Akisa Wandera, 26, made her television debut in 2013 and has since become a well-known figure, thanks to her anchoring job at KTN News. She shares her journey into journalism, juggling her career with school, staying true to herself and keeping her head on despite being constantly in the limelight.
When Akisa Wandera walked through the doors of the Standard Group headquarters that houses the KTN studios, she had no idea that her first day at work would turn out to be adrenalin-packed.
Just as a colleague was showing her around the office and introducing her to her workmates, the tempo of her day changed.
She overheard Noah Otieno, the former producer of KTN News show Worldview saying he didn’t have an anchor for the show which was to start at 3pm. He then approached Joe Ageyo to find out who would anchor the show on that day. To Akisa’s surprise, they settled on her even though she’d only been there for a few hours.
From experience, Akisa had dressed for the screen with the idea that anything might happen but when this moment came at such short notice, she still felt unprepared. She had been an anchor with her previous employer, Ebru TV, but KTN News was a bigger platform and new territory.
“I was scared and confused. Everything I knew disappeared in a minute. I felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders and there was pressure for me to deliver. Everyone, including my bosses was waiting to see how I would perform, whether I would fail or not,” she says.
By the time the final decision was made to have her on air, it was 2.40pm and she had to be in studio by 2.45pm. She was out of time but luckily the makeup artist only had to do a little touch up on her powder and lipstick before she rushed into the studio. Before that though, she sent her parents a message that she was going on air.
“My parents and I are very close. There is no major decision I have made without consulting them and they know everything about me. If anything happened to me, my parents wouldn’t be left with questions. That’s just how close we are. So before I went on air, I texted them both because they were not together. But I didn’t get the chance to answer them until after the bulletin was done,” Akisa says.
Once on screen, Akisa handled the broadcast as professionally as she could. There were moments when she faltered but she quickly composed herself and kept going.
“There were many live links with reporters in the field. I didn’t know their names yet so I made a few mistakes because of that. For a minute, I even thought I would lose my job because of this,” Akisa says.
But to her surprise, she received encouraging feedback from her fans, family, colleagues and supervisors.
“The feedback I got after the bulletin surprised me but I was also relieved. My colleagues were proud of my performance so it really helped me to settle in. After a month, it felt like I had been there for almost a year. My friend Joy Doreen Biira helped me a lot in settling in. She showed me the things I needed to learn during the first couple of months,” Akisa says of the anchor who has since left the station.
A girl can dream
Later, as her colleague Ben Kitili introduced her to the KTN News audience on live TV, she felt grateful for the chance to start a new journey in her career, one that she had dreamed of since she was a girl.
As the second born in a family of five, born and raised in Buruburu Nairobi, she has wanted to be a news anchor for as long as she can remember. “I was so relieved after the bulletin. Despite the fact that I had made a couple of mistakes everyone was happy with my performance especially my dad since he had stopped a meeting for him to watch me. I was happy and I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders,” she says.
“I grew up watching a lot of Catherine Kasavuli and Zein Asher (CNN). I wanted to be a news anchor since I was about 11 years old,” Akisa says. “If someone asked me what else I wanted to do, I couldn’t answer that question because I always knew I was going to end up on TV!”
Akisa says she was awed by the talent of the news anchors and she would mimic them and practise “anchoring” in front of the mirror. She couldn’t wait for the opportunity to do it in real life.
“After I finished my high school education at St Cecilia Misikhu Girls, I applied to two different institutions; Daystar University and Kenya Institute of Mass Communication -- but I got the admission letter to Kenya institute of Mass Communication first so that’s where I went to study journalism,” she says.
Coming from a family of teachers, convincing her mother to let her take this path wasn’t easy. “I fought with my parents for me to do journalism. My mom wanted me to be a teacher. She believed I would make an excellent teacher. They tried talking me out of it and even got professors to talk to me and tell me I wouldn’t get a job in journalism but I just told them to take me to school and I’d never ask them to help me get a job,” Akisa says.
Sure enough, in 2013, after an internship at Chinese news channel CGTN, Akisa got a job as a reporter at Ebru TV. She felt fortunate to have got her foot in the door and looked forward to working her way up to her dream job.
“I was very happy and comfortable with my job until one day, by chance, the lunch time news anchor at Ebru got stuck in traffic and couldn’t make it in time for the news. The producer was just walking around the newsroom looking for someone who was dressed well enough to read news,” Akisa narrates. “I remember that day very well. I was in a blue dress and blonde braids. The editor just asked me to fill in for the anchor for that day and I accepted.”
Having dreamed of this moment for so long, Akisa imagined doing what she had wanted to do would be simple enough. “I never thought it would be difficult until I sat on the anchor’s chair. I think it was the most horrible thing I have ever done in my life,” Akisa says, laughing. “I still couldn’t believe I was the one to do that.”
After filling in for that day, Akisa was asked to hold on to the slot for a while as the management looked for an anchor to take over the 1pm news slot. She ended up holding the spot for two years after which she was promoted to prime time news.
With her new role came fame, something she soon discovered had a good and bad side. “Fame comes with a lot of responsibility. Some people enjoy being in the limelight and don’t mind having their names out there. I’m still getting used to people recognising me whenever I go somewhere. Some people stop me and ask for pictures, some just want to make small talk. It still feels new to me,” Akisa says. “I miss the days I’d go anywhere without anyone noticing me. Sometimes I cannot even go shopping because I can feel people’s eyes are on me all the time.”
Fortunately for Akisa, she has a bubbly side that helps her get through these times. “I’m an ambient… a little bit of an introvert and a little bit of an extrovert. People tell me that I say hi to everyone especially in the office, but it’s in my DNA, I’m Luhya,” she says, laughing.
After two years at Ebru TV, Akisa felt it was time to move on. When she heard about an opening at KTN News, she applied.
“When I was called for the interview at KTN News I was not sure that I’d get the job because there were people who were more experienced who also applied for the position,” she says. “I was thrilled when I got the job and I felt the challenge to give it my best,” she says.
Being on a bigger platform quickly taught Akisa that there was a price to pay. “The downside of it for me has been dealing with people who use my name to create fake accounts on social media then use the accounts to con people,” Akisa says.
Having to constantly keep up an image is also quite taxing. Akisa says she has learned to balance this by staying true to herself. “I’m still the same girl I have always been. Whenever I’m free, over the weekends, I try to tone things down by not wearing makeup, just staying casual and enjoying my time. I spend most of my free time swimming and going on road trips and to movies,” she says.
She adds that her idea of beauty is accepting yourself for who you are. “It’s so beautiful to meet someone who loves themselves the way they are and have understood what works for them and what doesn’t. If you are dealing with insecurities, you will always find yourself reflecting a lot of bad energy on people for no reason at all. Beauty is the kind of energy you exhume. It has nothing to do with looks,” she says.
She adds that she is saddened by the number of young women dating older men for money. “Personally, I wouldn’t have a sponsor. I don’t advocate it. We need to tell our girls that it’s okay to lack. I don’t want them growing up thinking that it’s okay to have a sponsor,” she says. “Working hard and being patient eventually pays off. There is a lot of satisfaction in spending your own money; money that you worked hard for. This bad culture needs to end because it is ruining the lives of many young girls. If we show them the right direction, they will have very bright futures and successful careers,” she says.
Akisa admits that she gets many dating proposals because of the exposure from her profession. However, she’s not ready to jump in the relationship pool just yet. “I’m focusing on myself and my education right now. I’m studying Communication at the United States International University. I’m majoring in Public Relations and Advertising. I just want to build my career first and graduate then the other things will follow with time,” she says.
“I plan to be around the newsroom for a while but, in future, I’d like to venture into media consultancy; that’s why I’m doing Public Relations,” Akisa says.
“I also want to help young girls find their paths in life. I’d like to mentor them and help them understand that it’s okay to lack, that they are perfect just the way they are and that patience and hard work always pays no matter how long it takes,” she concludes.What's the best thing that's happened to you this year?