Yvonne Okwara-Matole’s passion and agility to make the most of every chance that comes her way have seen her become one of Kenya’s most renowned and respected news anchors.

She holds a Bsc in Microbiology and is a graduate of the Bloomberg/Africa Leadership Initiative Media fellowship which grounded her in business journalism.

Okwara pioneered the Bottomline Africa show, as well as The Big Story on KTN News.

“I graduated in 2006, and in the same year, I joined Hot96 as a Presenter when the radio station was newly launched by Royal Media Service (RMS). My first show was World Music on Saturday mornings, after which I started co-hosting the mid-morning radio show before finally hosting the breakfast show,” she said.

Okwara’s strong desire to develop her journalism career pushed her to move from Hot 96 to the Nation Media Group as a radio talk show producer at the defunct QFM.

“I worked on Rashid Abdalla’s talk show Maskani; a four-hour talk show that discussed political and socio-economic issues. It was citizen-targeted and citizen-driven.”

While producing the show, she began to shadow the host of ‘NTV’s This Morning’ tv show for about eight months before she was given the green light to start co-hosting it.


But she was not content yet, and her hunger and drive saw her move from NTV to QTV, a Kiswahili TV station, where she honed her skills as a news director and producer.

“I produced I-Seme, whose concept remains unique to this day. It was a news show with stories shot by ordinary citizens; citizen journalism where people told stories about their locale in their own words and perspective.”

The show had stories from some of the remotest parts of Kenya, and it was refreshing to see Kenyans tell their own stories. Her role was to assist them script, guide the shooting as well as edit their scripts and the final story production.

She says that remains one of her proudest projects.

“Citizens who submitted their pieces were not trained journalists, and most stories had a reflection of their mother-tongue influence, which made the show special. It was the true face of Kenya, a beautiful blend of who we are, a true representation of our diversity. Most of all, it was authentic!”

While at QTV, she was also the news director, sub-editor and produced other talk shows, including Longalonga on Friday afternoons and a Thursday night political talk show that Prof PLO Lumumba hosted.

“I was producer, chief researcher, booked guests, on-set show director and floor manager.”

In November 2012, Yvonne Okwara left NMG and joined the Standard Group Limited, to be in front of the camera as the host and producer of KTN’s breakfast show Sunrise Live.

“In about a year, I was bumped up to the 9pm news slot, and in less than five months, added the biggest show - Sunday’s Checkpoint. About a year later, I kept rising and we launched Kenya’s first 24-hour news channel, KTN News, also one of my proudest moments to date.


Owakra says this changed the media industry putting local and international news at the top of Kenyans’ minds. This required long working hours and more understanding of the world around them as they broadcast in more than ten countries in the region.

“I also experienced the biggest growth in my career here, rising from the junior news anchor to senior news anchor to Head of News Anchors, Editor in charge of Research and Planning and eventually Head of News Strategy for the channel.”

Five and half years later, she made a big move to Citizen TV.


She joined the SK Macharia-owned tv station as an Editor for Research as well as a Senior News Anchor and host of the major Thursday show - Tonight with Yvonne Okwara.

In the show she presents The Explainer, breaking down the news events to viewers and also co-hosts News Gang, a no-holds-barred assessment of the week’s biggest stories by other station bosses Joe Ageyo, Linus Kaikai, Jamila Mohammed and Francis Gachuri.

She also recently started hosting Business Now on Monday afternoons.

To add a feather to her cap, Okwara was featured in the book LeadHers: Life Lessons from African Women, in partnership with Facebook, which celebrates 19 leading women from across the continent.


With her great accomplishments in her last 15 years in the media, she shares some ways she believes women can best position themselves for opportunities to be at the top table.

1. Remain authentic: One of the best pieces of advice Pamela Sittony, Executive Director at NMG, told me was never to stop being feminine. Show up. Look good and appreciate the strengths and qualities that women bring to the table, including empathy.

2. Speak about your goals to your bosses and supervisors more often: Tell them what you want and declare your interest in certain positions, stating clearly what you are willing to do to get there and what assistance you require, be it training, fellowships. It keeps you top of mind when they are making decisions.

3. Step up more: Offer yourself to go the extra mile with new tasks to show what you are capable of.

4. Speak up about your achievements: I believe the phrase “be humble” has often been misunderstood. It has been interpreted as sit quietly in the corner, don’t speak about your achievements, don’t tell anyone about a project you did well and how you did it because that would be seen as boastful or proud.

This is not the case. How else will your superiors know what you are capable of? Remember, there are so many employees in an organisation jostling for visibility, one needs to stand out.


Simply stating what you have done and reminding them that you are a valuable asset is key to having yourself being top of mind, for promotions, for training. After all, they are your achievements; you worked hard for them, put in the effort, a reminder to those that matter will certainly not hurt.

5. Lead by example: Once you get to a position of leadership, the best way to lead is by example. Do you keep time for meetings, are you organized in how you prepare your work? Are you professional? Do you separate work from personal stuff? Do you practice what you expect of your team? These are the words from Pauline Kiraithe, who was Group HR Director at Standard Group, when I was promoted to Head of Anchors. Also, be sure to either ask your employer for some training to help you settle in the new leadership role or find some free online courses on the same.

No one was born knowing these things, so invest in some knowledge for yourself. Just because you are in a leadership position does not mean you know everything. Learning never ends.

Yvonne Okwara and Safaricom CEO Peter Ndegwa. PHOTO/COURTESY

So, what role has passion played in her career life?

“It will keep you interested in your career. Help you to keep discovering new trends and approaches in your industry. It maintains that fire burning in your soul, when things get mundane.”

Okwara says maintaining a great attitude has kept her grounded, both when things are tough and when she continues to soar. It reminds her of what is important every single day.

On taking new challenges, the top tv anchor says this has helped her grow.

“I took many challenges that some thought was career suicide. Moving to QFM, a Kiswahili radio station, to go behind the scenes was a challenge in so many ways. People wondered why would I move from being on-air to a behind-the-scenes role? Why would I move from an English station to producing a show in Kiswahili? Why would I move to new stations like QFM and QTV? Why would I stop doing political interviews that are seen as the Holy Grail in my business to doing explainers?"


“All of these helped me get 360 degrees understanding of the business, in front of the camera and behind it, producing and presenting, Radio and television, Scripting and editing, booking guests, and conducting research. These made me a better journalist and gave me a greater appreciation of the entire team’s responsibilities to put out just one show or just one 3-minute story.”

Okwara believed the media business demands for a team effort, beyond the (seemingly glamourous) end-product that everyone sees.

“It also helped me chart my own path. I am the only one doing explainers on television countywide, and this unique way of story-telling stands out and sets me apart from the pack.”

She says forging networks within and without the industry is vital for every journalist as it enables one to get story tips, support from networks and ideas of keeping one’s career alive.

She has emphasises that mentoring other women to grow keeps the industry vibrant making it better for the media to thrive. She believes it is a win-win to have many more young men and women thrive.

“There are plenty of opportunities for everyone in the business, and there is an important role to help others not repeat the mistakes I made, not suffer the same things I did. I don’t believe that anyone should go through what I went through to get to where I did. The age-old mistakes, pitfalls, stereotypes should not be used as a right of passage.”


Yvonne Okwara had some key lessons on life and career to share with other women looking up to her.

“Do not be defined by your career and your titles. It would be easy for me to let it get to my head that I am a news anchor on television and lord it over others. I am not a celebrity. I am a journalist. The difference between me and every other person working out there is that you get to watch me work. Put your head down and get to work! The results will show, and you will be rewarded in due time.”

She advices other journalists not to forget family and friends and instead build those as they grow in their career as that is what will keep them grounded, make them feel loved, give them good mental health, and will last long after they retire.

“Be authentic. Be you. Do not live up to anyone’s expectations of who they think you should be. There’s been pressure on me to look prettier (whatever this means, haha), to smile more so that I can attract a certain type of audience (to which I say, I will smile when there is need to smile) to not be as tough with my interviews (I should be nice, easy, like so and so), but I know what role I play on behalf of Kenyans watching, who expect answers from the duty bearers. I am doing my job as best as I can, so help me God. I don’t imitate anyone. I don’t compete with anyone. I am trying to better than I was yesterday!”

Yvonne Okwara and Joe Ageyo. PHOTO/COURTESY

We asked Yvonne what values are most important to her and define her life and career. This is what she had to say:

• Integrity. My values and principle will stand the test of time and last well beyond looks and appearances, which fade with time. These will keep one in good stead throughout their life and career

• Authenticity. I am who I am, and proud of it. There is no one else like me, and that is my magic!

So, how does she describe herself and how do others describe her?

“I am a woman, wife, lover, sister, daughter, friend, top journalist, fiercely loyal, all or nothing, driven, God-fearing, detailed and process-oriented with a great sense of empathy for those who face injustice, those living on the fringes of society. I think my friends and family would say the same.”

And her parting shot:

“Live your life. Live life and live it abundantly. Hold nothing back, love completely, give yourself to your work wholeheartedly. We will all die one day, but before then, WE LIVE and LIVE ABUNDANTLY!”