Leonard Mambo Mbotela is a legend and a hero among Kenyans. He has been working in the media industry for more than 50 years and is a well-respected radio host for the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). Mbotela is admired by many for his class and photographic memory, which makes him a living history book of Kenya.
Mbotela is known for hosting the longest-running show in the Kenyan media industry’s history, “Je, Huu Ni Ungwana?” and has witnessed some of the most important events in history. For instance, he was present when Kenya gained independence, when Harambee stars was a team to be reckoned with, and when the Kenya air force attempted to overthrow Moi’s government, among other historic events.
Despite being advanced in years, Mbotela is still healthy and strong. In an interview with Jeff Koinange on JKL Show, he revealed that exercise, quitting smoking and drinking, and faith in God are what keep him going.
Mbotela was born in 1940 in Freretown, Mombasa, to an Anglican family of eight children. His father, James Mbotela, was a pioneer teacher in East Africa, while his mother, Ida, worked towards community development. He married Alice Mwikali in 1970, and they have three children: Ida, Jimmy, and George.
Mbotela attended Freretown Primary School, Buxton, and Kitui High School. His career started as a trainee reporter of the East African Standard in Nakuru, and he later worked for Baraza, a Swahili newspaper owned by Standard, as a writer and reporter.
Mbotela’s career as a sports commentator began when Steven Kikumu took him to his first sports event. He did an excellent job despite it being his first time and quickly became a renowned sports commentator. One of his most memorable events was when Harambee stars won against Uganda during Idi-Amin’s reign.
Mbotela was head of national and vernacular services when the air force attempted to overthrow Moi’s government on July 31st, 1982. The armed goons led by the air force boss, Mr. Ochuka, paid him a visit at 4 AM with guns pointed at his head, leading him to KBC broadcasting house and forcing him to announce that Moi’s government had been overthrown. After a while, the goons fled, and the general came to his rescue. Mbotela had to go live again and declare that Moi’s government was still in place. He was later forced to appear before a court martial to determine whether he was part of the plan, but the British judge declared him innocent, and he left without a backward glance.
Mbotela was appointed part of the presidential press unit in 1982, and after serving for a while, he was asked to go back to KBC. Later on, he was called back to be part of PPU again until he resigned in 1997. Throughout all these years, Mbotela never stopped recording “Jee, Huu Ni Ungwana?” He would record and send the pieces to KBC. He is still part of KBC but also performs “Zilizopendwa” with his Congolese friends at Club Vibro in Nairobi.