Freda Nkirote M’Mbogori is the country director of the British Institute in Eastern Africa (BIEA), Nairobi, which she first joint in 2015 as assistant director.
She also serves as the president of the Pan-African Archaeological Association (Panaf). Formerly, she was head of the Cultural Heritage Department at the National Museums of Kenya.
I wake up between 4 and 6 am, depending on my challenge for the day or week. I operate a lot with deadlines. I am an editor of a number of peer review journals. Aside from that, I also have to publish my own work.
When I get up I focus on research work. 7 am is my favourite time of the day. That is when I have my cup of coffee and reflect. So for about one hour or so, I will savour this one cup of coffee as I think, always with a notebook beside me to jot down my thoughts.
At BIEA, we support research in humanities and social sciences. We also mentor undergraduate and graduate attachés. I manage the day to day running of the institute. I am also a researcher in archaeology. Once I get to the office at 9 am, I respond to emails, read proposals of other people because I have to help them get research permit, read proposals of those who want funding, work with attachés to make sure that the time they spend with us adds value in their future research careers among other things. Once the staff leaves between 4.30 and 5 pm, I will go back to research and work till 9 or 10 pm.
I love both my roles because they are challenging. It would be very boring if I came to work every day to do the same thing. That’s not the case with my work. I have to read all the time to stay current with what I am doing, and this keeps me on alert at all times. I also interact with researchers from various disciplines from all over the world. As a result, I have been introduced to a lot of things I never knew before; I have read on what I never would have seen myself reading – things sociology or anthropology, for instance, that I would never have picked up on my own.
When I joined university, I studied political science, history and philosophy. Archaeology was within history and during my time, if you performed well in archaeology, you’d be singled out to specialise in it. During my year we were only two students in class. I specialised in archaeology not just because I excelled in it, but I thought it was an interesting discipline, much like forensics, and there was the travel aspect of it. I knew if I specialised in it I would travel the world.
Last year I was elected president of the Pan-African Archaeological Association, the first woman to hold the position. At BIEA, I was the first African to be appointed director. These are some of my proudest career accomplishments. I have a 25-year-old son who is very humble and kind – and this is one aspect of life I am proud of. Even though not all of it is my doing, he is what any parent would want to have.
I want to make a difference. That keeps me motivated to go to work every day. I am the first African director – I cannot fail. I want to excel in this role because I will be setting the standards for whoever will come next. I also want to make a difference with the research that I do, research that can advise policy and make a difference in people’s lives.
My biggest challenge is time. Every time I read I find something new that I would want to research, but I don’t have the time. I have a lot on my plate and managing is much easier if you love what you do. No one forces me to stay late at the office. No one pushes me to do what I do – I love it. The best career advice I’ve ever received is I can be what I want to be if I put my mind into it. The best I’d give is the future is like a blank cheque – It all depends on what you put there. And what you put in is what you get. Also, everything has its own time. It is what I would tell my younger self. Something might look unachievable now, and that’s maybe because it is not the right time. Just do what you have to do and it will come when the time is right.
When I get home from work, the first thing I do is feed my dog. I’ll watch the news if it is still on. Sometimes I watch a movie, sometimes a TV series. I’m currently watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I like the work relationship between the captain and his staff. They have a very free environment; they can joke with the captain, they can tell him things, but still when it comes to work, they work, and they become very creative and innovative because they own the process of what they are doing. I find that very inspiring. Some episodes I will watch again and again. I sleep between 11 pm and midnight.
Outside work, I like to party, mostly with family. For me family is everything. I love dancing, and sometimes I consider it exercise because I move every part of my body. You should see me on the dance floor. I also love soul music. When I get word that there’s soul music somewhere, I’ll go there from the office before heading home.
Source: Sunday Magazine/Standard