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Conversation with Christine Mungai

Can you share with us a bit about your journey?

I’m a writer and journalist based in Nairobi and with eight years of newsroom experience. My journalism career began in 2010 when I joined The East African newspaper, where I reported on politics, security, business, culture and the arts. In 2014, I joined the Mail & Guardian Africa, where my focus was broadened to a pan-African perspective, with a heavy focus on data-driven reporting. I’m now an editor and curator with The Elephant, a Kenyan online publication, and a freelance writer whose work has recently been published in the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, CNN Opinion, Al Jazeera, Nieman Reports and Popula Magazine. I was the 2015 first runner-up for the David Astor Journalism Award, a professional development prize for East African print journalists. I was a 2016 Bloomberg Africa Media Fellow, and most recently, a 2018 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

What field are you in? 

I’ve written on a broad cross-section of fields, from politics, culture, business and the arts. At the moment my writing is difficult to classify but I would say it is long form essay writing that attempts to make meaning out of societal trends.

Who is your target audience?

My target audience is always someone living in Africa who wonders ‘why?’ when they look at what’s going on in their society. I’m always trying to understand what’s going on – to dig back into history, to look at data, to observe and record trends, to connect the dots, and even propose theories that might explain it. My propositions are not always right, of course. But I love thinking through things.

What drives you?

That light bulb ‘aha’ moment is everything – when you suddenly see something you’ve observed all your life in a totally new light.

How do you think your work is currently perceived in Kenya/East Africa/Africa?

I think it is pretty well received. I’ve been in journalism for eight, going on nine years now. The fact that my work tries explicitly to be explanatory makes it different in this space, where much of the writing is chasing headlines. I’m actually don’t have that ‘newshound’ instinct I see in many of my colleagues – breaking a story doesn’t particularly excite me, unless I can do something else with it.

How do you think your work is transforming women’s lives in Kenya?

I think just occupying this space matters. It tells people that women can be (public) intellectuals. That has power. I’m trying to be a public intellectual.

What is the most important lesson you have learnt from your work?

The most important lesson is write even when you don’t feel like writing. Just do it. I’m a perfectionist in my writing so sometimes I hamstring myself by trying to work everything out before I start, so that it’s perfect on the first draft. But that obviously paralyzes me even before I begin. I still need to learn to just do it.

What challenges have you faced or continue to face?

I’m a freelancer now, and collecting on payments is killing me. Why do people commission work and hound you on deadlines, but then take six months to pay? I need someone to explain this to me. It’s disrespectful and incredibly draining.

What tools or factors do you think have helped shift the ways in which the media industry functions in relation to women?

Social media has been a wonderful space to meet other women, think through ideas together, and learn in the context of a (virtual) community. Kenyan Twitter has been a lifeline for me, and so many opportunities in the recent past have opened up through people I met in that space.

At any point in your career, have you been at a disadvantage because of your gender?

I think we’re always trying to juggle things. Sexual harassment is a still a huge problem in this space. I also get annoyed by ‘mansplaining’ – when men restate your arguments and make them their own. That irks me a lot, when men start with: ‘What she’s trying to say…’ and then just say exactly what I said.

What would you want to see come out of a Conference and Festival attended by women from different African countries, working in various media fields?

I would want to see the beginning of a real media collective that is organised with a dedication to mutual learning and solidarity, and not individualistic competitiveness.

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C.E.O & Co-founder, AWiM

Dr Yemisi Akinbobola is an award-winning journalist, academic, consultant and co-founder of African Women in Media (AWiM). AWiM’s vision is that one-day African women will have equal access to representation in media. Joint winner of the CNN African Journalist Award 2016 (Sports Reporting), Yemisi ran her news website IQ4News between 2010-14.
Yemisi holds a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies from Birmingham City University, where she is a Senior Lecturer. She has published scholarly research on women’s rights, African feminism, and journalism and digital public spheres. She was Editorial Consultant for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 commemorative book titled “She Stands for Peace: 20 Years, 20 Journeys”, and currently hosts the book’s podcast.
She speaks regularly on issues relating to gender and media. In 2021 she was recognized as one of 100 Most Influential African Women.