Mohamed Ali is known for his daring investigative reports. He tells SHIRLEY GENGA about his work-life balancing act
Who is Mohammed Ali?
I am God fearing man. I believe in myself, if you do not believe in you who will believe in you? I do my work without expecting favours or praises, I simply do what I do because I love it. There are those who say that I have ‘maringo’ or that I am arrogant; I think people misinterpret my frank nature as arrogance; with me what you see is what you get with me. If I can help I will help but if I am unable I will tell you to your face. I am not two-faced. That helps me live a very peaceful life.
As an investigative journalist you get to cover a lot of dark and gut wrenching and even hopeless stories, how do you ensure you do not carry them home?
It all started in 2008 and at first the stories I did would haunt me long after I left work. It got so bad that I would have nightmares but I had to teach myself to separate work from my personal life or it would destroy me. These days I know where to draw the line, I know what to carry home with me and what to leave at work.
Who is at home?
My wife and children. I have been married for five years. Marriage is everything, it changes your life completely, in fact it’s half the religion. I am very protective of my family, I believe in respecting my family’s privacy, because I am the one who has chosen this life not my wife or my children I go out of my way to protect them so they can live a normal life.
How do you deal with the threats?
At first we were very scared but over time you get used to it and become hardened.
And your wife, how does she take it?
She’s very supportive of what I do. She knows that it’s not my story that I’m telling…that it’s the peoples’ story and if it can help somebody then I should go for it. But she does get discouraged. She sometimes asks me, ‘if you are telling them the truth and they don’t want to listen, why are you doing this?’ She gets worried as my wife and as the mother of my children. Sometimes she wants me to do something else.
What was it like to be a dad for the first time?
Holding a baby was a new thing in my life. I was scared to hold her for more than a minute. But when you have a second baby, it gets easier. You understand more about babies and their needs.
What do you think about Valentine’s Day?
It is a western thing and it is childish. It is not African. Love is 24/7. Every day. Love has no specific date.
Give us a little of your work history?
After campus I worked in KBC as an intern, then Pwani FM for nine months without pay, and after I decided to leave Kenya in search of greener pastures in the Middle East. There, I worked as a barrista at Starbucks. I was basically a waiter but I never gave up on my dream to work in the Kenyan media. I would return every August and apply to all the media houses. After three years, I got a job at radio Salama, and after that KTN where I have been for eight years. I am now the chief investigative editor for television, radio and newspaper. I always tell people to never give up on their dream job.
Is this it for you, is it the dream?
Growing up, I wanted to be two things; a police officer and news presenter. My dream of being a police officer died every time I would go for recruitment and I would be asked for a bribe. My love for telling stories however began with my father’s Sanyo radio. I would sleep with the radio on my ear, I loved listening to presenters like: Anaklet Arabat, Willy Maunda, Khamis Themor, Ngulam Mwaviro, Esther Muoso, Khadija Ali and Leonard Mambo Mbotela. I would listen to them and then try and copy their presentation style and record it on my walkman then I would analyse it and try to improve.
How do you balance work and
I switch my phone off when I get home, however there are times when I am following certain stories and I need to keep my phone on for sources. At the beginning, I struggled with balance but one day my daughter asked me why I went to work all the time and did not want to spend time with her, and that changed everything for me. Balancing family and work is not easy but I find my life works when I make a conscious decision to put family first.
Where do you see yourself in future?
I want to be at the fore front of change in everything that I do, and to push boundaries constantly. I think me and John- Allan Namu are the only Kenyan journalists to do documentaries for Aljazeera from Kenya. I did Killing Kenya and Namu did The Enemy Within, and we hope to do more. We want to do more powerful stories, not censored ones.