CNN anchor/reporter Isha Sesay is here to host this yearâ€™s CNN Multichoice African Journalist of the Year Awards tomorrow at the Kampala Serena Conference Centre. The 34-year-old, host of CNNâ€™s Inside Africa
CNN anchor/reporter Isha Sesay is here to host this yearâ€™s CNN Multichoice African Journalist of the Year Awards tomorrow at the Kampala Serena Conference Centre. The 34-year-old, host of CNNâ€™s Inside Africa talked to Nigel Nassar.
Hey, you are definitely one of the most beautiful ladies I know. In fact, you are more striking in person than on TVâ€¦
Oh, really? I am flattered, Nigel. Well, I have been told that but I havenâ€™t believed it. Now I have reason to believe, and I am honoured.
Beauty and brainsâ€¦that must work well for your ratings at CNN, huh?
Beauty isnâ€™t something CNN looks at. Itâ€™s about your ability to deliver, which of course, comes with you having some good amounts of gray matter up your skull.
How did you join CNN?
I took them my recording and they called me in for a screen testing, which I aced. So I left ITN in the UK, packed my bags and headed to Atlanta. That was 2005.
Isnâ€™t it an overdose to walk into the newsroom and there is Christiane Amanpour, Michael Homes, Wolf Blitzer, Jonathan Mann, Errol Barnett â€¦
An overdose? Well, thank God I havenâ€™t got high on it. But itâ€™s inspiring. Amanpour hasnâ€™t been based at the CNN centre in Atlanta with me there, but we have worked together when I am anchoring the International Desk edition and sheâ€™s abroad feeding me; say from Iraq, Gazza and the like. Michael and Jim Clancy are like my daily meal â€“ very interesting people.
Who of these are you closest to?
I get on well with everyone. Thatâ€™s why if thereâ€™s a party anywhere, I will be at the centre of it. But some are closer, Like Rosemary Church. Errol Barnett is like my kid brother. Plus of course, Jonathan Mann, with whom I was on the road covering the 2008 presidential elections.
Any mischief or gossip in the CNN newsroom, or itâ€™s all work and no play?
Well, what do journalists do? We gossip, talk and talk. So that will not miss in a newsroom. Thereâ€™s a bit of play, but thatâ€™s when you donâ€™t have an assignment.
From the way CNN executes its stuff, right from always having the better story angle, to giving us that closer shot of Barrack at his swearing in, we out here feel like we have to be miracle workers of sorts to work there. Are you one?
If by â€˜miracle workerâ€™ you mean being smart, then yes, you have to be smart. I am not in the recruiting office, but hey, most of us at CNN were excellent students. My mother, Dr. Kadi Sesay, is an academic. My father, the late Mamud Sesay, was a lawyer. So, excelling at school for me and my two siblings was mandatory. So maybe I am a miracle worker.
What was your childhood like?
Idyllic, especially up to around seven years before I left my country, Sierra Leone, for the UK. Mother was a lecturer of English and Linguistics, so I grew up on a university compass with other academicsâ€™ kids.
We had fun, especially when they didnâ€™t drop us and we had to walk home up some rolling hills. I wanted to be an actress, never really saw myself on TV. Mum wanted me to be a lawyer.
In fact, when I joined Trinity College, Cambridge University, and called to tell her I had opted for English Literature, she screamed down the phone. But she gave up, right now sheâ€™s so proud of me.
Your programme, Inside Africa, is a favourite. Itâ€™s just that more often I see stories about poverty, dying kids, name it. Are we journalists so sad we only see sad stories?
Some stories you cannot avoid because they are breaking, anyway. So in whatever way they break, we will cover them.
Even then, our coverage is balanced. We have had several stories on progress, for instance the Market Place Africa bit about business, African Voices that shows Africans that have spearheaded development. So, that assumption is wrong.
Do you sometimes feel the pressure of representing your continent?
Whatâ€™s usually at the back of my mind is doing a good job that will serve the world. I am proud of representing Africa, but at CNN we look at the bigger picture. That way we keep out biases.
How is your normal day like?
I am usually up by 4:00am, and at work by 5:15am. I read up on what happened while I was asleep, get into lots of discussions about stories, anchor the International Desk news segment, attend editorial meetings, go through stuff with my Inside Africa producer, do brain storming sessions, do some travel, etc. And before I realise it, itâ€™s coming to 10:00pm and I am running to be out of there.
Mich Egwang, your co-host at tomorrowâ€™s event, is the best in the emceeing trade hereâ€¦speaks lots of languages including French and Espanol, heâ€™s funny etc.. Whatâ€™s up your sleeve?
Wow, everyone is telling me I need to have my A-game on to host with Mich. But I have brought him a bag of sweets, so he will allow me to feed off him before I can also turn my â€˜swagâ€™ on. By the time we are done rehearsing, I will have learnt the local languages, which is my forte. I also speak Creon, Sierra Leoneâ€™s official language.
Is it true your dress tore at the event in Durban last year?
Oh, yes it did â€“ thatâ€™s so far my worst moment. I hope it doesnâ€™t tear again tomorrow. They had to sew it up on me.
So which have been your best moments in the trade?
Covering the 2008 presidential elections tops them. I reported from both the Democratic and Republican ends. Also covering President Barrack Obamaâ€™s first address to the U.N General Assembly was spectacular. Plus, of course, the daily Hajj coverage I did from Mecca and Mina during 2009â€™s holly pilgrimage.
On election night, you gave us overnight reportage from John McCainâ€™s headquarters in Arizona. Didnâ€™t you feel like you should be in Chicago, Illinois, where Obamaâ€™s victory party was brewing?
Well, someone had to do that side of the story, so my preferences wouldnâ€™t have mattered, would they?
Tell me about the man in your lifeâ€¦
Letâ€™s just say there is one, and thatâ€™s all.
Whatâ€™s the catch on him?
Heâ€™s nice and takes good care of me.
Walking down the aisle sometime?
I donâ€™t think I have heard him talk about that. Maybe we shall, maybe not.
I know some marriage-friendly Ugandans, can I hook you up?
Nigel, thereâ€™s a man in my life.
my man hasnâ€™t proposed yet