By Prudence Minayo
When Kenyans celebrate heroes and legends, Leonard Mambo Mbotela should appear on the list. He has worked in the media industry for over 5 decades. The veteran Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) radio presenter was pure class and a role model to many. He is a walking encyclopedia of Kenyan history and has a photographic memory.
His program “Je, Huu Ni Ungwana?” Is the longest in the history of Kenyan media industry. The man bears witness to the most significant moments of history. He was there when Kenya got independence; when Harambee stars was a team to be reckoned with; when the Kenya air force tried to overthrow Moi’s government and many other historic events. Despite being well advanced in years, the legend is still strong and healthy. In an Interview with Jeff Koinange on JKL Show, he revealed that exercising, quitting smoking and drinking and God are what keep him going. This article takes you through his life story and memorable events of the legend.
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Leonard Mambo Mbotela was born in 1940 in Freretown, Mombasa.
He was born in an Anglican family in a family of eight children. James Mbotela, his father, was among the pioneer teachers in East Africa. On the other hand, his mother Ida worked towards Community development. Mbotela married Alice Mwikali in 1970 and they have 3 children: Ida, Jimmy and George.
The celebrated journalist attended Freretown Primary School between 1948 and 1953 before proceeding to Buxton from 1954 to 1958. He then got a chance to attend Kitui High School.
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His first job was in Nakuru as a trainee reporter of the East African Standard. Then, he worked for Baraza (a Swahili newspaper owned by standard) as a writer and reporter. This brought him to Nairobi. The year was 1963. At this time his desire was to broadcast. He approached Steven Kikumu and asked to present his own program “Salamu za Vijana.” He would read on the airwaves letters sent among young people. One day, the director came to the studio while he was airing the program. He asked Leonard if he’d like to join them and he agreed. On the 28th November 1964, he became a VOK (now KBC) employee.
Steven Kikumu took him to his first sports event. He was asked to commentate and did a marvelous job despite it being his first time. This jump-started his career as a sports commentator. The then VOK presenter would announce sports and make the listeners feel as if they were watching it Live. The most memorable event in those days was when harambee stars won against Uganda during Idi-Amin’s reign. The Ugandan team tried to score a goal but by a stroke of luck missed. However, the referee declare it a goal. The Kenyan goal keeper was so devastated by the injustice that it took a few people to convince him to go on with the game. To top it all Idi Amin was busy trying to scare Kenyans since he hated them so much. Kenyans emerged victorious and Mbotela’s greatest joy was when they left Uganda, out of reach from Idi Amin’s reign of terror.
His told in the 1982 coup
July, 31st, 1982, the air Force tried to overthrow the late former president Moi’s government. That night he decided against going to the club and went home. At the time, he was the head of national and vernacular services. At 4AM armed goons led by the air force boss himself, Mr. Ochuka, paid him a visit. With guns pointed at his head, he was led to KBC broadcasting house and forced to announce that Moi’s Government had been overthrow. The then scared man was forced to repeat the announcement over and over. After a while, one of the goods came running with panic written all over his face. All of them fled and left him in the station. The general had come to save the day. Mambo Mbotela had to go live again and declare that Moi’s government was still in place. Later, he was forced to appear before a court martial to determine whether he was part of the devious plan. In the court room, he did not even have a lawyer but he recounts Mr. Ochuka’s lawyer being Moses Wetangula. The British judge declared him innocent and he left without a backward glance.
Presidential Press Unit (PPU)
The same year,1982, he was appointed part of the presidential press unit. After serving for a while, he was told to go back to KCB. After a while, he was called to be part of PPU again until he resigned in 1997.
During all this time, the celebrated presenter never stopped recording “Jee, Huu Ni Ungwana?” He would record then send the pieces to KBC.
The presenter went back to KBC once again after leaving PPU.
Today, he may still be part of KBC but he also performs “Zilizopendwa” with his Congolese friends at Club Vibro in Nairobi.
A couple of bloggers in 2017 spread rumors that the longest serving presenter was dead. The rumor was fake and they had to apologize since Mbotela was still alive and as fit as a fiddle.
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