Ben Mutua Jonathan Muriithi

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BMJ Muriithi, A US-based Kenyan actor cum journalist

BMJ (Ben Mutua Jonathan) Muriithi (born Jonathan Nyaga on 4 May 1969) is a print, radio and television journalist and actor based in the United States. He is currently the Regional Western Hemisphere International Correspondent and producer for the Swahili Service of Voice of America, a multimedia international broadcasting service funded by the US Government through the Broadcasting Board of Governors. He is also a regional reporter for NTV, one of the Kenya's mainstream media outlets, QTV and the Nation Newspaper, all owned by Nation Media Group (NMG). He previously worked for The Standard as a US correspondent.

Biography[edit]

Muriithi was born in Kanyuambora village, Embu district, Eastern province, Kenya. A Son of Kenyan small scale farmers, the late Sospeter Kironji Mutua and Jane Igoki Kironji, he rose from a relatively modest family background to head one of the most popular drama clubs in Kenya, the Mt. Kenya Theatrix, before moving to the United States.

Early life, School and career[edit]

Muriithi and his now late brother, Stephen Njagi Kironji, started acting in their village church at a very young age. He later joined Kangaru School, Embu, Kenya, from where he graduated in 1986. He later joined a private School in Thika, Kenya. He became the YMCA Drama Club Chaperon in 1988 and later that year, he was elected to head the Youth Department at the Thika YMCA branch. In 1990, he trained as a registration Assistant at Kenya Institute of Surveying and Mapping (KISM) in Ruaraka, Kenya. Upon graduating, Muriithi was hired by the Kenya Government and posted in Eastern Province as a Registration Assistant. While working with the Lands Department at the Eastern Provincial Headquarters in Embu, he joined renowned actor, Joseph Murungu in the newly formed Mt Kenya Theatrix Drama Group under the auspices of the Kenya Red Cross, Embu Branch. While on an Exchange program tour co-sponsored by the Kenya Red Cross Society and the Norwegian Red Cross Society, he enrolled for a certificate course in acting and Photojournalism at Haraldvangen Institute in Norway, graduating in 1992. Upon his graduation, he featured prominently in Kenyan Radio, Television and stage productions, culminating in being appointed the Executive chairman of Mt. Kenya Theatrix Club in 1995. Some of the productions he featured in included Athol Fugard's Sizwe Bansi Is Dead; Joseph Murungu's So Sweet a Bite; and a few of Kenyatta University's Professor Francis Imbuga's published works. During his days in Nairobi, he featured in some high profile TV commercials, including one by then Celtel (later Zain and now 'Airtell'), one of Africa's leading telecommunication companies.

Artistic activity[edit]

Although he may not be in the league of Kenya's top actors like Paul Onsongo, John Sibi-Okumu or Njeri Osaak, Muriithi has nevertheless contributed immensely to the Kenyan media and theatre scene. Earlier in his career, he traversed the country with members of Mt. Kenya Theatrix, sensitising people on the dangers of HIV/AIDS through Community Theater under the auspicies of Plan International, a non-governmental humanitarian organisation famed for its social empowerment programs. During his High School days, he was named the entertainer of the year – class of 1986 – for his wit and humour in his weekend comedies.

Muriithi produced and presented the arts segment of John Obong'o Jr.'s Kenya Beat, a popular Kenyan radio program aired on Monday mornings. He was also a co-presenter of Dunia Wiki hii, a news roundup program produced by Kenya's renowned radio personality, Hamisi Themor. Besides his duties at KBC, Muriithi produced and presented "Biashara Ndogondogo", a popular radio program aired on Saturdays by Nairobi-based Nation Radio, which is owned by Nation Media Group. While working with the media houses, he simultaneously served as a registration assistant with Kenya's department of lands in both Embu and Nairobi. In 2002, he moved to Georgia, US where he is currently studying Communication and International Relations at Atlanta Metro College. He is a correspondent and News editor with a US-based Kenyan Newspaper, Kenya Empowerment Newspaper. He is also a Syndicated correspondent with Kenya Broadcasting Corporation and a reporter for Minneapolis-based Mshale Newspaper. Before leaving Kenya, he sat on the provincial adjudication board for Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival. Mureithi is married to Edith N. Muriithi who is a Medical Assistant and a student at Georgia Perimeter College. His daughter, Carole Wawira Muriithi (born 4 September 1992) is currently a High School student in Hanoi, Vietnam, in which city her mother, Fiona Clare, works for CARE International.

In September 2009, he was contracted by Voice of America (VOA) as a regional stringer. In mid-2010, the Nation Media Group hired him as a regional reporter for their flagship TV Station, NTV on contract basis.

In 2007, he was among the first journalists to shed light on the departure of CNN's Africa Bureau Chief, Jeff Koinange, from the giant media organisation. On 23 November 2008, his article, 'An Africa to-do list for Obama' was published in Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the main Newspaper in the State of Georgia, US. The same was later published by The Washington Post, the oldest DC newspaper with the largest circulation in the City.

Activism[edit]

In the early 1990s, Muriithi teamed up with fellow thespians, including Packson Ngugi and a group of activists led by firebrand Kenyan politician and now Cabinet Minister James Orengo, to protest the government's intention to sell the Kenya National Theatre building to the adjacent Norfolk Hotel against the wishes of the artists. The idea was consequently shelved.

In October 2009, Muriithi received an award from Kenya's ambassador to the US for what the Kenyan Embassy in Washington DC termed "his Professional support and cooperation with the Embassy". It was presented amid pomp and color at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia by HE. Peter Ogego, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary.

Controversy[edit]

In the early 1990s, Muriithi declined a job offer as a newscaster on the government run Kenya Broadcasting Corporation on principle. In a Newspaper interview carried by The Standard, a leading Kenyan Daily, on 5 September 1995, the journalist said he could not take up the job as a Swahili News anchor owing to his opposition in the way the media house was carrying out its business. "It is a mouth piece for President Daniel Arap Moi and his cronies and much as I would love to serve my country in that respect, my conscience does not allow me," he was quoted as saying. And in opinion pieces carried by the local dailies in the mid-1990s, he lodged a scathing attack on President Moi's administration terming the second president of Kenya as "one of the worst dictators the world has seen in recent times". Observers have often wondered whether the journalist has any particular political leaning since he is equally critical of the current Kenyan President, Mwai Kibaki. In a recent radio interview on VOA which broadcasts from Washington DC, he quipped; "Kibaki's legacy is indelibly tainted by his association with the Moi administration. How does he explain his total silence as Moi's administration killed and tortured Kenyans with impunity while he (Kibaki) comfortably sat in the same government, holding powerful positions, including that of the Vice-President of the republic of Kenya?

In an interview on VOA on 26 September 2010, Muriithi criticised president Kibaki for what he termed "open nepotism" saying almost all the key positions in his wing of the coalition were held by his tribesmen, save for a few held by his close cousins, the Ameru. He was equally critical of Prime minister, Raila Amolo Odinga. "Why is his sister the Consul General in Los Angeles yet she is a PHD in Chemistry? Don't you think he should try to at least conceal the open nepotism?" he asked the VOA interviewer.

Asked what he thought of the founding president of Kenya as the country marked its 48th birthday, Muriithi said that Kenyatta laid the foundation for the official corruption which is so rampant in Kenya today. "He perfected tribalism and amassed great wealth (including vast tracts of land) while ignoring the real heroes, the freedom fighters some of who lost their lives, property and dignity as they fought for independence," he said.

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