FACES BEHIND Kenya’s popular blogs

Two decades ago, blogging was an unknown entity more, so in Kenya. And when it came to public notice, many brushed it off as a hobby by amateur journalists or

FACES BEHIND  Kenya’s popular blogs
  • PublishedApril 28, 2016

Two decades ago, blogging was an unknown entity more, so in Kenya. And when it came to public notice, many brushed it off as a hobby by amateur journalists or would-be writers. However, more people picked it up and now blogs are everywhere; exposing truths, spreading rumours, toppling governments and banks, teaching us how to cook and dress, and pretty much everything. And they have proved they are here to stay. We bring you the faces behind some of Kenya’s popular blogs.

Name: Mandi Sarro, 26

Profession: Radio host

Blog: mandisarro.com

Twenty-six-year-old Mandi Sarro, popularly known as Miss Mandi, is a food and lifestyle blogger. She also doubles up as media personality who hosts a show on Capital FM and The Chop Up, a web series on food at Capital TV.

Miss Mandi, who is a half Kenyan and half Rwandese, grew up in Kenya but has lived in Canada for over 10 years. Her return to Kenya for a family vacation in 2011 led to her landing a job with a radio station and she decided to stay and put her degree in mass communication to good use. Miss Mandi is also a self-taught culinary artist although she hopes to eventually take a course on it, as she loves cooking and would want to acquire more knowledge in it.

Miss Mandi reveals she is a foodie whose love affair with food began during her childhood days where she would join her mum in the kitchen to make family meals. She grew up experimenting with different recipes.  She later on began sharing the recipes online with the tag Miss Mandi Throw Down that has now become a brand.

“The phrase Miss Mandi Throw Down came out of nowhere as it was coined by my friends when we were hanging out,” she says and adds that her food blog sprouted from a random night of partying with friends. After partying, they all trooped into her house with hunger pangs. This led her to make a quick fix and shared the photos on social media. The feedback she got from friends asking for the recipe led her to keep sharing. Soon, her fan base grew as her friends also shared the recipes hence the birth of the blog. Her audience is drawn from all over the world.

Recently, Miss Mandi began the 100 Days of Kenyan Throw Downs, a project to show people how to explore new ways of enjoying Kenyan delicacies, as she always adds a little twist to her cooking.

She makes money from her blog through advertisements and product endorsement.

Her purpose is to be the best version of herself and subsequently inspire others to tell their narrative and she hopes to run a digital consultancy firm a year from now having learnt the nuts and bolts of the industry.

Name: Michael Khateli, 32

Profession: TV producer turned photographer

Blog: gallerymichaelkhateli.blogspot.co.ke

Michael Khateli is a photographer who has earned himself quite the reputation as the photographer with the most viral pictures of Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta, captured mostly when the Commander in Chief is enjoying a light moment within the confines of his presidential duties. But Michael Khateli’s penchant for capturing innocent moments of people in power or otherwise does not end there. He is also the name behind the viral photo of the blonde, athletic, stern-faced female US secret service agent guarding US President Barrack Obama when he was in Kenya in 2015 and Pope Francis’ maiden visit to Kenya in 2015. He also shot the wedding between Safaricom CEO, Bob Collymore and Wambui Kamiru.

“I like to expand my horizons so often times when I am on a job, I capture what the client wants. I also like to capture when people are relaxed and very much in their element,” says the photographer.

Khateli never intended to end up in photography but when the public relations firm – Gina Din Group – he was working for asked the 32-year-old to double up as a videographer and photographer during clients’ events, he quickly learnt the ropes and by 2012, had made the shift from TV production to photography. It was then that he decided to start his blog – gallerymichaelkhateli.blogspot.co.ke.

“In 2012, I did not have enough cash to sustain a well running website and the most popular sharing site then, Facebook, was not enough. So I decided to open a blog. It was meant to be a fun-filled venture but then I started getting negative feedback about the random photos that I uploaded and woke up to the fact that people were watching,” says Khateli, who changed tact by posting high quality, compelling photographs instead.

With the changes, positive feedback and jobs started streaming in, allowing Khateli to quit his job to pursue freelance photography fully. While Khateli describes himself as an all round photographer (he shoots all manner of events), he says documentary photography is his passion.

“Documentary photography involves photo essays like the popular blog, Humans of New York, but more extensive as it involves following the subject for quite some time,” he explains.

His biggest inspiration remains his former boss – Gina Din Kariuki, Japheth Agombo who he credits with teaching him the ropes, and Osborne Macharia (featured on Young Achiever column).

Name: Taruri Gatere , 31

Profession: Fashion designer turned life coach

Blog: flawntitlove.tumblr.com

In 2011, Taruri Gatere was at a crossroad in her life. Her career as a fashion designer was not panning out the way she hoped it would, not to mention a host of other personal problems that were weighing her down. Unhappy and terribly unfulfilled, she embarked on a soul-searching mission, ditching fashion in favour of becoming a life coach and chronicling her vegan lifestyle in her blog Kenyanvegan.wordpress.com.

However, it is not KenyanVegan that put Taruri on the Kenyan blogosphere map; rather, it was her images in her new blog – flawntitlove.tumblr.com. The images were of her  in her inner wear, confidently baring the creeping cellulite on her thighs and bottom for the whole world to see.

“FlawntIt was inspired by years of my own personal struggles with self-image. I was tired of trying to fit into a stereotype of what beauty is generally accepted to be by society. But I realised I can set my own standards,” Taruri explains.

FlawntIt is a combination of the words flaw and flaunt, and together taken to mean ‘a celebration of one’s imperfections’. Taruri’s raw and unedited images went viral, sending shockwaves in a world where perfect images and perceptions rule. That, coupled with a generally conservative Kenyan society, sent criticism flowing in thick and fast.

“Many people were uncomfortable with my form of expression – exposing my body –  but it was not enough to just tell. I had to show especially after realising other women, be they friends or sisters, were also struggling with their own body image. My hope is that my message of self-acceptance will give someone courage to accept themselves,” she explains.

A year since FlawnIt officially launched, the blog has not only attracted other stories of self- love from both men and women, but also divided feedback. “One of the stories that led to an uproar was where one of our subjects bared her stretch marks after childbirth. A lot of people were uncomfortable with that.  However, we also had another story of a subject suffering from depression and she received enormous support,” explains Taruri.

While the blog has also attracted advertisers, Taruri is keen on retaining its integrity. “It has been an unexpected ride but what I value the most is that the message behind FlawnIt remains unadulterated. My vision is to take the message further, have events around self-love and acceptance, and to reach young people especially adolescents as that is when the foundation of who we decide to become starts setting in,” says Taruri.

Name: Jeff Kinyanjui, 28

Profession: Journalist

Blog: www.soka.co.ke

Jeff Kinyanjui knows well that the only formula to success is passionately pursuing what you love. It is this mindset that saw him pursue his passion – soccer. Jeff has been a soccer fan from as far back as he can remember, which saw him play football at the amateur level with the hope of one day playing in the Kenya Premier League.

Although this never came to be, Jeff is happy that he has found his place in the soccer arena, courtesy of new media. He is the co-founder and editor www.soka.co.ke, a sports blog.

“New media has opened new opportunities and people are minting thousands through blogging. Starting a blog doesn’t need a lot of skills, as you just need to have passion and an understanding of your niche,” advises the 28-year-old. He notes that his idea of starting a blog was conceived one year after joining Kenya Institute of Mass Communication (KIMC) where he was pursuing a diploma in journalism.

“I started my blog in 2009 after my first internship. At the time, I did it as a hobby. Little did I know that it would propel me to my destiny,” says Jeff.

His sports blog became very popular since he was able to get current and relevant information from Kenya Premier League players, most of who came from Eastlands where he was born and raised. “I would easily access most of the players for clarification, opinion and comments and this gave my blog credibility,” he says.

It didn’t take long before Futaa.com, another blog dealing with sports, noted his potential and offered to employ him. At the time, he was still in college and the deal worked for him since he was an evening class student. Here, he worked until he graduated in 2012. After graduation, he landed a job as the head of communication with Extreme Sports Limited but it didn’t take long before X-news gave him a better offer as a digital sub-editor.

In 2015, together with a former colleague – Patrick Korir, he thought of reviving his soccer blog. “We didn’t have resources when we started this platform but today we have managed to employ 10 permanent staff. We also publish a bi-monthly soka newsletter,” says Jeff.

He points out that investing in the new media is not a walk in the park, as you have to be patient and hard working. Jeff says blogging has finally come of age and the print media market has started feeling the heat as more and more people are being drawn to online content.

“We want to be the leading soccer platform in Africa,” he says noting that bloggers have been exposing stories that mainstream media fear to carry hence their growing popularity.

Jeff has a bone to pick with learning institutions offering media studies using an outdated curriculum, which he says, doesn’t meet the market needs. “The media schools’ curriculum needs to be updated so that it can be relevant with the market needs,” says Jeff who is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in communication and public relations at a local university.

Jeff draws his inspiration from Facebook founder, Mark Zukerberg, who has grown Facebook to a global company.

Name: Winnie Odande, 30

Profession: Office administrator turned fashion blogger

Blog: www.fitndiscover.com

When Winnie Odande, a fashion stylist, started her lifestyle blog in 2014, she never thought that it would amount to much. The motivation for the business administration graduate was derived from the need to change the narrative that as far as women and fashion are concerned, less is more.

“I felt the need to go against the grain of popular fashion culture which heavily promotes flesh baring. Women can still be stylishly and impeccably dressed with curves in all the right places without being skimpy or exposing their bodies excessively. I dare my readers and clients to first try my fashion advise, which is: fit and who knows, they may just discover something they didn’t know about their personal style,” says the 30-year-old.

According to Winnie, the assumption that demure dressing is for the old-fashioned is a fallacy. She adds that the response on her blog has been overwhelming so much so that she has ventured into blogging and fashion styling full time.

“Blogging has been instrumental in my career growth as a fashion stylist. It has exposed me to opportunities I never envisioned for myself. For instance, I was nominated in the Upcoming Stylist of The Year category in 2014 at the Kenya Fashion Awards. I was also among the official bloggers of FAFA Kenya (Fashion for Peace Campaign), Kenya Fashion Awards, JW Fashion TV Show, and worked with industry players such as designer Carole Kinoti, Claddi among others. My belief is that a few years from now, most bloggers will be able to earn a comfortable livelihood from blogging as brands continue to invest on their online presence,” expounds the stylist.

It is not enough for the fashionista to simply wear the latest apparels or endorse new trends; Winnie considers herself more of an ambassador and highlights fashion industry players, especially upcoming ones, in her blog.

“I try to create an awareness platform for industry players as well as creating conversations around challenges facing the industry in a bid to brainstorm on ways forward. It is not enough to provide entertainment.  We each need to play our part for the industry to grow. I firmly live by the words of US sports apparel designer, Anne Klein, that clothes aren’t going to change the world, the women who wear them will,” concludes the blogger.

May 2016

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