PROFILE: Jamila Mohamed, top journalist who embodies humility amidst great strides in the media industry
By Patience Nyange and Esther Kiragu
This week in our #KenyaWomenSeries, we feature a renowned journalist and quite a familiar face in many Kenyan homes. She’s known and celebrated for her brilliant mastery of the Swahili language. She describes herself as a bookworm and her mother’s favourite child! “I am a wife and a mother to five adorable children, two girls and three boys; a mama’s daughter; a sister; an aunt to many, and let me also mention that I have some grandbabies!” Ladies and gentlemen, drum rolls for Jamila Mohammed, please.
Jamila Mohamed starts off this interview by giving all the credit to her mother for the woman she is today. “I look up to my mother; she’s my all-time hero. My father passed away when I was only eight years old. I still miss him daily. My mother took care of my sibling and I, in Kericho and ensured we had a normal childhood in the absence of our father. I schooled in Kericho for my primary school, then later came to Nairobi for my high school education and college. I never left the city.”
Tell us about your journey, highlighting the major achievements of your career and the events that have shaped it.
Passion and purpose have always guided me in my career aspirations. My entry into the media is an interesting one because I started off as a sales representative at IQRA FM in 2000. At the time I had no media training; my competence was in IT from the Diploma I had. Nevertheless, my desire and passion opened the door for me to join the radio newsroom as a newsreader and a reporter. After a short stint there, I joined the Nation Media Group, a place I called home for 16 years.
NMG was where I leveraged the opportunity to advance my career and went back to school to attain my Bachelors and Masters degrees. Besides growing my career, I got married and had my babies still while at NMG.
I have an array of memorable experiences and exposures at NMG, including covering elections, referendums, riots and demonstrations (I have a few tear gas experiences), terrorist attacks, and tribal clashes in Africa. At one time, I was at a hotel in Mogadishu when a bomb explosion occurred at the hotel. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life!
Other memorable experiences include travelling across the counties after promulgating of the new constitution in Kenya in 2010. I traversed the country; I got to see a Kenya I never thought I would experience. At the age of 40, I am glad that I have been to Europe, Asia and the US, telling stories. My favourite part of it all is when a story I tell changes people’s lives.
I am now three years into my current role as a Senior News anchor and Managing Editor of the Swahili division at Royal Media Services (RMS). Every day has been a learning experience for me. I am responsible for people and product management, ensuring that our team tells stories that resonate with our audiences.
Sometimes, I miss going out to the field; the adrenaline rush, especially when there are big stories to tell, is something else! But it is also great to teach and guide young reporters, and when they get it right, my day is made. And because learning is endless, I am now undertaking an Executive Master’s degree.
Throughout your career, you have worked in different Newsrooms in Kenya. Please tell us about your experience as a woman and share lessons on how women can position themselves for opportunities up the ladder in the media industry.
Newsrooms have evolved a lot. Today’s newsroom is not the same newsroom when I joined the profession 20 years ago. Back then, you would literally count the women in the newsroom. Presently, female journalists are many, I barely know one-third of them, which makes me jump for joy. I am excited at the strides we have made as women in newsrooms.
In terms of how Newsrooms run, many are the same in different media houses apart from some slight differences in the organisation’s culture. As a woman, I have learned that we have to push ourselves harder to show that we can do the job; and that’s still the case to date.
While the advent of technology has made the job of telling stories more efficient, it has also come with the challenge of getting facts right and not being caught up in fake news or telling stories that have not been well researched. We need to work hard; some of the best brains in the field that I have met are young women looking for an opportunity to prove that they can do it.
I tell this to all young journalists, “Let your work speak for you” As long as you have a chance to prove yourself, every well-researched, well-thought-out, well-written piece that you put out there, don’t waste the opportunity. Do it like this is the only chance you have.
You were voted as Somali Glamour Awards Female Journalist of the Year in 2018 and 2019, tell us about this and any other awards under your name. What do these awards mean for you and other young women who look up to you?
Winning the award twice in a row was great; I made my mama very proud. I also won the Chaguo la Teeniez Awards for the favourite female presenter for three years consecutively, the Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ) award for a story I did on the environment, as well as the Muslimah Awards, among other community awards for empowering and inspiring young girls. Being appreciated always humbles me. It tells me that I am doing it right…..endelea na kazi (keep at it). I hope these words inspire young women coming behind me, proof that women are capable.
Based on your practical experience, tell us the role that the following have played in your life…
- Passion for what you do.I was lucky to have an understanding employer when my kids were younger. I worked during shifts that enabled me to have some hours with them. I must admit that I had to sacrifice my career advancement for my family for the years when I was a young mum. Life has seasons. Now that my children are older, I can give more time to my personal development. The passion for the job keeps one going, and you keep coming back to tell more stories. Sometimes, you carry scars because some stories are sad.
- Having a persistent learning attitude. Ooooh, this has helped me a lot! As earlier said, I joined this profession with no formal journalism training. So all I am, I learnt from others even as I sought professional training; from news reading, reporting, scriptwriting, translating and interviews. I learnt from the hundreds of people I have met and worked with over the years. Every day is an opportunity for me to learn something. Sometimes, I am amazed that there is still a lot of learning to do, 20 years later.
- Taking on new challenges – This is important in this profession. Otherwise, there is a danger of being too comfortable with day-to-day work in the newsroom, imagining that you know enough. Challenges help one grow; do stories on an unfamiliar topic. They allow you to look for story ideas and don’t be afraid to speak up. Also, try a different style of storytelling; start doing interviews, volunteer for live events. If you work in TV, for instance, at a Media house with a newspaper and radio, try your hand at those. Trust me; you have nothing to lose. If a challenge is thrown your way, strap your heels on (flats for me!) and get on it. For instance, the News Gang is my weekly challenge. You should see me during my preparations. I study for the show like it is an exam, because I work with some of the best journalists around, and I need to keep up with them!
- Forging networks- In this industry, forging networks is a big part of your job. Take people’s numbers and emails and cultivate a personal relationship with them. You never know when you will need a quote here or a document there. You may need an interview from an authority, an exclusive interview or contacts that can give you tips for stories. Amazingly, some of the biggest stories have come about because of networks. Talk to people; don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
- Power of mentorship- Very powerful, mentoring someone can make a difference, whether they stay in this profession or not. Guidance and showing someone the right path is important, especially for the women coming behind us. I realised when a mentee feels you have their back, they keep forging ahead, comfortably. Life is about making mistakes; the most challenging part is not repeating the mistake. For those that I mentor, I always remind them that no one is perfect and, therefore, it is ok to make mistakes but be careful about repeating the same mistake.
As a woman in a senior leadership position, what three key lessons have you learnt so far that you can share with women and girls regarding career and life?
- Learn from others. Everyone has something to teach you; despite their age and rank. I have learnt so much from the different people I meet, got some amazing lessons, and taught others in return.
- Everyone has a story. It is important to look at a situation from someone else’s point of view. Put yourself in their shoes, it may help you make the right decision; an informed one. Listen to others; sometimes, that’s all you need.
- Be humble; anything can happen. Your situation can change at any time. Always remember where you came from and what you want out of life.
If you were to choose the two most important values that keep you grounded and shape the way you work and live, what would they be and why?
- Treat others well: You never know when you will need someone. Treat them as you would want to be treated. I would be so happy to hear one day that someone treated my children well because of what I did to that person.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself: It is great to have goals and work hard to achieve them, but if you don’t achieve them in the timeframe you thought you would, don’t blame yourself; try again. If that route isn’t working, try another one but don’t be too hard on yourself. I used to beat myself up whenever I failed to achieve a goal until I learnt that sometimes it’s ok to just let go.
How do you describe yourself, and how do others describe you?
I believe I am someone who strives to do what’s right. My husband says I am a workaholic! Others say I am kind, considerate, and someone who listens. I talk too much, but I am also empathetic to others. I give my time and skills whenever I can. I have a challenge in delegating, but I am learning to do that day by day. But most importantly, my mother calls me her favourite child, and I am not afraid of rubbing it on my sibling’s faces all the time!
Any parting shot?
Be kind to yourself; no one is perfect. We all make mistakes, but we should learn from them. Treat others with respect sometimes, that is all you have to give. Be proud of even the smallest achievements and appreciate yourself.
Esther is a writer, editor, and communications professional in Kenya while Patience Nyange is a Chevening Scholar with a Masters Degree in International Public Relations and Global Communication Management from Cardiff University. Prior to joining Cardiff University, Patience served as an Assistant Director at the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR).
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