By Ogova Ondego
Published April 4, 2017
It is said that life begins at 40. If that be true, then Janet Kanini Muiva-Ikua, a former television news presenter in Nairobi has passed on before life could begin. I write this tribute not to praise or mock, but to honour the legacy of the 39-year-old performance artist on whom the curtain fell on April 1, 2017.
I met Janet Kanini Muiva some 19 years ago. Long before she would become a television presenter. The classic example of beauty, talent and brains blending into an attractive personality who was then 20 said she had been on stage singing, dancing and acting since the age of nine.
The 1978-born girl discussed current affairs and academic work with equal ease. And her fluency and the speed with which she spoke left a lasting impression on me. That was in 1998 and I was interviewing her for the newspaper I made a living from as a writer of human interest articles also known as features.
My subject, Janet Kanini Muiva, was then a third year Bachelor of Education student majoring in Home Economics at Kenyatta University (KU) where she was also a member of Kenyatta University Travelling Theatre (KUTT).
Just before I met her, she had just been acknowledged as an achiever in the Theatre category during the then annual Kenyatta University Achievement Awards (KUAA). She had appeared in numerous plays with KUTT for which she also served as Secretary.
However, Kanini Muiva insisted that her acting was merely a hobby and not a career.
“I have been acting since primary school,” said the last of three girls born to Dr Peter Muiva, a Paediatrcian, and Margaret Muiva, an Advanced Nursing Lecturer at Kenya Medical Training College in Nairobi. “I started acting, singing, dancing and writing poetry while I was at Loreto Valley Road Primary School in Nairobi. When I joined Precious Blood Secondary School in Riruta, Nairobi I concentrated on singing. I went back to acting in third form and have never looked back since then.”
Kanini Muiva said her stage prowess had been honed during inter-school music and drama festivals.
“It was during such events that I learnt how to act better and relate with all sorts of people as I come from an all-girl family.”
As we chatted, I learnt that Kanini Muiva was the only one in the family to have an interest in performance arts: her eldest sister was a pharmacist while the other sister was a fifth year student of Medicine at Moi University in Eldoret, western Kenya. In other words, everyone in the family, except Kanini, was involved with either medicine or pharmacy.
Though she considered acting as a hobby, Kanini Muiva vowed she would “continue acting for as long as I live.”
She said she was planning to learn Italian as, she said, “I am proficient in German, English, Kiswahili and Kikamba and plan to study Hotel Management as my future career.”
She explained, “My training as a Home Economics teacher with interests in textiles, design and nutrition, and proficiency in foreign languages will come in handy in my hotel management career.”
Janet Kanini Muiva lamented that inter-school drama competitions featured highly talented people who nevertheless vanished into oblivion after school as no one bothered to tap their talent.
“Though it could be ideal to tap the talent of such people before they disappear after school, they themselves should also try to return to drama even if no one recognizes them,” she opined and explained that while she herself was waiting to join university, she kept herself busy by being actively involved in the youth group of her church that staged drama.
“I was also in another group called G-Pound which was a collection of former fourth form drama practitioners from Precious Blood Riruta, Pangani Girls School, Jamhuri High School and State House Girls’ School. We performed a play called ‘Grease’ at St Mary’s School in Nairobi.”
The group, she said, later teamed up with Nairobi City Players in staging ‘Babes in the Woods’, a version of Robin Hood which ran for 11 days at Kenya National Theatre to mark Christmas.
Saying that theatre in Kenya faces lots of problems, Janet Kanini urged thespians to ‘never give up’ but to trudge on as ‘drama is a therapeutic medium.’
“Working in theatre calls for so much commitment, creativity and perseverance. I also believe that I must use well the gift God has given me as I will one day have to account to him on how I used the talent he gave me.”
Did she ever face any stage fright, I asked her.
“Yes, but I have learnt how to deal with it,” she answered. “All you have to do is to never show you are scared. Join other actors and psyche up one another. Then don’t entertain any preconceived ideas that the audience will not like you as that only makes you jittery, leading you to forget your lines and messing up yourself in front of the audience. Being yourself and acting out naturally warms up the audience to you and you eventually stop getting nervous.”
Perhaps it was her winning of the year-long Kenya Wine Agency (KWAL) scholarship with Phoenix Players to learn theatre administration, stage management and acting that confirmed that Kanini Muiva had been born not for the classroom or hotel boardroom but for threatre.
“I have just landed this theatre scholarship after completing my teaching practice. I am overwhelmed. I thought I was in theatre as a hobby. I now want to be a professional thespian,” she told me. “I believe what Phoenix has offered is adequate to prepare me as a professional actor.”
At that time she confessed that she hadn’t wanted to be a teacher but a hotel manager.
“I am no longer interested in the hotel industry due to the prevailing economic problems. I would like to act instead,” she said.
Among the values Janet Kanini Muiva said she cherished were good relationship with family, friends and God.
“God is the most important being in our loves. Whatever you do, remember you will have to give an account to him,” she said.
She said she abhorred injustice in whatever form, was concerned about the widening gap between the rich and the poor and lamented what she termed as ‘domination of women by men in the Kenyan society.’
“Women find it difficult getting ahead in life in this country. I am however pleased that they are getting to know their rights. Having been created equal with men by God, women should not accept any discrimination against hem in whatever guise it comes,” Janet Kanini said.
She said she was concerned about ‘the negative influence western media are inculcating in the youth in Kenya: fornication, alcoholism and violence.
“Western media glamorize violence, making the youth think it is alright to appear macho by domineering over the weak,” she said.
RELATED:Tribute to Kenyan Taarab Legend
Lamenting that ‘modern relationships are getting more physical whereas the goal of any relationship with the opposite sex should be to bring emotional satisfaction to the parties concerned’, Janet Kanini said “Boys and girls who are into relationship should help bring out the best in each other instead of seeking sexual gratification. “
And on that point, almost two decades ago, the interview wound up. The curtain has now fallen on Janet Kanini Muiva-Ikua. I pay tribute to her.