Book: Through My African Eyes
Author: Jeff Koinange
Publisher: Footprints Press Kenya
Year of Publication: 2014
I have been watching Jeff Koinange for years. I started watching him when he was working for KTN in 1995 when he would read the news. I also watched him on Africa Review, the Reuters show that screened on the same channel. Later I would see him after he moved to CNN and went around the continent showing stories from Africa’s biggest disaster areas before leaving and coming back to Kenya to help start the K24. At K24 he hosted thousands on The Bench on his show Capital Talk among whom were heads of state, authors, actors, singers, business leaders and doctors. So as you can imagine, I was interested in seeing the story of the man who has brought us so much in the last couple of decades.
Jeff Koinange’s memoirs Through My African Eyes is about hit the book stands of the continent. The book talks about the life of Koinange from his birth in Nairobi in 1966 through his school days first at Hospital Hill Primary School. He transfers to St Mary’s School and then has a stint at the Pan Am as part of the flight crew before he starts college in the United States. On graduating, he starts the climb to the top of his game at CNN as its Chief Africa correspondent.
I have to confess that I loved this book very much. It answers some of the questions that I have always wondered about. He talks about the Koinange family he was born into. His father Fredrick Mbiyu Koinange, son of Chief Mbiyu Koinange, ran a string of businesses including a popular petrol station Koinange Petrol Station in Kariakor. The elder Koinange died when Jeff, the last born of the family, was two months old in 1966 leaving a widow to take care of four kids; two daughters and two sons. The funeral was attended by none other than President Jomo Kenyatta as he was a brother-in-law to the Koinanges.
Jeff tells us of growing in Kiambaa, a village not too far from the city of Nairobi then starting school at the Hospital Hill School before transferring to St Mary’s School. He sticks with Saints until he leaves high school followed by a two year stint as a cabin crew dude with Pan Am Airlines. Here he meets two women that will feature prominently in his future; Sonya and Shaila. He marries both of them first Sonya a naturalised American who helps him settle in the US, then Shaila who he meets when he is back home after his first divorce.
The bulk of the book is less about his life as a family man and more about his adventures as one of the most well known African journalists in recent times. Adventures that saw him decorated with some of the most prestigious awards internationally including an Emmy, a Peabody and a slew of others. As one reads his adventures through the continent I couldn’t help but get a Forest Gump feel about the tale of this young man from Kenya who gets to rub shoulders with Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Joseph Kabila and his father Laurent, Yoweri Museveni and a bunch of others. He talks about the best and the worst of many African countries like Kenya, South Africa, Niger, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. He even goes as far as to cover the Hurricane Katrina disaster in the US and the Iraq war when it was at its worst. For me this part of the narrative was the most fulfilling as it showed that if one is diligent in their career then one can go far.
He acknowledges some of his flaws in his book. He was unhappy when he failed to be the head boy at St Marys School and he eventually became a bit extreme in his role as deputy head boy and had to change his attitude to leadership. He also states that he had a hard time with writing the scripts that he submitted to his bosses at both Reuters and CNN. In fact, he recollects how he would get chewed out during the annual periods of being assessed at the Atlanta offices. In spite of these challenges he goes on to be known as the “king of the net” for his stories from around the continent on CNN.com. He gets so good that he becomes one of the top tier of journos from CNN alongside Christiane Amanpour. Not bad for a boy who grew up having sno cream ice cream and Kenchic chips after church on Sunday in Nairobi no?
The book is really an easy read and I rushed through it in a forty eight hour period. It doesn’t come without its flaws of course. He interviews the former president of Zimbabwe Ian Smith as part of his job in coverage of the so-called land grabs crisis in that country in the early 2000s. Ian Smith was never president of Zimbabwe but was in fact the prime minister until the black dudes took over. It’s not that big a deal in the whole scale of things but you have to wonder that if he didn’t get this correct what other little inconsistencies are there in the book.
He also mentions a woman at the beginning that he was allegedly involved with but fails to give further information later on in the read. Was he trying to acknowledge that he knew about her alleged involvement his life but wouldn’t dignify it with a response? I will never know unless he writes another more scintillating expose on the same.
Apart from this I have to say that this was one of the most enjoyable reads I have had in the recent past. Best Biography I have read this year without a doubt. I recommend it highly.