At the first mention that ‘James Smart will be presenting the news’ on KTN, one expects to see a white man, the likes of CNN’s Richard Quest in a clean-cut suit reading news on a Kenyan TV station. How interesting that would be.
However, enters the real James Smart, a Kenyan man—and a dark one for that matter. Meet the mysterious James Smart; articulate, influential, successful and well, a smart news anchor.
In an interview with Eve Woman’s Sophia Muthoni, the presenter revealed not only the mystery behind his name but also his upbringing, his previous job and what drew him to the media profession, his family, life and virtually all small details about him.
The name Smart sounds white. How did you end up with a white name?
It is not a white name. That is my grandfather’s name. Missionaries back then called people by the name that best described them. I guess my grandfather was smart. His children and grandchildren picked the name.
So what is your middle name?
Middle name is Obuya. It means wildflower. It was my great grandmother’s name.
Where did you school?
I went to St Pauls Lugari Boys High School in Kakamega and later studied Mass Communication at Tangaza College in Nairobi.
Why a career in television?
I was brought up by my grandmother, Priscah Atengo. She is my inspiration. We lived in Korogocho slums. Our house was close to a river and when it rained, it would sometimes burst its banks and homes were swept away. One night it rained hard and when we woke up in the morning, some homes had been swept away. Some people I knew all too well were missing and a photographer from the local media came to cover the incident.
He had been there a few more times in the past, and I had always paid attention to how he asked questions. I hoped he would tell our story. The following day, I went and borrowed the newspaper from a butchery nearby and the story was a brief with just two lines. I felt frustrated and misrepresented by the story. I decided I needed to go to that place where decisions on stories that affected people’s lives were made. I made a decision to learn the best English. I later learnt journalism could make or break lives.
If you did not have a career in TV, where would you be?
I have been a nursery school teacher and I have spent a year in a children’s home teaching different skills. So if I was not in journalism, I think I would be into social work. I love children and working with them. It is amazing to see a child blossom from the skill you have taught them.
What is the most embarrassing moment of your career as a journalist?
I was working for NTV at the time and Smirti was my co-host and I had this bout of hiccups. I had done everything from drink water, holding my breath and all that to make them stop. I was meant to be anchoring that night and there was worry that I might not execute the task, but I assured them I was fine. Just when I was about to introduce the news, the hiccups came back. Smriti could not keep it together, she was in stitches. We had to hold off the bulletin for a few minutes.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced that you think moulded you to who you are today?
There was a transformation when I started doing talk shows. With talk shows, you put yourself out there and your intelligence or lack of it is under scrutiny. For the first time, I was getting reviews on me. One time people are putting you on a pedestal with praise and the next you are being bashed and you feel like you do not want to show your face on TV again. I had to develop a thick skin.
I learnt and always insist that I am never the show. The show is the person I am interviewing.
Many people do not know that you are a father.
I am a father of one — a boy called Riley Kwamusonzi. I am a husband to Rehema Majala, who is the mother of my son.
How do you juggle career and family?
No matter how long I am at the office, I have to make time for my son. I have to be home to help him with homework or at least tuck him in. Family should never feel like a burden.
Being a well-known media personality, I am sure you have had your fair share of stalkers.
Share your worst experience and how you deal with the attention.
My worst experience with a stalker happened before I got on TV. I was working on radio and a lady stalked me so much that she once texted me my number plate and the address to where I lived. She started coming to my office and when I could not see her, she would wait all day at the reception. She only backed off when I decided to involve the police.
[Adapted from the Standard.]