May 31, 2010 – She was shorter than I had imagined, Isha Sesay.
We were waiting to lunch with her at a Nairobi hotel, when she walked in. I could see her through the fuss going on about her, and observed that she never hesitated in her step.
Isha Sesay comes across as incredibly warm but hard to read, with a firm handshake and a wide smile.
She was passing through Nairobi for just one day while on transit to co-host the CNN Africa Journalist Awards 2010 in Kampala, Uganda.
“I’ve never met my co-host (Mich Egwang) but we’ve spoken on the phone,” she states, adding that she had gotten him loads of “Peters” candy.
Isha is a UK citizen with Sierra Leonean parentage and an anchor and reporter for CNN International. She hosts the weekly “Inside Africa” programme – which has recently opened an office in Johannesburg, South Africa, closer to the source of the stories.
Her story as a journalist started in Cambridge University as she was pursuing her English degree.
“I started a newspaper after realising that there were so many issues in the college (Trinity), which needed to be addressed…” she says. “There were so many issues that nobody was talking about.”
At some point she ended up at BBC Scotland, where her first assignment was booking guests!
“We all have to start somewhere,” she laughs. Isha worked at the BBC from 1998 to 2001, before moving to Sky Sports for another three-year stint presenting “Good Morning Sports Fans”. After that she moved to UK broadcaster ITN and then joined CNN in November 2005.
“I was watching TV one day when I decided to apply to join CNN… When they contacted me about the job and I had to move to Atlanta (USA), I called my mom and we spoke for a very long time.”
Isha may be from the UK but her mother, brother and sister still live ‘back home in Sierra Leone’.
She is very close to her mother and keeps her as an integral part of any decision that she makes.
“Sometimes, we would speak for hours, about my interviews and she would give me ideas and advice… I get a lot of inspiration from my mother. She believes that there are no boundaries to what someone can do.”
Isha’s father passed on when she was a little girl, but his impact in her life is still evident.
“Things like being driven, hardwork… My dad let us know that we could always do more. He believed in kindness, politeness, being caring…” she relays, adding that she tries to adopt those virtues in her life.
She comes across as a stronger version of the girl-next-door, but Ms Sesay does not think she is perfect.
“My worst problem is my inability to let things go. I can be very hard on myself. Sometimes, it may be an interview that had some issues, and I just won’t let it go,” she says.
Isha is proud of her cooking though. And says she makes a ‘mean rack of lamb with cous cous’, confessing however that she doesn’t cook as much as she likes. She does get to watch the True Blood and Glee episodes that she misses on TeVo, though! She loves to read as well. Her recent reads are Outlies and Twilight, and she has just started The Audacity to Win.
For Ms Sesay, journalism had always been her agenda. She had often dreamed of being an actress and had even auditioned for MTV, thinking she was ‘very hip’. Apparently MTV didn’t think so and her mom encouraged her to do serious news.
“I know this is my purpose,” Isha confesses, saying that that is ultimately what she wanted to do.
She speaks with pride of her work. Having covered the Hajj Pilgrimage twice, the religious CNN presenter says the sheer size of the celebration never ceases to blow her mind.
She also speaks of the emotion of covering stories in war torn countries like Iraq, and relays her admiration for great leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mr and Mrs Clinton.
Isha is hoping to do some work to lift the education and living standards of Sierra Leoneans and especially girls.
“I want to do something meaningful. At the moment I am looking for a partner…”