Yvonne Okwara, the affable Citizen TV presenter, loves keeping a low-profile unless she’s handling her Explainer show or delves into a subject on the News Gang. Known for her calm firmness, she is not your typical TV celebrity out to fill the blogs and gossip columns with her life and social exploits.
Yet Yvonne Okwara could be the iron lady of TV journalism in Kenya today – the no nonsense TV host who rarely smiles when interviewing guests on TV or presenting a show.
“I’m a serious person,” says Ms Okwara. “I tackle complex issues and ask the tough questions – I’ll smile when I need to. I’m not going to fit a mould that people expect of me, and that’s important because it makes me authentic.”
The secret of her tough character and success in her journalism career, it turns out, is her first love in educàtion: science. She says in the book LeadHers: Life Lessons From African Women, published in 2021, that after a short stint in the newsroom she went to study microbiology at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), before worming her way back into journalism.
She started off in radio as presenter and producer before going into TV and making it big in this rare field where most people ply their looks rather than professional content. “Every job I have taken has been an attempt to understand everything I can about the business I am in,” she says.
She says the way she undertakes her current job as presenter and show host on Citizen TV is similar to the way she approached her science degree. “Science starts with a hypothesis or an assumption, then you look for proof and evidence, put it on an evidentiary test and finally come up with a conclusion.”
She adds that this approach has been helpful in training for her journalism and that’s how she develops the Explainer show that explore issues in-depth. “I take a big issue, break it down and help viewers understand what’s happening,” she says.
Yvonne says she stopped doing political interviews after burning out from dishonesty that comes with politics. Politicians always seemed to either not be truthful or they didn’t know the answer to her questions. “I’m not sure which was worse,” she says.
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She says political interview drove her insane and recalled one moment when she hosted two politicians who went after each other with one calling out the other as a liar and the other saying his opponent is a crook. So she made the tactical move to focus on something “useful”.
“People said I was committing career sùicide by not pursuing political interviews, but I knew I could always come back to them,” she says.
Why has she not been bitten by the celebrity bug? It’s all about authenticity – being yourself and deciding what your values are, she says, as “what you believe in and what you stand for shines in everything you do.”
In TV industry, there vanity in most activities. But she says she has not yielded to the temptation which most people in media find quite irresistible. “People expect me to look and speak in a certain way. I’m supposed to dress in a certain way, have certain skin tone, and look séxy. I get the pressure to make myself softer and to smile a lot more because some people do not appreciate a woman who is forthright and gets down to business. But I have defied those expectations of me.”