Rose Kimotho is among the most iconic figures in Kenyan media’s modern era. She has been responsible for creating some of the biggest media brands in the country for over two decades.
Kimotho’s career in media started at The Weekly Review as a journalist in 1978. The newsroom was where she first had a taste of gender-based discrimination, as she was assigned to cover art and beadwork as her male counterparts covered hard-hitting topics such as politics.
“I joined with [fellow apprentice] Peter, who was immediately assigned to the political desk – he was put in the thick of things, while I was put in the gentle side covering art and beadwork. That was my first encounter with gender discrimination in the newsroom,” she told over 180 female journalists from across East Africa at a 2021 mentorship event.
Kimotho soon moved into the world of marketing and excelled at Ogilvy, a leading agency where she started as a copywriter. Between 1990 and 1994, she helmed the operations of another top agency’s Nairobi office, McCann, as General Manager. The media bug, however, stayed with her and she set up Regional Reach Ltd in 1994.
Regional Reach started out setting up public TVs in various areas around the country and selling advertising spots in between screenings. Kimotho, however, made a mark in 1999 when she set up Kameme FM – the country’s first Kikuyu language radio station.
In a newly released interview for a Nation podcast on the rise and fall of Louis Otieno, Kimotho explained to James Smat that media liberalization was becoming a reality in Kenya at the turn of the millenium – and they chose to vie for the untapped vernacular market after getting their broadcasting licenses for radio and TV.
Other players who received licenses for radio and TV around the same time were Nation Media Group, Royal Media Services and Radio Africa Group. Kimotho explained why they went the vernacular route, and started with radio despite also having a TV license.
“We only launched a radio station because we had to find a segment that wasn’t competitive. Nobody was playing in the vernacular segment. People thought we were crazy, everyone said it would never work, but we said why not? If you can produce a vernacular station with the same quality values of a Capital (FM)…”
“There’s a group of people. People love their languages…They thought we were crazy, it wouldn’t work, But of course it took off, in 11 months we were at the top,” she disclosed.
Kameme became a top-rated station among Kikuyu-speaking Kenyans in Nairobi and the Mt. Kenya region.
Building on the success of Kameme, Kimotho turned her focus to television. K24 was launched in 2007. It was fashioned as Kenya’s first all-news TV station.
K24 brought on board top presenters including Jeff Koinange and Louis Otieno who was then flying high. However, it was hit hard by the PEV that followed the disputed 2007/08 polls sending it into financial ruin.
It had an overdraft facility from a local bank which the station was unable to service. Eventually, K24 and Kameme had to be sold and they were acquired in 2009 by Kenyatta-family linked firm TV Africa Holdings.
“The saddest thing in the history of the country and the history of K24 is the Post Election Víolence (PEV). Because after that we had no advertisers. We didn’t have the deep pockets that Nation had.”
“Initially we had an overdraft of Ksh12 million and of course with an overdraft the interest is humongous. 24 hours, it just kept growing..like a nightmare, overnight, Ksh70 million, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it,” she recalled.
Kimotho bounced back in 2011 with a new venture, 3 Stones TV – the country’s first Kikuyu-language TV station. In 2022, she also unveiled a new Kikuyu radio station 91.0 FM with a slate of popular presenters, some of whom previously worked at Kameme.
Kimotho has previously led both the Marketing Society of Kenya (MSK) and the Media Owners Association of Kenya. She received a lifetime achievement award at the Kuza awards in 2019 for her contribution to the broadcasting industry in Kenya.