Meet Jackie Lumbasi: Rwanda’s newest radio presenter

At the beginning of this month, Twitter was awash with a huge welcome from Rwandans for the new English show dubbed Kigali in the Morning, hosted by Arnold Kwizera and former Capital FM presenter Jackie Lumbasi.

At the beginning of this month, Twitter was awash with a huge welcome from Rwandans for the new English show dubbed Kigali in the Morning, hosted by Arnold Kwizera and former Capital FM presenter Jackie Lumbasi.

Unlike Kwizera, who’s been in the Rwandan media for a while now, Lumbasi is quite new to the Rwandan audience. Her former station was Kampala’s Capital FM where she had been working for over five years.

She brings, to Kigali, her wealth of experience in communication with a mission of waking up city dwellers, tuned to the station.

As we settle down for an interview with her, she presents a vibrant personality describing herself as loud and outspoken. I ask her if she expected the outpouring of love she received when she came to Kigali, to which she retorts:

“When I came to Kigali I thought it was a fresh start, and that I was going to prove myself to an entirely new audience. It just did not occur to me that anybody here knew me or that there were many Rwandans who came from Uganda.”

Her transition was a huge surprise to her fans since even though she had announced that she was going to be off air, she was remaining at Capital but this time as head of Public relations. She changed her mind overnight and decided that it wasn’t time to leave radio and jumped onto the next opportunity that availed itself.

“I knew that at some point I would go off air but 2018 was not the year. That same day that I was told about the changes someone else in Kigali was asking for my CV.”

“I knew I was going to do Public Relations because I knew the company very well and was going to represent it well but things changed overnight and I made way to Kigali,” she says.

Her move to make Kigali her new home, from Kampala where she lived for 12 years happened very fast but believes it was a way through which God was unleashing more potential in her.

Lumbasi during the interview. Nadege Imbabazi

Her background

Lumbasi was born in Kitale, western Kenya, and is the first born in a family of five. She was raised in a humble family who lived in Kitale until at a later stage when they moved to Nairobi after her father got a job as a secretary at Kenya Power and Lighting Company.

Just as they had begun to enjoy a more comfortable life, her father lost his job when she was in primary five and the family had to start afresh.They moved to a slummy area and her father juggled jobs to take care of his children.

From the money he got as a sendoff package he bought a welding machine, whose trade took Lumbasi and her siblings to school.

“After high school, my father could not afford all our school fees and so I decided that I was going to stay home and let my siblings get to where I reached.”

“We worked together in the workshop and I remember my father buying a hair dryer and blow dryer to set up a small salon and I was able to buy necessities,” she recalls.

Her journey to journalism

Completing high school, Jackie was torn between studying cosmetology, with her experience in hair dressing, or journalism, her dream course but looking at the tuition structure at Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, there was never ever a way her father was going afford it.

As luck would have it, one day as her father was walking in town; he met some people from UMCAT School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in Uganda who were marketing the school.

“He converted the tuition money that the journalism schools was asking for into Kenya Shillings and realised that he could afford it. We decided that this was where I was to study because even when he didn’t have the money, it was easier to raise.”

“In our village, there was a program where different families could come together and fundraise money for medical bills but also education. My family had contributed for other families and they in turn contributed some money to take me to school. Topping up with the money that I had made through odd jobs, I made my first trip to Uganda in 2002.”

Her grandmother being Ugandan from the East, Uganda to her became her second home. I ask her why journalism was her dream career to which she replies,

“People always saw potential in me. While in primary, coming from a village school to the city, my English teacher who was also a sports journalist was impressed by how fast I had learned English and told me that I would make a good journalist. I blushed it off because I was too young to know exactly what I wanted to be.”

“It was after form four that I thought about being a journalist because being in an all-girls school, they kept telling me that I sounded different from all of them. I personally didn’t realise it. I just went with the flow because I knew that I am loud and noisy, not necessarily unique.”

“I knew that I wanted to be a news anchor because I loved the beautiful authoritative, respected, trusted and smart girls on TV and I wanted to be like them.”

She excelled at her journalism course and performed extremely well during practicals.

Joining radio

Immediately after college Lumbasi was connected to radio through a stranger who loved her voice.

“He connected me immediately to a private radio station that was looking for a news anchor. The news editor loved what he heard during the voice testing even when the only experience was from the little practicals we had in school. He called me after three days and offered me the job.”

She became the news anchor and receptionist on the salary of one. And for three years, she perfected the art of news anchoring and even introduced news in Swahili.

“Then, I became stagnated. Nobody was telling me that I could present a show, they were very happy as their news anchor.”

In 2007, she later applied for a private TV show that has since closed. The news director was tasked to train her and before long she had mastered TV presenting but was bid farewell.

“Let me tell you what had happened, a few days after the training, a new TV opens and takes two main anchors from the TV show. Just like that there was an opening, and the closest person they could pick was Jackie who had just finished training the other day,” she laughs,

She read the news there for one year and joined another station UBC, still as a news anchor and “the same way, my journey was fantastic.”

She was later fired at UBC after a disagreement with her employer but luckily ended up at Capital FM, one of the best radio stations in Kampala.

“For me all I needed was to know that somebody had trusted me to bring me in, the rest was up to me.”

For five months, she presented the show and I was later moved to the breakfast show after one of the presenters left.

“Believe me I was happy. Who moves that fast? I knew that the task was to prove myself because I knew that overtime listeners get attached to people,” she says.

“I was the person that was listened to by everyone. I cannot thank God enough that all those years on radio gave me experience, prominence, gave me friends and lots of blessings.”

The outpouring of love on social media after she left is testimony that she had done her role and done it well. From where she stands now, some of her fans are with her online.

“I believe that the listeners are the most important thing in this game but now it’s a challenge to continue with what I have been doing if not even better because for me it is not just a job, it’s a calling. If my job can impact someone’s life out there that is my joy.”

On what listeners should expect of her, she says:

“I knew that I am new in this country and I won’t even pretend that I know people or their language well but I am a student and I am willing to learn and we will ensure that this is the way to go.”

With a sizeable following of fans, Lumbasi is already looking at the kind of legacy she wants to leave behind:

She recently launched an education Mentorship Program in Kitale, “to teach others about broadcasting and communication so as to groom the next generation of journalists who will take over from us.”

“When I was in high school, we didn’t have mentors to talk to us about career. I hope to do this as well and interact with the students while I am here.”