At Home With LINUS AND MUENI KAIKAI

Living in the limelight is not easy for anyone. It calls for thick skin - one former Nation Media Group’s Broadcasting Manager Linus Kaikai and his entrepreneur wife Mueni Kaikai have developed over the years. In a candid interview with ESTHER AKELLO, the couple opens up on their relationship, balancing family with highflying careers, life in the limelight and secrets to writing one’s own life script.

In the beginning, there was a sling

Towards the end of November 2005, as Kenyans lined up in a referendum to determine if the Bomas draft constitution would pass or not, veteran journalist and now Nation Media Group’s Broadcasting Manager, Linus Kaikai, was covering that beat as South Africa Broadcasting Corporation’s (SABC) ground reporter. At the Moi Avenue Primary School polling station, from the corner of his eye, he zeroed in on a woman with a sling and made a beeline for her.

To him, she embodied the makings of what seemed like a good story. The lady, Mueni, did not disappoint. She gave a bold punchy statement (Linus describes it more like cocky) as a matter of her opinion. That was all it took. Linus found himself intrigued. “As the police would say, Mueni became a person of interest. I liked her confidence. After the interview, however, I quickly moved on,” he offers.

A month later, SABC moved its Nairobi Bureau to a new building, coincidentally giving Linus a chance to catch up with an old friend whose offices were also located in the same building. While catching up, one of his friend’s colleagues passed by and the friend unexpectedly introduced her to him. To Linus’s (pleasant) surprise, it was ‘the sling’ lady. Mueni, who also immediately recognised Linus, was unfazed. After some small talk, she moved on.

Two days later, Linus and Mueni met in the lift of the building they both worked in. That fleeting moment was all it took. They exchanged numbers and a day later, Linus invited Mueni out for lunch. This one move would set the pace and foundation for the lovebirds many weeks thereafter, as they developed the habit of going out for lunch together and stealing early morning moments to talk to each other in Linus’s office and long into their 14-year relationship.

“One of the most refreshing things about Mueni was her ability to comfortably interact with any topic including my areas of interests such as current affairs,” says Linus even as the couple confesses that it still remains their favourite past time activities, “We can talk for hours. We literally have to hold our tongues in the event one wakes up before the other and in the event the other one realises, then we end up talking up a storm.”

By December, they were exchanging gifts. Linus reveals, “All these meetings and exchanges were happening within a month. Ironically, while planning one of our dates, we ended up asking where each one lived only to realise we lived within the same complex, just different blocks. In fact, Mueni could even see my block from her apartment and I had to pass by her house to get to mine. When we both wanted to move out of our houses, I was sent on an assignment out of the country.

So I handed her my ATM card and told her to secure a place of her choice for me and left.” Mueni adds, “Our first date lasted 11 hours. We were supposed to meet briefly in the evening but we ended up parting ways at 3am. To say that I was shocked when Linus gave me his ATM card after only three weeks would be an understatement. That December, we parted ways, me to Kitui and Linus to Osinoni, Narok, but we were in constant communication and while Linus loves spending time in Narok, he left early and we spent the remainder of the holiday together.” By 2006, Mueni had introduced Linus to her family and in 2007, the couple, though not married, welcomed their first child together.

Building a home, making a life

“People think they know our story, but they don’t,” says Mueni. It is not lost on anyone who is active on social media that the couple’s relationship and lives, by virtue of Linus being a media personality, has
played out online. Though the couple does not care to give credence or deny stories on tabloids, they are very clear about their story. They own it. Mueni adds there’s nothing in the tabloids that takes her by surprise because the couple has always been upfront about every sphere of their lives.

Despite having met in 2005, they didn’t formally tie the knot until 2012. “From our very first date, I told Linus that I was not looking for marriage. Strangely enough, I always had this notion that I needed to live my best life mat any given time, including when I was single. By the time I was meeting Linus, I had a full time job, my own booming side business – Style Sense – an active social life and the plan was to get my Masters and Phd as well. I just didn’t know where marriage would fit in the equation,” explains Mueni.

Linus also admits to not having marriage at the back of his mind when they met. “It did take time for us to warm up to the idea of marriage but even in between those years, we were actively in each others lives, spoke daily and there was absolutely no pressure from either one of us to change things,” Mueni says. Linus adds, “We have such a strong friendship. We’ve had our ups and downs just like any other couple, if we are to be honest, and the question that always lingered was, ‘can we progress the relationship to the next level?’ And therein lies the challenge for couples I suppose.”

While the couple is very clear that they never deliberately sat down together to discuss the issue of marriage, the idea eventually materialised for each individual, albeit at different times. For Mueni, it was when the couple had their third child in 2010, when she experienced childbirth-related complications, forcing her to be admitted in hospital.

For Linus, the revelation came a year later. “We were on holiday at the Coast and as I looked out of our room, I saw my children walking on the beach. It had never hit me quite so hard like in that moment that I needed to secure them in every way possible. So in 2012 I proposed to Mueni,” he says. While the perception in society is this is the moment every woman longs for, Mueni was skeptical. According to Linus, her answer to his proposal was if he was sure. Even then, she confesses it only hit her three months to their December 2012 nuptials that it was real.

Mueni explains that for her, a partner was someone to complement her, not complete her. It is possible for one to feel full even in singlehood. Linus adds that while it may not be a popular opinion, sometimes pressuring a partner to tie the knot when they are not ready may be more detrimental than helpful.

Family versus career

With the need to control her time, spend more time with the family, and make use of what seemed like underutilised business acumen, Mueni left her job as head of production at Ogilvy Group in 2016 after 15 years of service. The move set up the Kenyatta University alumnus on her next phase of life – businesswoman and housewife. She dedicated more time to her already existing interior décor, household items and apparels business, Style Sense, which she proudly says has now broken even and
earns her a profit. She also undertook a project she was passionate about – water purification.

“Our water purification business is called Nenkai which means ‘of God’ in Maasai. It is now six months old. We began it in July 2017, but the first three months were purely to get the water from our borehole tested, approved and certified by the Kenya Bureau of Standards. We’ve been approved at every stage and are hoping to launch it in January 2018. Our speciality is customising labels to suit customer needs for events, establishments and individuals,” she reveals.

Coming to terms with the idea of no regular paycheck at the end of the month wasn’t easy though. Having grown up in humble beginnings as a first-born in rural Kitui, the fierce need to be financially stable and independent was ingrained in Mueni by her mother, a teacher, who also struggled to secure her education. “I had a decent salary at Ogilvy. While I was sure that Linus would take care of me, it took some time to become secure that I could cope without that money especially since I’m a poor borrower and it takes me ages to even let Linus know that I need some cash,” she explains, adding that Linus has been overly supportive.

With a life that is seemingly poised to be on the spotlight from time to time, Linus and Mueni are fiercely protective of their enclave. Even before this interview proceeds, they put a disclaimer that their children lives must remain private. Their decision is informed by what they call past experiences that, in hindsight, have put undue pressure on their three children Leon, Resiato and Lenkai. “Due to the nature of my work we try to prepare them psychologically by explaining to them that people will say certain things about me or us that may be hurtful. The current generation of children we are raising are so much
smarter and exposed than we were at that age, so they will ask questions. This can be challenging but we don’t dismiss their questions. We answer to the best of our ability and I explain to them what I do,” Linus explains.

Among the harsh criticism has been the question of Linus’ integrity as a journalist, especially at a time when the Kenyan media has been dubbed ‘Githeri’ media, or media obsessed with non-issues while ignoring pertinent ones. “I don’t struggle to be the journalist that I am. There are times where my motives have been questioned. I totally understand my role as a watchdog and my duty is to hold those in power accountable. I ask uncomfortable questions whether locally or internationally and I have been consistent.

Take a look at my interviews with other heads or former heads of state like Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, Yahyah Jammeh or Charles Taylor and you see the consistency,” Linus reiterates. As the outgoing chair of the Kenya Editors Guild and a media manager, he does, however, agree that negative media perceptions in Kenya should be a cause of worry.

“Kenyan journalism is very vibrant but we must develop consistencies, where lines are drawn as to how journalists should conduct themselves. The media is divided and that is why sometimes you will see newsmakers preferring certain ‘friendlier’ stations to others. We need a framework that allows the media to regulate itself to address the quality of journalism in Kenya. A more structured code of conduct especially where ethics are concerned would be great as this is seen to be losing some steam,” he expounds.

Ethics, integrity, discipline, responsibility and an appreciation for one’s roots are some of the values that
the couple is working to instill in their children. For them, it is more than a way of life. It is sacred. “We are a total sum of how we are brought up. Home then becomes the centre of one’s compass,” says Linus who counts his father, whom he says was way ahead of his time, as his biggest role model and man he emulates even in raising his children.

“In a way, I’m the journalist my father never became. He nevertheless exposed himself to as much education as he could through the missionaries and is well versed with international and local affairs. Even now, they chat with my wife for hours on end about topics such as baking, making juices and so on. Things he taught himself,” says Linus who is also a second-year law student and a hands-on father. The couple also tries to spend as much time as possible with their kids and as a rule; Mueni and the kids always go for an evening stroll. The devout Catholics go to church together and weekends are strictly reserved for family affairs.

The couple says, “Parenting has been a joyful journey and a divine calling. But we have learnt all our kids are different and we treat them so.” As for the couple, time spent together in the evening works best for them. “We enjoy each other’s company. While I have many friends, my husband remains my number one favourite person to chat with. He is also a good provider who is spontaneous and always surprises us with holidays. This year, he blindfolded me and took me outside only to find he had brought me a brand new car!” Linus adds, “I get astonished by the bad rap marriage gets because it is fun. It’s a thriving zone. A bad relationship is bad whether it’s a marriage or not.”

Mueni says that while they do have difference in opinions, the couple rarely let their issues escalate into points of conflict. “It hard for us to fight simply because we’ve learnt each other. We’ve learnt not to fight over everything and not necessarily every time you feel aggrieved. Take time, mull over it and do it when you’re less emotional. It does take hard work to reach that point however”. The couple also says they strive to keep their romance alive by giving fundamental aspects of their marriage the weight they deserve and at the end of it all, they really are old-fashioned (when it comes to marriage), down-to-earth people who are simply beholden to their roots.

Article Published December 2017

UPDATE: Linus Kaikai is currently working for Royal Media Services