You watch Uduak Amimo on television, crossing swords with bureaucrats, politicians and opinion makers, and you wonder what makes her tick. What unruffles her?
What makes her throw her head back in laughter? You wonder what cracks that solid veneer. You wonder because she’s so poised, professional, sabre-sharp and severe. She also brings to the screen a wealth of journalistic experience gathered from Reuters Television, Voice of America and BBC World.
We met at the poolside of The Mayfair Hotel. Uduak (she’s half Nigerian, half Kenyan) in person is what she is on TV; poised, professional, sabre-sharp and severe. She also threw her head back in laughter. A few times.
If you were to have dinner with one important person, who would that be?
What would you ask him?
“Why make it so hard? If you knew Satan would tempt Eve, why allow him in the garden? Because you are all knowing, all powerful, why make it so hard?”
Which part of your life do you find to be hard?
Was hard. My childhood. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. My parents separated and I was back and forth between them. I grew up with different relatives in Kenya, Nigeria and the US. My siblings and I were separated at some point. (Pause) There were some bright spots, surely, but generally it was hard. On the whole I couldn’t wait to be independent, I was in a rush to be independent.
Are you an old soul?
I’m told I am. I’m an introvert. I need my space, I need my downtime. In terms of socialising, I prefer something like this, a one-on-one.
If you had a boisterous party it would probably wear me out. Having said that I’m a dancing queen, at least I used to be in my university days. (Smiles) I like good music, good food, good conversation.
I don’t lend out my music and I don’t lend out my books. I take those quite seriously.
What are you reading now?
At the moment I’m on a leadership fellowship and so there is a lot of professional reading around that. Articles, essays... heavy stuff.
What is the aspiration of TV journalism in Kenya, according to you – someone who has worked in diverse and respected media for many years?
I think our aspiration should be to tell the multiplicity of stories about Africans for Africans in as many ways as possible and many platforms we have.
So if TV is one of them, well enough. If it’s print or radio, well and good. If it’s the Internet, go for it, as long as we are getting the stories of Africa — the good, the bad, the inspirational in every light possible.
What do you dislike about TV?
TV can be superficial. (Pause). TV can very very superficial. It can very much be a medium that focuses on image and presentation versus the actual substance being relayed and discussed. The power of the visual shouldn’t be ignored and there should be some level of responsibility to it.
What’s your biggest fear?
That I won’t have accomplished my purpose. I think we are all here for a reason. I do worry that I won’t do what I need to do. I think on several levels, when I was younger and fixated on the idea of journalism solely it was to make a difference and I became a journalist because I didn’t like how Africa was covered.
The Africa I know is the Africa where people say hello to each other, you are fed in people’s homes and that wasn’t being reflected in African media. I thought my purpose was to change how we are perceived.
Several years later I have an expanded world view and now I just need to make a difference through mentoring, community work, writing, journalism, whatever it is I have at my disposal.
What are you struggling with now in your life?
Oh wow! (Chuckle) Like really really or just…?
Really really would be nice, yes…
(Laughs) For my community work, I work with young people in secondary schools and I need to turn that into some sort of legal entity and that is a bit of a struggle... you know, just navigating that landscape. It’s about wanting to do a lot and feeling there isn’t enough hours in a day or energy.
Being in my head is not a pleasant thing. I get tired of my head sometimes because I wake up in the middle of the night and there is so much going on in there.
What has been your biggest failure?
Oh gosh, Biko wow! Uhm…(Pause) Three years ago I would have told you that it was leaving a job at BBC to take a job in Nigeria. Now I don’t see it as my biggest failure as such. I see it as my biggest learning. I learnt a great deal about myself there.
What did you learn?
That I have very little tolerance for crap. I always knew that about myself, but just how little that tolerance was amazed me. Also that there are certain things I won’t do to appease people or a group of people and I learnt about the power of faith.
Just ...uhm, you know, that... you know you can think you are doing things in your own strength, but really there are angels walking by your side. And that for me was very clear.
If you were handed a magic wand, what’s the one thing you would change about TV journalism in Kenya?
I’m a fairy godmother and I am to fix journalism? Hmm…(Long pause). Actually I wouldn’t just fix journalism alone. I would fix a lot of professions we have and that’s what I’m doing with my charity work because it’s not a problem that is unique to journalism. There is a lot of mediocrity around, standards of education and training have fallen and as a result we find a lot of superficiality in our interactions.
We have this cult of celebrities in our industry, people who are more focused on how they look.... you know, what they are wearing versus what’s between their ears.
So it would be to get people to the drawing board and make them understand what they are doing and why they are in this profession.
We are here to inform and educate and help people make decisions about their lives, not to, you know, parade ourselves.
What’s your weakness?
I’m impatient. I’m so horrifically impatient, but I’m mellowing with age. I also can have an acerbic tongue. I worry.
I don’t know if it’s so much worry of perfectionism. I demand 100 per cent from myself and others and that can make life difficult for people around me.
What advice would you tell your 25-year-old self?
You will be fine.
Are you fine?
I think so. It’s taken a long time to get to this point. I am at this point talking to you... I feel really blessed.
This writer I like is interviewing me, what could be greater than that? (Smiles) But really I’m back home, I have great family, the weather is great, I’m not living in cold London, and I get to practice my profession and make a difference to the community around me.
What sort of regrets do you struggle with?
(Pause) I was in a rush to be independent. I was so focused towards that I didn’t quite smell the roses earlier on in my 20s, which officially gives away my age, which if you want to know is 25.... I think I could have done a bit of time to know myself and take time to heal from various wounds and things. But everything in its own time.
What intimidates you?
Me? Intimidates me? (Pause) Wow! I can’t think of anything at this point in time.
Do you think you intimidate people?
I’m told I do, but I don’t think I do.
Are you dating?
No, there is no one special in my life right now.
Given your family background, your parents separation and the impact it had on you after, does that history affect your interest in marriage?
It does. I laugh about it sometimes but for the people who had hope I think I traumatised them. But I also was traumatised by a few people as well. I had very little tolerance for the little twists and turns in relationships. Something would happen and I would say, “Ok, I know where this is going, so let’s just stop it here, so peace, I am out.” (Laughs)
But by the same token, I think I also made it impossible for some people to be with me. I am the first born, though my dad has other children, so I saw the drama and yes it does scar you.
There was a time when I was younger when I was adamant about getting married and then that changed. Now I am in the place where I would like a life partner.
When were you the happiest in your life?
Now. I’m living the life that I wanted. I wouldn’t call it “happy” though, more like secure.
Do you booze?
Not much. I probably have three drinks in a year. I’m allergic to sulphites so I don’t drink wine or champagne. Maybe martinis.
So what’s your sin?
(Laughs hard) Shopping. You should see how I manage myself before I travel... leave credit cards.
How old are you?
I’m 40 next month.
What are you going to do?
Heee... let me tell you! (Laughs and gets excited). You know now I have calmed down, but on New Year’s I was texting around the world and saying, “Guys, you are coming to Kenya, it’s 40 you know?” (Laughs). But now I’ve calmed down. I will be in the UK next month so there will be a pre-birthday activity, then the birthday itself and then post-birthday! I feel I want to celebrate.
What will be the one thing you will be celebrating?
Me! I’m still here. I’m still standing.
This article was first published in the Business Daily.