannes Independent Film Festival. Yet, Wanuri’s career has only just begun.

THE NEW AGE STORY TELLER

“I really don’t like bottled water. It takes more water to make the bottle than the amount of water sold in the actual bottle. That is what triggered Pumzi. I am inspired by things that make me angry.

From A Whisper, a story about the 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi, I felt needed to be told from an individuals’ perspective, how it affects them and how they come to terms with loss rather than the story of a nation. What I love about film is that it can communicate. It is a record. In ancient times storytellers could predict the future, kind of like seeing alternate realities. Pumzi was one possibility. It shows what might happen if we head in a certain direction.

I am involved in the entire process from writing scripts to casting and the most challenging thing about making films is funding. I have to look for grants and investors to finance my film. I don’t have balance in my personal life. My work takes over my life. Anyone who is in it has to be involved in the films so if film making is not your thing then you can’t be in my life. Making films can be really lonely because writing and directing are solitary experiences.”

BOB NYANJA, FILMMAKER, ON WANURI:

Wanuri has definitely raised the quality of storytelling. I am happy that we are in the same fraternity. There is a level of sophistication to her work that is appealing to a wide range of audiences both locally and internationally.

SHAIJA PATEL, 39 PERFORMANCE POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AUTHOR, POLITICAL ACTIVIST

One way to describe Shailja Patel is “modern thinker”. She uses not just her mind, but her spirit, pouring molten fire from her heart and soul into words before throwing an unexpected punch.

So powerful is her poetry that it has earned this third generation Kenyan of Asian origin a litany of international awards including the nomination for Premio Lettarario Camaiore in Italy and African Guest writer fellowship from Sweden, Indian American Women Empowered, Ford Foundation Award, National Performance Network Creation Fund Award and residencies at the University of California and Santa Barbara, The University of California in Merced, and Nordic Africa Institute in Sweden. No stranger to controversy, she has had her share of criticism as well as heckling.

She will be publishing Migritude, her one-woman show in August in time for her performance at the StoryMoja Hay Festival in August.

She has expanded her work from the feminist prequel to Bwagamoyo, which is Migritude II where she takes on masculinity. The latter was perfected in April at the Sundance Theatre Lab in Uttah in the USA, yet another opportunity courtesy of her formidable, life altering words.

She performs across continents and has had her work translated into several languages, challenges the establishment, our minds and comfort zones. One would even go as far as tracing the spoken word phenomenon in Kenya back to her.

THE WORD WARRIOR

“I have always been fascinated by words–from the age of two when I would copy them and show them to my mother. Growing up I wanted to be Enid Blyton! When I first saw a poetry slam in San Francisco, it was like a bucket of cold water poured on me. It woke me up. Starting out, I used to shake so much they gave me the name, ‘one who comes to tremble at the mike.’

Fear is the body’s way of preparing itself for performing. Before Sundance I was terrified but I was around people who make me grow. After 9/11 I got involved in activism and outgrew slam. I have gotten heckled and censored in the US for a political poem and in Zanzibar when I mentioned the word ‘clitoris’ on stage and said Bi Kidude was God.

This was after Bongo artistes had rapped with lyrics disrespectful to women. All poets across Africa were always women. They were the ones who kept stories alive. The challenge for a female performer is having the courage to be angry and ugly on stage.”

SITAWA NAMWALE, AUTHOR, CUT OFF MY TONGUE AND POET ON SHAILJA:

Shailja is incredibly bold and steps out of the norm to do things her way. She dares to tell a story not often told, that of the Asian immigrant. She makes us understand what it feels like not to belong. Telling our stories powerfully is critical. She did not just write Migritude and leave it. She perfects it. She has taught me how to do that and she is the one who inspired my journey into poetry. She cares about society and takes things on.

ANNE KIGUTA, 25 KTN PRIME NEWS ANCHOR

There is a very clear cut path leading into the KTN Prime news anchors’ seat. It is a process that starts at one o’clock, moves into the 11pm news then graduates to the coveted 9pm slot. Not so for Anne Kiguta. As soon as she appeared on air she was hosting the coveted prime slot, fitting a little too easily into the shoes of her equally enticing predecessors. The blogosphere fired up, challenging her seamless, and what at the time, was felt to he unearned, entry.

Yet she has been a journalist since 18, starting out at Hope FM where she learnt the ropes for three years, moving to Capital FM for four years as a news reporter. She may not have won any awards as of now, but Anne holds a great deal of promise as witnessed by her noticeable premier.

RUNNING IN HEELS

“I am a journalist. I studied at Daystar University and I go out into the field. What people do not know is that KTN had been trying to get me on air for the past three years. Once in, when they needed me on air I was pregnant and just beginning to balloon. “I have learnt so much from those who were there before me.

When they were on air I was behind the camera, watching everything that they did. The KTN team was great. Lilian Kanene took me shopping and Anjlee Gadhvi was so kind to me. I am not used to seeing my face everywhere. I have had to get used to the fact that when people look at me, it is not because my fly is open.

“What I don’t like is that I should be typeset. I am a mum. I shop, pick potatoes and love my ripped jeans. There is more to me than reading news. I am glad that this came at a point in my life when I am grounded. I am married and have a daughter (six months in June). When I get home and I am taking off layers of make up I tell myself that I am leaving the corporate world behind and not to take it all too seriously. My daughter has this stare when I walk in, like my make up is too much. Then she coos and pulls my hair, messing with the careful way I had placed it, then I realise that I am a mum.”

“In the next few years I see myself running my own broadcast house. I want to start something community based. I have spoken to a couple of people about it. It would not need to be English speaking to start with because it is about getting to the grassroots. We will take things like the global financial meltdown and show them how it affects their unga.

A lot of Kenyans are removed from politics and I would like them to be aware of things they can do and could change. We don’t understand the power of one and how that is what makes a difference. I can only report news for so long. It gets to you and at the end of the day I am Kenyan. I have always felt something needs to be done. The Kenyan story is not just about poverty and burning churches in Kiambaa.”

KATUA NZILE, MANAGING EDITOR KTN ON ANNE KIGUTA

We identified Anne over a year ago if not more. We basically head hunt and(set up) an interview with me. We want to get presenters who know what they are doing and my policy is very simple: if you are a full time news anchor then you must be able to report. You must know the challenges reporters face out there in the field.

When we bring in someone they usually work their way up doing the Late Night news. However, that is not cast in stone. When we met Anne we were of the opinion that she was ready for Prime. As for Anne’s future she is going to be one of the best broadcasters not just here but beyond. She could go international.

MORAA GITAA, 33 AUTHOR, BLOGGER

Getting published is a dream for any writer more so for Moraa Gitaa. Already she has published Crucible For Silver, Furnace For Gold, a book that plunged head on into HIV & Aids and interracial relationships. She writes of things others shy away from. Moraa has two more books due.

One, a novella, comes out in time for the August Storymoja Hay Festival. In September there is a full length coming of age novel. She won first prize in the adult fiction category of the National Book Development Council of Kenya Award in 2008. Moraa’s deepest passion however, lies in taking books to the young more so considering her own 16 year old daughter’s dyslexic childhood.

“There is a lack of interest in our publishers for novels. They say the market only exists for text books and that Kenyans do not read. I don’t believe that. I am in the process of registering a foundation to help children with dyslexia. Most of them are usually very intelligent but teachers think they are slow, and hence they lack patience for them.

My own daughter was dyslexic and the pubic schools did not know what to do with her. I had to take her to a private school. I used to tutor children in my house but where I live they do not allow businesses to be conducted in apartments. So now I am in the process of organizing a fundraiser to create a learning centre for children with learning disabilities as well as those infected and affected by HIV & Aids.

When I wrote Crucible I had a lot of friends who had died from Aids related complications. It took years, from 2002 till 2005 to get it published. Crucible was published in Canada. I have been informed that my book has been used in Kenyatta University and University of Nairobi for comparative studies on writing and as a thesis.

Once in a slum I remember when these children somehow found a Sh100 story book. They all wanted to share it so that they would all read it. They did that by carefully tearing off the pages and handing them out so every one of them could read. It moved me to tears.”

She is one of the most disciplined writers I know. A lot of writers are waiting for a muse. She just gets on with it. I have a great deal of faith in her. She is learning a lot from putting her work out there. The confidence that comes from high placed reviewers as a result of exposure will do her good.

MUTHONI NDONGA, 25 FLOW POET, NEO SOUL ARTISTE, WRITER, BLANKETS & WINE CEO

When Muthoni Ndonga released her album The Human Condition in 2009, it was a mellow, soft introduction completely belying what has turned out to be her explosion all over the musical landscape. In it included the immensely popular neo soul meets afro fusion track, Cool Waters.

Then there is Mikono Kwenye Hewa, a track so alive it leaps straight out of MTV Base simply proving how incredibly versatile she is. But she was not done. Blankets and Wine was born in November 2008.

Its growth has leaped from a handful of 100 music lovers to a steady 500 to 700 fans gathering regularly on the greens to be serenaded on a slow Sunday afternoon. Mid this month, she and Dela, a fellow artiste, will begin a 12 concert tour of Nairobi dubbed the First Ladies Tour. To say that her talent is only just unfolding is sheer understatement.

THE DRUMMER QUEEN

“I think we are spirits on a human journey and that we forget that. I wanted to focus on the experience of being human to show that we are motivated by more than we can see. Every word in The Human Condition is deliberated and measured. I needed them to come from the weight of the observer. I want to tell the story in every space which is why there will be a tour. There are stories that have not been told.

Along with the tour I will be shooting my second video towards the end of June, remixing The Human Condition just for the fun of it. I wrote and co-directed Mikononi Kwenye Hewa and would love to do more of that.

It was also the first time I tried rap. This track is a half way point between poetry and hip hop which is flow poetry. There is a lot of fusion in the album so it sounds futuristic and different. I used to perform at Dass Restaurant in Westlands but the stage was too small and I wanted to work with other musicians who can help me grow. That is how Blankets & Wine was born.

We have heard of artistes who are better known out there than they are at home. I did not want that. Now people have taken it as part of their thing, which is great. The hardest part is striking a balance between being an individual artiste and B & W.

It takes a lot of time to grow the event just as much as it takes to grow my music career. Both need nurturing. At this point in my life I love that I just wake up every day and make it.”

TABU OSUSA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR KETEBUL STUDIOS ON MUTHONI:

Muthoni is a very intelligent person and a visionary. What makes a difference is usually not how good you are as an artiste, but how distinct your sound is. In comparison to the present crop of young female artistes in her age group, she is way above the rest.

BEATRICE NDUNG’U, 24 CEO GLOBALESSENCE, MEDIA & MARKETING CREATIVE, ROYAL MEDIA SERVICES

At 21 Beatrice Ndung’u excitedly told her parents she wanted to start an online magazine. They had no idea what that was but were unwavering in their support. Thus globalessence.net was born in 2006. In three years it has sprouted extra tentacles to include the online entertainment magazine, R & B media which does creative advertising and the most fascinating one, a radio and television station with a difference to be launched by end of 2010.

Beatrice has done a number of adverts for television shows including a Nigerian television show, is working on one in Uganda and locally she is the brains behind all those radio promotions you hear on Citizen. This year she was elected as youth ambassador for Kenya by Blog Talk radio.

THE ONLINE MARKETER

“Globalessence has 12 full time employees and I want to create even more jobs. In July I will be going to Belgium to learn more about media in preparation for the television and radio station. I have formed a partnership with someone for this as well as saved money from writing ads, training people and giving talks in seminars and workshops I do to especially encourage children.

When I wrote a proposal for the stations everyone who saw them told me I was crazy.

A lot of people think of things that cannot be done, but I just do it. I grew up in Eastlands.

I want people to know that it is possible for anyone to be successful. People pass me on the streets and see me as an ordinary person, which is good. But I want them to know anything I can do they can too.”

DENNIS NDAVI, MANAGING CONSULTANT OF NDAVI MEDIA, ON BEATRICE:

I interviewed Beatrice once for a job at Homeboyz as a creative in the marketing department and I hired her on the spot. The work involved creative marketing on air, online and on the ground. She has a very keen eye for online particularly. What will take her far is her ambition. She looks higher and dreams and because of that she will go places.

ANNE KIPCHIRCHIR, 34
FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, ART FUNDI; ARCHITECT, JEWELRY DESIGNER

What do you get when you combine art with design? Anne Kabue.

She is currently working on a website that will illuminate what goes on inside and behind the scenes of interior design and architectural projects. The idea is to walk clients through the creation of dream homes, hotels and offices. It will also feature an online market of art fundi custom made accessories, a hobby that is fast hurtling towards something bigger.

Anne’s uniqueness is her combination of interiors and exteriors. She builds this against a backdrop of Strategic Listing, an innovative yellow pages kind of directory that lists players within the construction industry. She also runs an all-female architectural firm with Teresa Odula Ikere, her partner. The pair has grown out of marketing and advertising the architectural and design industry and moved into mainstream design.

LAYING THE FOUNDATIONS

“I’m excited about the site. It will feature a greater scope of the design projects I have worked on. Currently this includes home refurbishing, office interiors, defining a corporate identity, furnished apartments and a couple of creative rental villas out of town.

I enjoy projects that present a creative challenge. In these I feel I can make a substantial contribution. I also enjoy proving that it doesn’t cost much to create an attractive environment that reflects personal style and taste, both at work and at home.

I read books that give ideas on creating a work life balance, talk to mentors and then juggle much like all mums. Creating a steady routine makes it easier to define time for the family. Sometimes it means saying no to a client when I am needed at home, but every day presents an opportunity to learn more. I am interested in making an entry into policy formulation for the building industry.

In that great picture is also a healthy, happy family and loving, upright children. It has taken hard work, late nights, early mornings and a ton of sacrifice. That coupled with firm ingraining that failure isn’t an option, will keep me getting up each day no matter what I have to face.”

SUE MURAYA, REAL ESTATE GURU AND FASHION DESIGNER ON ANNE:

Her work is brilliant. She is very creative. Her background in architecture is something inborn. She researches her beadwork for the jewelry and combined with her creativity, she is coming up with very different concepts. I also understand her moving from architecture into design. Anne is always searching for new ways to do well.

  • Tony Mureithi

    This is so impressive! Some of these women are so young! Its shows they are really competing with us men. One message to the men, No sleeping again! Lets pull up our socks, otherwise these women will dominate the world!….LOL!

    Am so happy to see these wonderful women of Kenya.

    Thank you,

    Tony Mureithi,

    Gaborone, Botswana.

  • milley

    amazing things and amazing people..i love the way the point has been driven across..it’s all about passion and the drive. this issue is a great way of saying nothing is impossible! loved it……..alot

  • guest

    muthoni ndonga is not 25, i am 25 and she was in form 4 in my school when i was in form 1.

    • Anonymous

      29 is still young!

  • Nduta Karanja

    Would love to learn more of sue muraya.She inspires great,you can apply your talent to excel in many fieds.

  • ann

    this women have greatly inspired all the women in Kenya to dream big. True love i wish you could also get more inspiring stories and also get this women to give talks to schools to encourage girls…

  • juma

    kindly inform me on how to contact the editor.

  • Tarus

    kindly inform me on where your offices are.

  • Christina Mokimilya

    this inspired me,keep it up!

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