Occasionally in our program, New American Voices, we feature the journalists who have come to Washington from countries around the world to work as international broadcasters at the Voice of America. In this edition we talk with Vincent Makori of Kenya, a writer, reporter, translator and broadcaster in Swahili, and the host of VOA's English-language television program, Africa Journal.
Vincent Makori came to the Voice of America in 2001. Barely two years later, he was interviewing President George W. Bush.
"I had this opportunity to go to the White House and have an interview with the President of the United States of America. One on one," he recalls. "Let me give you some background. My wife had just given birth the day before. And because the interview was scheduled anyway, I mean, I had to go - it's the President! And it's a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
"After the interview, he was saying, Okay, thank you very much, sir' --he called me 'sir' -- and he said, 'By the way, congratulations! I hear your wife had this beautiful baby boy. What's his name?' And for a moment I was confused, I think I was like, 'What?' I wanted to ask, 'How did you know this?' So I was lost for words. I couldn't say anything! I managed to say the name, Jake, and he said, 'Congratulations! Pass my regards to your wife and the baby.' And I said, 'This is something. Only in America!'"
Vincent Makori grew up in Kenya -- first in the capital, Nairobi, where his father served in the army, and then, in the coastal city of Mombasa, after his father retired and joined the Post and Telecommunications Corporation. He received a B.A. degree in literature from Moi University, and then went for post-graduate studies in mass communications - print and electronic media and public relations - at the University of Nairobi.
Mr. Makori says he went into journalism because he loved language -- English, in particular. "It was my fascination with using language, being able to write," he explains. "In fact, initially I wasn't even thinking of radio or television, I was very much into the art of writing. My interest in writing is what took me to journalism. I wanted to communicate."
His first job was with a small newspaper in the town of Eldoret where he was attending college. Then he was hired as a writer-editor by newly-founded twin magazines, True Love for women and Drum for men. He freelanced for two of Kenya's biggest dailies, and went on to a multi-faceted career with Kenya Radio and TV Corporation. "I got a job there initially as a radio [news] editor, then somebody one time also liked my voice. I was introduced to radio broadcasting, television hosting, and I started doing news reporting, hosting television talk shows," he says. "That is where I got my foundation."
Although his career was taking off, Vincent Makori wanted to see something of the world. So he accepted a 6-month assignment as a Swahili radio broadcaster for Deutsche Welle in Germany. He stayed for three and a half years. And then, while exploring other work opportunities, he found an announcement on the Internet advertising an opening for a Swahili broadcaster at the Voice of America. He applied, passed the test, and soon found himself in Washington. The transition was remarkably easy, he says.
"One of the things I think you can credit America with is that immediately when you arrive there is a sense of openness," Mr. Makori points out. "I think people are used to foreigners, not only here at the Voice of America but generally. People are used to people coming into the country. And straight away I didn't have a problem, I had so many people to talk to, everybody was friendly and willing to show me where to go and what to do. It was a good experience."
The biggest satisfaction of coming to work at the Voice of America, Mr. Makori says, is being able to do what he always wanted to do. "I'm a journalist. And one of the ambitions, I can guarantee, of any journalist where I grew up was being able to work for an international broadcasting network," he says. "And I have had this rare, rare opportunity to work with two international stations. I appreciate this, and I'm humbled by this, because I know there are so many journalists out there who would want to spend just a month, or even a week, broadcasting from the studios of the Voice of America in Washington."
From his professional standpoint, Vincent Makori believes that the Voice of America continues to play an important role in Kenya, and in fact in Africa as a whole. "I think one of its biggest roles is that it provides an alternative to the local voices that are there, inherent in the local media," he says. adding, "especially, being that the U.S. is the most powerful country in the world, the capital of the world. Indeed, it affords the VOA the opportunity to give an international perspective of so many stories. I'm able to interview somebody in South Africa, or somebody in North Africa, or somebody right here in the United States for a story, to give it completeness."
Whether hosting the weekly hour-long television program Africa Journal, or interviewing newsmakers, or discussing issues of interest to young Africans in his weekly youth show, Mr. Makori says he is energized by the knowledge that his listeners expect him to be their link with the rest of the world.
Looking to the future, Mr. Makori says he has no lofty ambitions. He wants to become better at what he does, to grow in his profession, -- and to raise his three young sons, including two-year-old Jake, to appreciate both the America in which they live and the Kenyan values that are their heritage.