Through My African Eyes by Jeff Koinange is an autobiography published by Footprints Press. The preface for the book is done by Thabo Mbeki while the forward is by Ngung’i Wa Thiong’o. This in itself is quite impressive and was one of the things that got me more interested in reading the book.
I loved how the autobiography starts with the birth of Jamal, Jeff’s only son.This is in Chapter 1, titled Fatherhood Finally. I felt that this shows that fatherhood is the most important part of Jeff’s life or perhaps the part that brings him the most joy/pride. The book is also dedicated to his son again perhaps explaining the role of Jamal in his life.The title of the Chapter also communicates volumes.
Jeff then writes about his childhood, being raised by a single mother and his time in school at St. Mary’s. He shares his joys and disappointments in these chapters. One thing that stood out for me is his disappointment at not being appointed as the head boy while in high school but again how things worked out when he wrote the script for a play that won at the national drama festivals. His journey towards becoming the man that he is today started back from his high school days. You get to learn the inspiration behind his career choice.
He then goes into his career starting with working as a flight attendant for Pan Am Airlines. This is also the time when he met Shaila, his current wife and Sonya his first wife. Even in his earlier careers, Jeff is clearly seen as a go-getter who is quite focused. After his stint with the Airline, he changed his profession and decided to go back into school and get into journalism.
I enjoyed reading about his time as a journalist. In Chapter 8, Perils of Chasing a Story, he describes his career as a journalist in war torn countries in Africa. I was deeply moved by his bravery to venture into dangerous zones so as to tell a story. For instance when he goes into Sierra Leone and the war gets so bad that some other journalists are killed but he stays on to tell the story. I also found it quite interesting and courageous when he explained how as journalists, it gets to a time when one has to realize that it’s time to get out and let someone else tell story. This is especially when covering war zones. He also details the child soldiers, their recklessness and how they are used in wars that clearly they don’t even understand. He delves into other news stories like the floods in Liberia. I didn’t even know about this. Not only does he explain how he covered the news aspect but also illustrates the sheer tenancy of humanity like the story about the baby born on a tree. I was also moved by his detailing of the Democratic Republic of Congo rape cases. I had watched a documentary about this before but Jeff went into details about the anguish that the women faced and also the humanity of people who were trying to make a difference even in the times of war.
The way that Jeff shares his experiences gives readers mixed emotions. On one end, you may get angry at Africa. You get to see how human beings destroy lives of others and it will your heart. You will lose hope in humanity when he explains his experiences in countries where roads were covered with bodies and limbs on which vultures fed. It will shock you to take a look at how ugly human beings can be. One the other hand, Jeff brings a balance by sharing the other side of humanity. The human beings who even in the war torn countries still strives to make a difference. One hand you have the killers, on the other hand you have the healers and then you have journalists like Jeff who risk their lives to tell the two stories.
Jeff briefly explains the Niger Delta story which was one of the most controversial points in his career with CNN. He even shares photos of the rebels and how they had attacked the journalists. It was rumored that the story was stage-managed. However, by looking at the photos and reading Jeff’s account of events, it’s hard to imagine how the story could have been fabricated.
Through My African Eyes changed my view of Jeff Koinange. Unlike most people who have followed his career through the years, I can barely recall his time at Ktn because I was too young. I also don’t really recall his time at Reuters or CNN. I only got to learn about him when he started working with K24 and then the rumors started. There were all these stories about his exit from CNN. By the way, do not look for this story in his book because he barely addresses those rumors. In Kenya, we all know him for his voice and big personality. When I think of Jeff, I think about his signature pose on the bench and the unique animated expressions that he uses. However, this book allowed me to see the other side of the man, Jeff.
I was impressed by his wide travels and the number of people he has met. He is on first name basis with presidents and history makers like the late Nelson Mandela who he has been photographed with numerous times. He has met Oprah Winfrey and a number of other celebrities who most of us only see on TV. He tells of a hilarious story of being featured on Larry King Live and how Larry referred to him as John Coinage. Jeff Koinange has led quite an interesting life.
Jeff has led a very interesting life and there many interesting stories that he shares in his book that I cannot completely cover in this review. This biography is written in using flashbacks and flash forwards which gives it a good pace. Minimum dialogue is used but this does not water down the narration. It actually makes the reader feel like they are ‘on the bench’ with Jeff Koinange and he is the one answering the questions and narrating about his experiences.
As I had mentioned on the Niger Delta Story, Jeff has used photographs for every chapter. It’s interesting to follow the story also from his childhood to his adulthood. One of my favorite photos was the one of Jamal on Nelson Mandela’s lap. There are also other photos that will send a chill down your spine especially those taken with the rebels or the child soldiers. I kept wondering how he managed to maintain his composure will surrounded by guns in such hostile environments. Using photographs was definitely a great addition that enriched the book.
some of the photographs used in the chilling Niger Delta story
Through My African Eyes is easy to read and follow, it is captivating, funny, heartbreaking and shocking. It is a hard book to put down once you get started. It’s definitely an interesting read, one that I highly recommend.