Cracking the glass ceiling in sports – meet Wanjiku Mwenda
While women in Kenya and the region are making great inroads into various aspects of sports, sports journalism has not been one of them.
As American sports columnist and feature writer for The Washington Post, Sally Jenkins once said: sports remains a bunch of boys observing what a bunch of boys do together.
Female journalists remain a minority in top managerial positions within media organisations and have not achieved equality in serious fields of news, including politics.
Instead, they are more likely to be clustered in what is considered ‘soft’ news, covering ‘lighter’ topics, such as fashion, domestic issues, society gossip, human interest stories and features.
Dream is born
Finding work as a sports journalist was a nightmare for Wanjiku Mwenda after completing her journalism studies at St Paul's University in Limuru.
However, she refused to pawn all her hopes and eventually broke through the glass ceiling that once stood in her way.
Wanjiku is now standing alongside her male peers to deliver incredible results and according to her cousin, Grace Wairimu, the 31-year-old has always been a sports enthusiast and always wanted to be a sports journalist.
“Wanjiku started playing handball when she was just 11 years old during her days at Utafiti Academy and later at Kijabe Girls High School in both in Kiambu County. She often watched football with her father,” recalls Wairimu.
Growing up, Wairimu remembers her cousin endlessly talking about Kenya coming close to beating Nigeria in the 1998 World Cup Qualifier at Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani as a 10-year-old.
Her obsession with various sports since childhood convinced her family members that she was going to do sports in future.
In 2008, during her second year at the university, Wanjiku longed to join her campus radio station, Light FM as a sports anchor so she started practicing her anchoring skills daily in front of a mirror to perfect it.
The second born in a family of three admired BBC sports reporter and anchor Lynne Wachira and desired to be like her.
Her first attempt at reporting sports professionally was at Truth FM, a radio ministry of the Africa Inland Church (AIC- Kenya) where she landed an internship opportunity.
During the six months that the programme lasted, Wanjiku gradually rose through the ranks, starting as a field reporter to hosting a weekly sports show called Jambo-Ree.
After her internship, Wanjiku continued working at Truth FM for close to one year without pay and introduced sports news. She was the first sports news anchor at the station.
In August 2010, Wanjiku joined Michezo Afrika, a Sports and Media agency as a writer to learn new skills. Eager to be trained, she gained experience in interviewing techniques and sports writing.
Wanjiku remained consistent, committed and disciplined in her work even though she did not earn an income for the one year and four months she was attached to the agency.
Wanjiku then met former Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) sports producer, Joseph Shegu who challenged her to do football analysis and invited her as an analyst on his show during the 2011 CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup.
“My cousin was so excited meeting fellow analysts Zacks Waweru, Patrick Naggi and host Ampher Apidi who, thanks to their extensive knowledge, helped her understand a large volume of football information.
Wanjiku was at the station for three weeks and provided live analysis and expert insight during broadcast,” says Wairimu.
K24 Sports Editor and Anchor, Tony Kwalanda and former K24 Sports Anchor and Reporter, Njoroge Githinji soon noticed Wanjiku and called her with a job offer on different occasions in December 2011.
In April 2012, by sheer coincidence, Wanjiku woke up as usaul to embark on her job hunting mission.
When she arrived in town, she received a call from K24’s Human Resource department asking her to go in for an interview.
Confident and always prepared, Wanjiku walked into the interview room and impressed the interviewers. She prevailed as the top candidate.
“Wanjiku did her first Piece To Camera (PTC) three days after reporting to work and started anchoring sports news four months later.
She shared a platform with former K24 news anchors Remmy Majala and Jeff Koinange who both guided her along her journey to becoming a leading figure in Kenya’s sports news industry,” she says.
But her rise to becoming a renowned sports journalist has not been a walk in the park.
At one point, Wairimu remembers Wanjiku locking herself in her room and refusing to come out. Her mother, a senior laboratory technologist at The Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) sensed something was amiss and decided to check on her, helping her see there was hope amidst the challenges.
“My cousin is aggressive, smart and assertive. She has travelled in and out of the country covering major sports events and has interviewed great sports personalities such as Kenyan long-distance and middle-runners Eliud Kipchoge and Asbel Kiprop, former Manchester United footballer Dwight Yorke, former Cameroonian football striker Patrick Mmboma and former Arsenal player Robert Pires,” says Wairimu.