Louis Otieno: I was misunderstood

Former TV anchor Louis Otieno rejected efforts by one station to have him wear the company’s clothes before going on air and changing back to his own after reading the news.

In the second of a six-part podcast dubbed “Paradise Lost” on the rise and fall of Mr Otieno, it is revealed that he dared challenge his bosses about dressing “sharp” on air then returning to the “usual” clothing afterwards. It saw him pushed off-air for some time.

The second part is titled “The Misunderstood Man”. It focuses on the dawn of an expanded media space in Kenya, same as the issue of Mr Otieno’s famed arrogance when dealing with colleagues. It also touches on Louis’ unapologetic love for the good things in life. 

Clothing was among the aspects of the TV space that was opening up in the early 2000s to offer an alternative to the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation that was the dominant station then.

For the new stations, there was need to make anchors look sharp. So, companies came up with the idea of dressing anchors. They would buy suits and dresses and put them in their studios for anchors to access them only when they were about to go on air.

A meeting was held to inform staff about the new system of dressing. This would be a way to sell the brand, they were told. But Mr Otieno had many questions. He discloses that he always asked questions even when others were mute.

“So, let me understand what you’re saying,” Mr Otieno remembers asking. “You’ll dress me up for the news but tomorrow, I can bounce around in my estate or in town in my Rastafari T-shirt or my football jersey or, you know, my dungarees or whatever I choose to wear. Will that complement the (brand’s) look?” 

This was daring. But it did not end at that.

“I said, ‘I’m sorry but I’m a grown man. I know how to dress myself. I know how to blend my colours. I do not believe I need my clothing or my dressing supervised at this age,’” he reveals.

Mr Otieno further discloses that one of his bosses was so miffed with his remarks that he was “benched”. That means he was put off-air.

“My bosses tried to get me off-air so many times. I thank Kenyans because many times, I remained on air because of pressure from them,” reveals Mr Otieno.

The podcast also touches on the perception that Mr Otieno was difficult or unpleasant to work with. Anyone who has worked in the industry may have heard about it. Some call it the Louis Otieno Complex. We spoke with production assistants who said it wasn’t all that bad. But the consensus was that Mr Otieno could be proud and that he had moments of borderline arrogance. Our interviews revealed a man who thought of himself highly and carried himself seriously. 

However, the industry’s gatekeepers weren’t any kinder. In the podcast, Mr Otieno shares an incident with a senior manager at a local TV station on the first day he reported. Apparently, this man wanted Mr Otieno to bow to him despite the fact that the former anchor was more famous.

“I vividly remember him swinging on his managerial seat,” Mr Otieno reveals. “And he looks at me and he says, ‘So you are the one who’s called so-and-so?’ And I said, ‘Those are my names, yes.’ And then he says, ‘So what makes you think I need you?”

“I’m looking at him and I knew we were in trouble from day one. But I knew what I have is bigger than me. And if it’s bigger than me, It’s bigger than him. So I looked at him and I told him, “Actually sir, I think the correct question would be, what can you do for me?”  And he stopped swinging,” adds Mr Otieno, noting that a confrontation ensued.

Though he took up the job, it was a troubled time at the station, and the incident about the clothing that came later did not help matters.

“Well, they hate my guts. They say I don’t respect authority. They say I don’t follow protocol. But I’m sorry. I cannot sit back and apologise to you that I did not sit back and be a passenger on your train when you’re moving at 20 kilometres per hour and it is going to Mombasa. We’ve got to move,” says Mr Otieno.

Ms Rose Kimotho, a media entrepreneur who founded Kameme FM and K24, says Mr Otieno was sometimes judged too harshly.

“I remember when we got Louis on (for K24). What shocked me was the hostility from one of the top guys we had recruited, which was totally uncalled for,” she shares.

Mr Otieno’s mother, Elizabeth Omolo, says what came out as her son’s arrogance was his way of correcting others.

“He liked to be corrected, yes. Constructively. And he also wanted to do the same to others. But there are those that didn’t accept. They would go to the boss and say, ‘This guy is looking down on us. He’s always correcting us; he’s not with us; he’s not doing things the way we want.’ Because Louis wouldn’t want to be hurried in his job. He wants to take his time full-course. The end product has to be thorough,” the mother shares.

Mr Otieno used to critique his mother’s performances on TV long before he hit the screens. He believes that industry insiders may have envied him because of his famous mother.

Do you know why Mr Otieno must keep his phone very close to him when sleeping? Listen in here.

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