Untold Story of First KBC Journalist and Kenya's Pioneer Commercial Pilot

  • Undated Photo of Shadrack Ole Sainepu First Commercial Pilot in East Africa and KBC Journalist
    Undated Photo of Shadrack Ole Sainepu First Commercial Pilot in East Africa and KBC Journalist
    Ebony Magazine
  • The gangling six-foot-four Maasai tribesman herded his way to stardom and modernity. Shadrack ole Sainepu, a full-blooded Maasai warrior, became one of a few versatile Morans in the country.

    In the late sixties, Sainepu was the talk of town. His high level of adaptability made him become the only African commercial pilot in East Africa. But flying and becoming the first renowned pilot was somehow like a side hustle to him. He was a trained and professional cameraman serving as the chief camera operator at then Voice of Kenya (VOK), and present day Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).

    Sainepu, who was given the nicknamed Loilel by his clan, was born in the Loita plains of Kajiado county. His childhood was spent mostly doing other Maasai boys are known for, herding cattle. Although in his case things were a little bit different as he got an opportunity to attend school.

    Undated Photo of Shadrack Ole Sainepu First Commercial Pilot in East Africa and KBC Journalist
    Undated Photo of Shadrack Ole Sainepu First Commercial Pilot in East Africa and KBC Journalist
    Ebony Magazine

    He was chosen among three other Maasai boys and got admitted to a secondary school in Tanzania, to learn English among other subjects. While in the neighboring country, he sneaked out more than ten times but the village elders kept sending him back. Sainepu, in an earlier interview, stated that Kenyans were not liked in Tanzania and that is why he used to sneak out.

    "The headmaster didn't like us the Maasai because he had to keep cattle in school to provide us with our special diet. He also regarded us as highly irresponsible because we chose to walk around the bush in our blankets after school hours," Sainepu stated.

    The moran warrior later studied at Kenya Polytechnic, graduating circa 1961 with a City and Guilds certificate in electronics certificate. 

    His hard-earned academic credentials caught the eyes of the British colonialist who sponsored him to Rhodesia to train as a film technician and to also further his studies in electronics.

    Having acquired the skills in the UK, Sainepu returned to Kenya. His advanced skills earned him a spot in the Voice of Kenya. There, he became the chief cameraman. He oversaw the operations till VOK transitioned to becoming Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).  

    His passion for flying begun after he covered the launch of a new NGO called United Mission Air Training and Transport (UMATT), whose mission was to supply food and other donations to Kenya’s remote areas.

    His deep desire to fly an airplane compelled him to approach the UMATT director who was a young American and nagged him to teach him how to fly.

    He kept on pestering him until he agreed to teach him. It did not take long before Sainepu clocked the 250 hours of flying experience that were required for a pilot license.

    Thereafter, he started flying on his own. His first assignment was delivering Posta mail to remote outposts of the country, besides occasional miraa-transport errands to Somalia.

    He rose to ranks becoming the first commercial pilot in the whole of the East African region.

    Sainepu further made headlines when he was featured in a top-selling US publication, the Ebony Magazine, in April 1971.

    After all the accolades and wins both in the media industry and the aviation sector, Sainepu went silent. His whereabouts up to date remain unknown.

    Undated Photo of Shadrack Ole Sainepu First Commercial Pilot in East Africa and KBC Journalist
    Undated Photo of Shadrack Ole Sainepu First Commercial Pilot in East Africa and KBC Journalist
    Ebony Magazine