Lizz Ntonjira Mutuma is the Global Communication Director at Amref Health Africa. The 34-year-old holds a law degree from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, a post graduate diploma in public relations and a master’s degree in public policy and management from Strathmore University.
She is also a Public Policy Management Fellow of Virginia Commonwealth University in the United States and a recipient of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders (2015).
The former TV news anchor shares her career journey with the Sunday Nation.
I was born in Meru County and both my parents were civil servants: my dad was an economist and my mum was a nurse. Both are retired now. Because of the nature of their jobs, we moved around a lot. I grew up with five siblings that I truly adore and parents that I honour, love and respect for their sacrifices.
As a child, I wanted to be a pilot. That was before I realised that I needed to be very good at maths and physics yet I preferred languages and humanities. So, I decided to become a lawyer even though I don’t practise. I am more drawn to strategic communication and policy implementation.
I’ve always been passionate about storytelling. I first got published when I was only 10 years old, so becoming a writer was something I looked forward to. While pursuing my law degree, I struggled and got a regular column in the Daily Nation during my first year on campus. That was in 2005.
The following year, while still studying and writing for the newspaper, I got a job as a news anchor at K24, when the media station was relatively new. At 19, back then, I must have been one of the country’s youngest (if not the youngest) news anchors. I also volunteered at a PR company.
Being able to do these things and be efficient at all of them has shaped who I am today.
What I remember most in my career journey is that as a young woman who has often been the youngest in senior leadership, I have faced bias due to my age and gender. But this inevitably became a catalyst to my accomplishments. I feel strongly that the status quo has to change.
To progress through the years, I have stayed true to myself and stood my ground. I raised questions when I needed clarity and questioned anything that did not sit right in my conscience. I always ask uncomfortable questions because I love clarity.
And that need to seek clarity has sometimes rubbed some people the wrong way because they are not used to people being straightforward, but we are all in a better place when we are clear about expectations. I’m definitely not a “yes person”, I will always ask questions. And that has greatly helped me in my career growth.
Taking risks and trusting my instincts have been the biggest drivers of my growth. I recall a time when I left a permanent and pensionable job for a three-year contract, and most of my peers thought I was crazy, so did my mum. But my analysis had shown that the contract job would help me to meet my long-term goals faster.
To the Kenyan youth, every day you wake up, be ready to compete with who you were yesterday. Don’t compete with other people because comparison is the thief of joy. But challenge and empower yourself with other people’s stories.