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A passionate voice in African sports journalism

TWO male hosts engage in spirited sports banter in a lively studio session in Nairobi. But it's their young female colleague who steals the show, diving into trending sports news. Meet Mukami Wambora, one of Kenya’s few women sports journalists and co-host of the popular radio show, #SportOn. Her journey from law graduate to sports pundit defies norms, and her impact extends beyond the airwaves - she’s also breaking barriers outside the studio, and advocates for mental health awareness.

IN a colourfully decorated broadcast studio, two men talk sports. Joining them is a young woman who fuels the debate by throwing in news of a kit debacle that has stirred Kenyans. Knowledgeable and opinionated, she points out what’s wrong with the kit and what might be done as a fix. The conversation then swings to the English Premier League and then on to a much-anticipated track event, dipping into social media commentary along the way.

Mukami Wambora is one of the country’s few female sports journalists, guest-hosting the popular radio show #SportOn with Bernand Ndong’ and James Wokabi, on Nation FM, on given days as she also freelances at Homeboyz Radio as a pundit. She joined the radio show shortly after exiting a TV show in 2022.

Wambora, 34, is hardly the norm when it comes to journalism, specifically sports journalism. Before she got into TV, she was a law graduate, then worked in a local bank as a legal assistant.

“I really wanted to do law. I used to enjoy a lot of the legal TV shows. I wanted to be what I was seeing on TV – being in court and defending people.”

That was before her first year studying law. The reality came as a shock.

“I knew this is not what I want to do but I also didn’t know what else I can do. My final decision was to just keep at it.”

Mukami Wambora, guest hosting the #SportOn radio show on 13th April, 2024 in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Jeff Kahinju, bird story agency

Wambora finished her degree in the UK and came back to Kenya still trying to figure herself out – and to work out what she really wanted to do. She took a 6-month break before starting at the Kenya School of Law, a prerequisite for practising law in the country. In the six months, she began writing articles about football and sending them out, unsolicited.

“A lot of emails never got replied to, but eventually someone invited me to Capital FM to do a voice test. Here I met James Wokabi, who was the host of Football Sunday. So we had a few minutes of conversation about football, and he was like, ‘You know your stuff. Why don’t you come on Sunday?’ So that was an exciting experience, but it was really nerve-wracking,” she explained.

Wokabi turned into her first mentor, teaching her everything she needed to know as a sports host and also eliciting what she already knew.

“She was nervous and very soft-spoken, not the fierce lady that you see today. It took her quite a bit but then she just got going. There was also not as many women doing football punditry. I could see that she loved and knew about what she was talking about.” Wokabi said.

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Wambora soon became Wokabi’s regular guest host.

“You can imagine just having to put yourself out on air. I was really nervous at the start, but he really held my hand and he just kept encouraging me. And as time grew, I got really confident, but at the same time, I was finished at the Kenya School of Law. I had started working at the bank because this (show hosting) was just on Sundays,” she narrated.

But the balance between being a lawyer on weekdays and talking sports on Sundays began wearing thin.

“I had such a contrast with my Sundays where I’d be so excited to go on radio and talk about sports whereas my Monday mornings were just like ‘I have to get up and go to work’.”

Two years into her legal career, she quit.

Mukami Wambora, guest hosting the #SportOn radio show on 13th April, 2024 in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Jeff Kahinju, bird story agency

“Every parent’s dream in Africa is for their child to be a lawyer, a doctor. Something that makes sense. But I explained to them that I really wanted to pursue this as a career. And credit to them, they supported me.”

They agreed she could always fall back on her law degree if things didn’t work out.

“I used to play football. Even in school. I used to get Sports Girl of the Year awards. I used to really love playing sports, but I had not thought of it as a career at that point,” she said with a nostalgic smile.

“I tried and here we are. I think a big challenge I had to overcome is impostor syndrome,” she said.

She leaned heavily on mentors who were supportive of her journey. She left Capital FM for Bamba Sport, run by Radio Africa, where she worked with sports queen Carol Radull.

Wambora credits her introduction to TV to Radull, one of Kenya’s most successful female sports journalists.

“You never know somebody’s ready for TV broadcast until they actually go on air. I hired her… when she had primarily been doing radio at Capital FM and she did a screen test and she was very nervous at first, but who wasn’t. I was also nervous at first, and you can tell from a screen test whether someone is trainable or not. She was clearly somebody you could train because she had the conscience as a person. She’s confident, she’s knowledgeable,” Radull said of her mentee.

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After her stint at Radio Africa, she joined Citizen TV, where she worked with veteran sports journalist, Bernard Ndong’.

“A major advantage of having a female sports journalist is, it shatters the norms because basic social norms are that sports is largely male-centric. It’s male-centric in terms of it being played, and also most likely in terms of how it’s being reported. Because even if you just do a quick analysis of the number of female broadcast journalists in the country, there are very few and far between.” Ndong’ explained.

For him, this was also a different kind of mentoring.

“She was knowledgeable, it wasn’t just a token we were giving her. She was also willing to learn. I also came to find that female sports journalists are much more adept at following up stories.”

Wambora went on to cover big events like the 2018 World Cup, which she credits as being a major boost to her career, and the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cameroon. She has interviewed big names in football, like Thierry Henry and Rio Ferdinand.

Wambora also now wears many hats. Apart from being a sports journalist, she is also the treasurer to the Sports Journalist Association of Kenya (SJAK), one of three women on the Executive team.

“A big part of what we want to do in terms of transforming sports journalism in Kenya is, we want to give a lot more opportunities for young journalists to cover sports, especially out of the country.”

She aims to use her position to give young journalists an opportunity to improve and to grow. She also wants to take care of things like medical insurance that most sports journalists don’t have and to foster unity within themselves.

She also founded Uko Sawa, a mental health initiative that seeks to shift the stigma around mental health and to provide support at affordable prices. Taking on mental health issues has become an integral part of who Wambora is, today.

“Uko Sawa is something very near and dear to my heart. I got diagnosed with a mental illness very late in life, around 2019, literally in the middle of my career.”

“A big part of what’s helped me cope is therapy. And one of the things I realize is that it’s made me a more holistic person, a better person,” she further explained.

Mukami Wambora (right), interviewing hammer throw champion, Janee Kassanavoid (left) at Eka Hotel, Nairobi Kenya on 18th April, 2024. Photo: Jeff Kahinju, bird story agency

She is pushing for mental health to even be introduced to schools, a move she’s confident will reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.

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“If it’s in the school curriculum where, like, ‘after math, I have counselling,’ and everyone knows that’s what’s happening, then it stops having that stigma attached to it. And everyone is better for it.”

A product of mentorship herself, Wambora dedicates part of her time to mentoring and has successfully mentored Ivy Ijai, a fellow sports journalist who works at KTN, a leading TV station here in Kenya.

“Mentorship was one of the greatest gifts that I’ve had in my career, throughout. And it’s a gift I also wanted to pass down.”

“She’ll ask me for advice on what to do. And we’ll talk about it and I can really see how much she’s grown. So that’s also been really rewarding, being able to also pass on the gift that was given, to someone else. And now I understand when they tell me, ‘We’re so proud of you!’” she elaborated.

Her biggest advice is to just start.

“Don’t wait for someone to give you an opportunity. You just start creating that content; start writing, if you need to write, start recording yourself and talking about sports. Just start,” said the radio host, who is also now a digital content creator and emcee.

“If people go back and watch some of my videos, if I’m holding a paper, you can see it shaking, because it’s nerve-wracking,” she said of her journey to where she is now.

To add to her repertoire, Wambora is eyeing a master’s degree in sports business to fill a gap in sports sponsorship in Kenya which is one of the sector’s biggest challenges.

“A lot of corporates do not understand that connection. We have fewer and fewer sponsors in some of these big events, something like Motorsport. The Kenya National Rally no longer has a sponsor, which means there are fewer people taking part. We’ve missed a trick there.”