Top 5 Safari Destinations in Rwanda

Rwanda is one of the upcoming destinations in Africa. Many travelers visit Rwanda for gorilla trekking. Looking to taking a safari in Rwanda? Here are the five best destinations in Rwanda;

1.Volcanoes National park

A gorilla tracking destination, found just two and a half hours north of Kigali city equipped with luxury and budget accommodation facilities for travellers heading for the memorable Gorilla safari Expedition. Rwanda is among the three countries in the world where you can trek to see the majestic mountain Gorillas up close- a truly once a life time Experience.

2. Lake Kivu

Kivu is one of Africa’s Great lakes with deep emerald green waters and shoreline of the magnificent mountains and fishing villages. The lake is dotted with un in habited islands that can be explored by boats and provide the perfect location to relax and enjoy the serene peace of the country side with ambience.

3. Nyungwe National park

This is one of the oldest rainforest found anywhere on the African continent. The lush green forest is a home to over 300 bird species and 13 primate species including Chimpanzee, Colobus monkeys, Grey-cheeked mangabey ,Golden Monkey, Owl-faced monkey , Three species of bush baby, Olive baboon ,Red -tailed monkey, Ruwenzori colobus, Silver monkey , L’Hoest’s monkey, Vervet monkey ,Owl-faced monkey & others. You can enjoy the elevated canopy trails along a 70metre high walk away from exhilarating views of the forest.

4. Akagera National Park

This is Rwanda’s largest National park and a home to diversity of Plants & animals.The lakes papyrus, swamp; savannah plains & rolling highlands make Akagera an incredible scenic reserve. The park is a home to Exclusive shoebill stork & other bird species, elephants, leopards, antelopes, giraffes, lions, Bufalloes among others. That will make your wildlife excursion during game drive more thrilling in Africa hence making Rwanda the great travel country in the entire world.

Explore Uganda, the Land of Adventure

When thinking of an adventure safari to Africa, Uganda, the Pearl of Africa should be number one on your list. The Pearl of Africa combines countless of Adventure safari activities that are simply amazing, fantastic, memorable and life changing. We have come up of the list of Uganda safaris you can opt for and yet there are many others.

Source of the Nile White Water Rafting: Very fantastic experience, imagine Level 5 on any river in the world! Uganda offers rafting up to level 5 rafting on the famous river Nile. There simply is no other place in the world where you raft like you can in Uganda on a river that flows south to north and is one of the longest rivers in the world – there is no other place in Africa you can do that and in Uganda you can raft from mild to wild.

Gorilla Trekking: Uganda is home to nearly half of the mountain gorillas. Therefore a safari to Bwindi Forest one of the best places to go gorilla trekking and Mgahinga National Park is among the best adventures to take in Uganda. Meeting the mountain gorillas in the wild is one of the privileges you will enjoy during an adventure safari through Uganda.

Kayaking: The Perl of Africa doesn’t only offer marvelous white water rafting, but also kayaking in ways that go unrivaled in East Africa and once again on the historic River Nile at Jinja. Once again you can choose kayaking from mild to wild.

River Surfing: You probably did not know such an activity existed – but it does in Uganda on the River Nile with its fabulous rapids that certainly would be a most adventurous challenge even to the more experienced ocean wave surfer.

Jet Boat up the Wild River Nile: Speed through rapids in a 450 horsepower jet boat.

Horseback Riding Safari: Have an amazing experience riding a horse through of the open savannah of Lake Mburo National Park – viewing the wildlife such as zebras, buffaloes, eland antelopes and others.

Sports fishing for Nile Perch: Enyoj a private safari where you will catch fish (up to 300 plus pounds) in the second largest lake in the world – Lake Victoria – or even more spectacular just below one of the most powerful falls in the world – Murchison Falls. (Often fish over 300 pounds are caught here)

Hike in the Jungle: Not only can you go chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Rainforest Jungle but you can also hike through the jungle for several days – a very different activity that can easily be organized and participants find it most thrilling.

Climb the Volcanoes of Uganda: Uganda has four extinct volcanoes to climb – all of them offer you the fabulous Afro-Montane vegetation with its Lobelias and Giant Heather – bamboo forests on the way up and fabulous views in the case of Mgahinga Gorilla Park of Rwanda, Congo and vast portions of Uganda. You can also climb what was the tallest mountain in Africa before it blew its top and was a bit shortened – majestic Mount Elgon.

Climb and Hike the Rwenzori Mountains: The Rwenzori Mountains – the tallest mountain range in Africa – climb to its peaks or hike in the foothills – simply an awesome adventurous experience and found only in Uganda.

How to Travel Uganda on Budget

Travel in Uganda has always been cheap and affordable depending on traveler’s itinerary, tour activities and mission of travel. Many travelers spend less and save much on most Uganda safaris holidays including hanging out, wildlife, culture, mountain climbing and sightseeing. One needs only $10- $200 per day to explore the country and is able to fulfill each travel dreams ending it in memories of joy and happiness. However those who take safaris to famous Uganda attractions and parks can still enjoy on the same budget per day though sometimes budget changes due to expensive tour activities like Gorilla trekking which cost $600 per day’s trek. However, travelers still save by visiting Bwindi forest or Mgahinga National Park in the months of April, May and November when Uganda promotes gorilla tourism hence cutting gorilla permit prices to less than the usual price of $600.

Cost of Transport in Uganda

Uganda has multiple transport means that travelers use to connect to different places both with the city and on safari. Public transport is available for every one found in recognized taxi and bus parks in major city centers and the cost range between $1-$30.Those interested in private transport car hire is available and hiring a self drive vehicle in Uganda goes between $40- $200 dollars depending on vehicle type f your interest. Many tourists to Uganda opt for self drive services or book tailor made Uganda safaris and a particular travel agency takes the responsibility of arranging a full package holiday with transport inclusive. However, if your interest is to connects to different tourist attractions, better to hire a vehicle or connect by bus using any convenient bus company  among which include Bismarkan coaches,Gaaga bus company, Global coaches, Jaguar executive coaches, Kampala coaches, Swift coaches, Uganda post bus, Gaaga coaches, Link buses, Kampala coaches etc.

Cost of Uganda accommodations

Nearly all attractions, cities and local villages have several accommodation facilities that suit every visitor’s budget. Hotels, Apartments, lodges, motels, guesthouses, hostels, safari lodges, camp sites among others  is what you will find in every place you happen t visit in Uganda. All Uganda accommodations are based on bed and breakfast or full board depending on the client’s interest. Accommodation prices are negotiable especially during the low season months. However in general Uganda lodges and accommodations cost $5- 300 for budget and mid-range option while luxury accommodations range between $500- $1000 per night. They provide comfort and desired hospitality to visitors year round. Otherwise, accommodation is available within close proximity to tourist attractions, main roads, city centers and bus terminals.

Tips to Avoid Accidents on Self Drive in Uganda

Since it is a sudden happening, no body deliberately sets out a car rental to have an accident. Car rental companies in Uganda always wish travelers to have safe journeys. This is done to give self- drivers and tour guides the courage and confidence on Ugandan roads. When you are with a car rental in Uganda, below are steps to avoid and minimize accident.

As you leave the car rental station in Uganda, make sure that the tires of the car  have enough air in it and no tire puncture is found within. Start the engine and ensure that all the warming lights are off. Make sure that the car is properly inspected  mechanically to avoid accidents that may be caused due to poor mechanics in  the car

On the road, the most common area where accidents occur you need to be very careful with the rest of the drivers.  Everybody on the road must be respected so as to create harmony among the traffic users. Always assume that the person in the next car may make a mistake at any time. This can include making an unexpected lane change, a sudden stop, or a sudden turn. Using your mirrors and peripheral vision can help you scan the road for these unexpected dangers. In order to do this well, you need to know where all cars are around you. If someone looks like an unsafe driver, it is best just to stay away from them as much as possible. When you drive with your rental car you need to keep an eye on those around you. You can be the best driver on the road, but you can never be sure how good those around you are.

Speeding and Distance

Many people have accidents because they are not following the rules of the road, such as speeding. Speeding alone can increase the risk of an accident and doesn’t help you get anywhere much faster. You also need to keep a safe distance between your rental car and those around you. The faster you are going, the more distance you need to stop.

Distracted Driving

When you are here with your rental car, it is illegal to use any handheld electronic device when driving. Distracted driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving, and is a completely preventable way of avoiding an accident.

Right of Ways

When you enter an intersection with your rental car, you should always look both ways, especially if you are the first person who is entering the intersection after a red light. You never know when someone will try to make it though a yellow or when someone is not paying attention. If you approach an emergency vehicle at the side of the road with their lights flashing, you need to give them the right of way. Pull over if they are approaching, or move to the left if they are parked on the side of the road.

Planning a Gorilla Trek in Rwanda

Gorilla tracking should be one of the awesome and inspiring moments that one shouldn’t miss in life his/ her life time. In Rwanda, the cost of a single gorilla tracking ticket is US$750 with a difference of only US$150 from that of Uganda – which is US$600 per person. In Rwanda, 6 – 8 people can visit a given gorilla family per day, in rough estimation, Rwanda can also take about 80 visitors/ tourists per day.

Mountain gorillas in Rwanda are mostly found in Volcanoes National Park situated in Musanze district (formerly called Ruhengeri). The park covers about 125 km² of incredibly scenic forest-covered mountains, as well as six volcanoes and it is part of the larger Virunga conservation area. The park’s gorillas are uniquely known as the most wholly habituated in their families. They mostly prefer staying in bamboos than dense forests; this fate makes photograph lovers easily take photos with a very clear view of these 98% human giants.

Rwanda is chiefly enriched with about 10 well habituated groups of the internationally known rare mountain gorillas. Most of them can be sighted in Volcanoes National Park (Parc National des Volcans) and the other roam through Mgahinga National park in Uganda and the Virunga National park in the Democratic Republic of Congo. PNV is where Dian Fossey devoted all her life to study about and discover the behavior of these then highly poached and mistreated animals.

Where to Go Gorilla Tracking

There are eight gorilla families that are officially open for gorilla safaris in Rwanda. These groups are open for tourists all the year round. These include;

The susa group; This is the highly populated gorilla group with about 39+ mountain gorillas Including about 3 silverbacks, 5 black backs, 8 females, 12 youths and 3 infants. This group has the biggest male and can often be up to 5 hours trek a day. If you get a chance tracking this group, it will become your finest and memorable moment with wildlife.

The amahoro group; recorded to be with a total of 15 gorillas with 1silver back, 5 females, 1 black back, 3 youths and 2 infants.

Sabinyo group; This is recorded to be with a total population of 9 gorillas comprised of 2 silverbacks, 2 youths, 2 infants and 3 females

Umubano group; This group has a total population of about 7 gorillas with 1 silverback, 1 youth, 2 females and 1 infant.

Group 13; This group consists of an overall total of 10 gorillas with 1 silverback (leader), 4 females, 1 youth and 4 infants.

Don’t let you tour be cancelled because of visa worries, in Rwanda almost everything in readily solved, visas are available on the border and at the national airport at a general cost of US$60 valid for 30 days.

Careful, don’t radicalise Muslims

Over a week ago, Kenyan authorities deported Jamaican-born Muslim cleric Abu Ameenah Bilal Phillips, invariably demonised by the media as a “radical”. The Qatar-based preacher was scheduled to meet Muslim leaders and address an education conference in Nairobi. He was ordered back on arrival at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Dr Bilal was deported because the government considers him a security threat to the country. But Muslim leaders, including politicians from the Coast, protested the expulsion.

“It is shocking that someone of Dr Bilal’s calibre, the uncontroversial preacher respected worldwide, can be treated in the manner he was treated on Wednesday bearing in mind that he once visited Kenya in 2009 and his sermons were of great benefit in fostering good understanding and forging closer relations between Muslims and non-Muslims”, the Muslim Human Rights Forum said.

Interestingly, Dr Bilal went on to address Muslims in Nairobi over Skype. The power of communications technology!

“I advised against any violent demonstrations which may cost the loss of lives over this minor issue,” he was quoted in international media as saying. “I further advised the Muslim community to take the necessary steps to combat ‘Islamophobia’.”

“I also reminded the community that malpractices and unwarranted violence on the part of Muslims have also contributed to the global stigmatisation of Muslims and Islam. Thus, proper knowledge of authentic Islamic teachings is necessary to combat these deviations and to put Muslims back in a position to contribute positively to the world community.”

That doesn’t sound like the tongue of a “radical” Muslim preacher, or does it?

Well, what exactly is the truth surrounding this man’s expulsion from Kenya? Whose story do we believe about the deportation of Dr Bilal: the government’s or Muslim leaders’?

A neutral, alert watchdog should have tried to tell Kenyans who Dr Bilal really is and whether his deportation was justified. What did the government have against him? That watchdog is, of course, the media.

Dr Bilal has been denied entry into some Western countries. Was it on that basis that Kenya acted against him, or did the authorities have more concrete reasons touching on national security? If the latter, have the local Muslim leaders who Dr Bilal is in touch with been questioned by the security forces? Why didn’t the government stop the speech Bilal delivered via Skype if the man’s preaching could indeed endanger our security?

But, unfortunately, the Fourth Estate, other than merely reporting the deportation of the “radical” Muslim preacher, largely ignored the bigger story. Now Kenyans don’t know whom to believe between the government and Muslim leaders.

But The Bulletin suspects that most Muslims do not have this difficulty. They are likely to have accepted their leaders’ interpretation of the whole saga: that there were no good enough security grounds to deport Dr Bilal.

What would stop Muslims from thinking that they are being persecuted by the state because of their religious beliefs? Who would blame them for seeing this as yet another instance of official Islamophobia? Would they be wrong to conclude that even the media has aligned itself to the state against Muslims?

Can anyone imagine a situation where a visiting foreign Christian cleric is deported and the media gives the saga scant attention? The matter would most likely receive saturation coverage.

Let’s admit it, press conferences called all over the place by the men and women of God prophesying fire and brimstone on Kenya would get maximum exposure. There would even be live TV coverage of processions of Christians cursing the government. Public prayers would be held around the country in support of the cleric.

But not when it is about a Muslim preacher. Or even a Muslim human rights activist like Al Amin Kimathi who spent a year in a Ugandan prison over allegations of involvement in terrorism, only to be released without charge!

The reason for this indifference is simple. Ever since the West launched its global war on terrorism, Islam has more or less been conflated with terror – even in the media. The most glaring violations of the basic freedoms of Muslims can always be justified on grounds of national security.

As a matter of fact, it is the primary duty of the government to guarantee the security and peace of its people. The state does not do this out of goodwill. Citizens pay for security as a common good.

And as we well know, terrorist activities have mostly been perpetrated by certain extremists invoking the name of Islam. But great care must be taken not to stigmatise a world religion and not to profile and persecute its believers in the name of national security.

The war on terrorism cannot be won without involving Muslims. But how does the state hope to secure the goodwill and active collaboration of the majority of peaceful Muslims when it is perceived to be unfairly targeting the whole faith group already?

A case like that of Dr Bilal, if not handled sensitively, could easily worsen the sense of grievance among Muslims and stoke radicalism. Remember that every religion has both moderate and extremist segments among its believers.

The media does not help matters by giving fleeting attention to the concerns of Muslims, or by seeming unconcerned in the face of apparent violation of basic rights of Muslims.

By far the best news coverage of Muslim issues in the Kenyan media is found in the Star newspaper – in-depth reporting and analysis are, of course, lacking across the board. But most reports in the Coast section of the Star are about Muslims. Yet Muslims elsewhere in the country outside the Coast do and say important things that deserve media attention.

We run a real risk of worsening the feeling of exclusion and persecution among Muslims in Kenya. A ‘persecution complex’ is what partly feeds religious extremism. It is very dangerous.

 

Interrogating ‘development’

About a month ago, the Star newspaper carried a short news report about plans by the Catholic Church to build a huge, multi-million-shilling water project in Meru County. The dam will supply thousands of households and institutions with water for domestic and other uses. The church is already fundraising locally and abroad to finance the project, the Star reported.

A church official or two offered justifications for the project. We hoped the Star would ask their writer to do a comprehensive and analytical report on the proposed project. We are still waiting.

What will the project entail in terms of local resources? Whose land will be used? Who is expected to benefit and how? What will be the environmental and livelihoods implications of the project for the people living around it? And so on.

Those are important questions. We in the media need to understand that mega-projects put up by governments or other actors in the name of ‘development’ are rarely without serious consequences for people living in those areas. It is now an established fact that not every ‘development’ project actually brings development. Ultimately, development is about people, not impressive projects.

There is plenty of development literature about projects particularly in the ‘third world’ that have been harmful to the local people, especially the poor. We will cite just one example.

The Ethiopian government, which last week you heard will be exporting electricity to Kenya, is building what will become the biggest dam in Africa on River Omo. The Omo flows for nearly 1000km and drops 1,600m from its source to its end point in Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, which lies wholly within Kenya.

The Omo basin has great hydropower potential and already Ethiopia has built two dams on it. The third dam, called Gibe III (Gibe is the other name for River Omo), will be 240m high, the tallest in Africa. It will cost Ethiopia $1.7 billion.

Gibe III will double Ethiopia’s current generating capacity, which will then greatly exceed domestic demand. It is planned that up to 50 percent of the electricity generated will be exported to neighbouring countries, including Kenya. Two more hydropower dams will eventually complete the Omo ‘cascade’.

But that is the end of the nice part. Studies have shown that Gibe III will have a massive devastating impact on the downstream population by regulating the highly seasonal flow of the Omo, thereby ending the annual flood. This will directly affect all residents of the Omo flood plain and delta – around 100,000 people – who depend on the flood for their agricultural and pastoralist activities.

Once the dam is completed, there will be no annual flood. It will now be possible to develop large-scale commercial irrigation schemes, which are planned to occupy over 200,000 hectares of the Lower Omo. That will mean displacing many of the people from their existing farmland and grazing areas.

Since the Omo supplies 90 per cent of the water entering Lake Turkana, irrigation on this scale will significantly reduce the level of the lake and increase its salinity. This in turn will adversely affect the livelihoods of another 300,000 or so people who live in northern Kenya and who depend on the lake for pastoralism and fishing.

Who then will be the beneficiaries of this ‘development’ project? The people with big money, of course (industrialists, commercial farmers, etc) – at the expense of hundreds of thousands of local people in Ethiopia and Kenya.

And ‘development’ projects like Gibe III are often touted as poverty alleviation strategies!

If you think the local people will benefit from the sale of electricity and large-scale commercial agriculture, then you probably know nothing about the curse of oil in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. Or flower farming in Naivasha, Kenya.

Another mindboggling project in Africa was unveiled last week by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir. The Sh2 trillion Lamu Port is billed as one of the most ambitious infrastructural feats ever undertaken in Africa.

“Lamu Port is a blessing to the region”, Nation declared in an editorial. The massive project is expected to contribute hugely to economic development of eastern Africa.

But mentioned only in passing in the excited media coverage of the project last week are concerns about the environment and compensation of local people who will lose their land and livelihoods. Local human rights groups and community-based organisations have protested against the project in vain, as the government has reiterated it will ensure fair play.

The Standard merely listed those concerns (a detailed report on these was surely needed!): “failure to conduct an environmental impact assessment and mitigation plan, lack of community participation and consultation, threats to traditional nature-based livelihoods and the failure to recognise local individual, community and public ownership of land.”

“At the same time, the Lamu County Council Planning Committee refused to approve the project, citing lack of information.”

Are these minor concerns? If the governments that are implementing this project don’t want to listen to the local people, who is this ‘development’ project meant for?

It is for big finance. Small people can be ignored. Kibaki said the project has the support of “Comesa, the East African Community, SADC, the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation.” They are the ones that matter most? What about the fears expressed by the local people?

And the media doesn’t seem to realise that there is a serious problem here. Has the media also become part of big finance? Has it become complicit in the fraudulent rhetoric of ‘development’?

 

Which Press Freedom Day?

The Standard Group last week marked the sixth anniversary of the evil attack on its premises by state sponsored mercenaries to silence it.

As fate would have it, this year’s anniversary fell in the same week with the burial of Mr. John Njoroge Michuki, the man who, as Internal Security Minister, ordered, justified, sanctioned, blessed, or at least should have known in advance about, what is arguably the worst attack on media freedom in Kenya.

As has become a tradition at SG, the Mombasa Road-based media house organised a day of reflection on the extremely important theme of media freedom.

That was laudable. The Bulletin joins SG in demanding that the government return all the equipment that its agents confiscated from the media house and explain to the people of Kenya who carried out the attack and why. It should also compensate SG for the losses suffered.

That would be justice. Government, contrary to the Michuki Doctrine, is not a snake. It is put together by the people and must be accountable to them. It has no other reason for being.

Back to the anniversary festivities. SG has, for lack of a better word, a peculiar way of doing things. On Friday, 2 March, The Standard ran an editorial titled, “Let’s water the tree of world Press freedom.”

“Friday is a birthday of sorts for members of the Fourth Estate. Termed World Press Freedom Day, it was established in 1991 by the United Nations General Assembly “to celebrate the fundamental principles of Press freedom, to evaluate Press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.”

And on and on it went… What was that editorial about? SG’s Press Freedom Day or the World Press Freedom Day? The latter is marked annually on May 3. And Standard editors know that.

“Many progressive nations have recognised Press freedom as fundamental human rights (sic) and on which all other freedoms can be safely anchored. Each year there is also a special theme for the day. This year the theme is New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies,” the editorial rumbled on.

Not a word about SG’s own anniversary! Did the paper want to appropriate World Press Freedom Day for its own interest, or did it genuinely confuse the two days?

A clarification is needed. The Standard must be accountable. It is the only way newspapers build their most important asset: credibility.

And then on Saturday, the paper carried a two-page spread about the anniversary. There were quotes and pictures of 14 SG journalists, yes 14, under the heading, “Threats to media and individual journalists from the mouths of the men and women who cover the world.”

Robert Wanyonyi, Esther Ingolo, Mohammed Ali, Kwamboka Oyaro, Katua Nzile, Lilian Aluanga….

They cover “the world” indeed.

 

Multi-media “patriotism” project

In a week when the spectre of ethnic violence reared its ugly head again in Muhoroni, the chairman of the National Integration and Cohesion Commission Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia made the astounding claim that national reconciliation is on course.

In an opinion piece in The Star, Dr Kibunjia said his commission has been successful in combating hate speech, as evidenced by the prosecution of three politicians, including an assistant minister, over alleged inflammatory remarks made during campaigns in the run-up to the referendum on the constitution in 2010.

The truth is that the case against MPs Wilfred Machage, Fred Kapondi and political activist Anne Nyagitha-Miller was thrown out of court on technical grounds. That case can hardly be cited as proof that Kibunjia and his people are hard at work.

In his piece, Dr Kibunjia never bothered to respond to widespread public concerns about the content of incendiary speeches delivered by politicians at the so-called prayer rallies. Or their opponents responding with similar venom.

Instead, Kibunjia announced yet another project on patriotism called ‘Kenya Kwanza Campaign’.

According to Kibunjia, the new initiative will be “a multi-media patriotism drive that seeks to promote national identity, patriotism and national values as outlined in the Constitution. All these efforts, and more, are aimed at making sure that Kenya never stares into the dark abyss it did in 2008 again.”

Good grief! How many more of these “patriotism” drives are we going to see? Months back, Mary Kamonye of Brand Kenya announced just such a campaign. We saw the deluge of “nitakuwepo” ads on TV and in the newspapers. What did the drive achieve?

People, we are losing money! Please, Dr Kibunjia, don’t talk about another “patriotism” project. Don’t. Just continue writing PR op-eds.

 

A lesson in composition

The KCSE results released last Wednesday showed that performance in English remains poor. A specialist in the subject interviewed by Nation attributed this to widespread use of that lazy linguistic mongrel called Sheng’ and the rise of social media, where no one attempts to use the standard form of any language.

A good example of bad English was in an editorial published by Nation on Saturday. Yes, Nation. The piece was titled, ‘Bad news in Aids fight.’ The editorial started thus:

“The revelation by the National Aids Control Council that more that Sh300 million meant for Aids programmes have been returned to the Treasury is quite disturbing.”

The problem with this sentence, as grammarians would point out, is number. Money, no matter how huge the amount, always takes the singular form of verbs. So, it is “Sh300 million…has been returned to the Treasury”, not “have”.

The same editorial had yet another example of poor language use: verbosity. “Instead of disbursing funds to many disparate units, they should be consolidated and channelled though a few but effective units that can deliver.”

There are many redundant words in that sentence. Economical use of words is a great discipline in writing. Why waste words? It wastes a reader’s time and compromises clarity.

That sentence should have been edited to read as follows: “Instead of disbursing funds to disparate units, they should be consolidated and channelled through a few effective ones.” Five words less. It can even be better edited.

And a Standard story (March 3, 2012, p.4) started: “Her face coiled in anger as she followed the news bulletin in a local television channel.” Anyone seen a “coiled” face?

So you can imagine the kind of compositions kids write!

 

Quote of the week

And “last but not least” here is something the media in Kenya really needs to chew on. The Bulletin and others have pointed this out a thousand times already, but it bears repeating until the media gatekeepers begin to hate themselves for it:

“The press – print and electronic – acts as if Kenya belongs to 10 political leaders. You can’t turn on the TV, radio or read a newspaper without hearing or seeing the same 10 politicians. These people suck up all the oxygen in the country thanks to the press. The press doesn’t seem to know that Kenya has 37 million people.

“The press should pay attention to new faces in politics. Why keep on building the same tribal chauvinists who have nothing new to offer?”

That was Distinguished Professor of Law Makau Mutua, a columnist in the Sunday Nation.

Anyone who wants to comment on the story?

Coverage Fit for a Slum

A mighty fire breaks out in a Nairobi slum on a chilly Monday morning. People are burning down to ashes and bones. Their meagre possessions are up in flames. There is utter helplessness. Rescue operations get underway but the death toll is rising. TV stations alternate between live transmission of the disaster and airing entertainment programmes: music, soaps and movies…

That evening during the seven o’clock news bulletin, a Citizen TV reporter wonders quite patronizingly why Kenyans have failed to learn from previous catastrophes and continue to mindlessly engage in behaviour that exposes them to death and injury.

The conclusion the media – not just Citizen TV – seems to have drawn is that the poor are to blame for the misfortunes that befall them. Practically all the news reports took this view – except a news feature in the Daily Nation by Murithi Mutiga. Nation Special Projects Editor and columnist Macharia Gaitho best captured this thinking.

In a column titled, ‘Don’t blame government for slum inferno, lay it at door of impunity’, Gaitho argued that, not only did the residents of Sinai start the tragedy by trying to steal leaking oil, but they have also for years resisted government efforts to relocate them. He did not say to where.

Here are Mr. Gaitho’s exact words: ‘Today, let us not blame the government. Let us not point the finger at the ruling classes. In the wake of the Sinai disaster, we must examine our own sense of entitlement, impunity and greed. Nothing else can explain why adults of sound mind would rush headlong into a race for spilt petrol in total disregard of the obvious dangers. Nothing else can explain why people in their right senses would insist on living atop an oil pipeline.’

The very next day, Karanja Njoroge who writes the ‘Point Blank’ page in the Standard blamed the Sinai tragedy on negligence on the part of Kenya Pipeline Company and greed. “We are a greedy lot, and most likely won’t learn from this disaster where some died clutching gallons of petrol.”

And in an editorial on Thursday about the fire tragedy and the death of over 20 people from poisonous moonshine, Nation suggested that Kenyans (read the poor) are suicidal and that there is nothing anyone can do about it. “Sometimes, one can be forgiven for throwing up one’s hands in despair because it appears Kenyans have a collective death wish.”

Well, is it really greed, impunity and a death wish that account for these tragedies among the country’s poor people? But before that, let’s state here that it is simply not true that all those people – men, women and children – who perished or suffered serious injuries at Sinai were actually in the “race for spilt petrol in total disregard of the obvious dangers”, as Mr. Gaitho wrote. It is so callous to generalize.

There surely must be people lying in hospital beds or in the morgue who had no idea how the fire started or who weren’t “clutching gallons of petrol”, an unquestionable sign of greed according to Mr. Njoroge of The Standard. Yet Gaitho and Njoroge – and the media generally – have no problem characterizing all poor people as a mass of greedy dimwits.

And this is the real point that the media has missed when covering such disasters: we live in a country where some people are so poor they would not hesitate to engage in extremely risky actions out of desperation to get something for themselves and their families.

What the media is often quick to condemn as Kenyans’ “greed”, “impunity”, “love for free things” or “a collective death wish” is actually the consequence of grinding poverty arising from years of looting and mismanagement of national resources. There is also the failure of the state to protect the people by securing certain potentially dangerous areas. Why haven’t we seen slums built inside military barracks or at State House?

The slum dwellers are mostly school leavers or drop-outs clinging by the skin of their teeth on the walls of Kenya’s woefully unjust socio-economic train. Their parents were not rich enough to take them to the best schools and colleges or to give them anything meaningful with which to start adult life.

You have heard public officials calling for ‘civic education’ to discourage Kenyans from trying to collect spilt oil at accident scenes. You have heard sermons against the consumption of deadly brews as well.

But The Bulletin guarantees that no amount of ‘civic education’ or preaching is going to stop poor people from living dangerously. If the oil leak in Sinai happens in an area occupied by well-off people, the chances of a fire killing 100 people are almost nil. Death from poisonous alcoholic brews always happens in the slums or in some rural village.

Why is it that only poor people die in this manner? Are they simply suicidal, ignorant or greedy?

Unlike what Mr. Gaitho said – and the rest of the media implied – the government is fully to blame for the Sinai disaster and all the others. Why are some people in this country so poor that they have to take serious risks to stay alive while others live in excess comfort?

Are the millions of people living dangerously in the slums of Nairobi entitled to basic services in the city? It is claimed that the people of Sinai rejected attempts by the government to move them. Did the government really have a plan to move them, or it only wanted to evict them?

On what grounds could anyone argue that people who don’t have big money should not live in the city? How did the slums come about in the first place? How can we say that ‘Kenya belongs to all Kenyans’ when wide socio-economic inequalities have made it impossible for millions of citizens to live decently in their own capital city?

And now, what comprehensive plans does the government have for the poor people living in slums, beyond the sickening promises to foot the costs of burial and medical care for those burned in Sinai? What was the point of declaring two days of national mourning? Who actually mourned?

These are the urgent questions the media needed to ask – and this country needs to address. It is extremely heartless to blame the poor for their own suffering. And as has been experienced elsewhere, poor people are not going to put up with their dehumanizing conditions forever. Their plight is not only a question of justice but also a potential source of social instability. The poor exist because of the rich.

The blood of the Sinai people should not dry in the dust in vain. The government (which never lacks money to meet all sorts of needs of the privileged class) must move beyond talking, beyond dreams like Vision 2030, and make poverty alleviation its top priority.

 

That was a big story

It was buried deep inside The Standard newspaper last Monday, on Page 33 after the sleazy ‘Crazy Monday’ pullout and business news. ‘Aga Khan carries out first video surgery’, read the headline.

“Kenya is firmly in the fast lane towards comprehensive e-health provision,” the paper jubilated. “Last week, surgeons from Aga Khan University Hospital performed the first ever surgery using the video conferencing surgery technology…”

This could well be the year’s biggest science story. But it hardly received much media attention beyond the report in The Standard. It couldn’t beat politics.

The only reason why the science story was not splashed on the front page is because of the apparent thinking at The Standard – and in all media houses – that Kenyan news consumers are more interested in politics than in science and technology or anything else.

A scientific innovation that would touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of people is of much less interest than a political rally meant to push the agenda of a handful of politicians. Is that indeed what Kenyans want?

Ok, there is nothing wrong about public interest in politics. In fact every effort should be made to encourage this. Politics concerns the exercise of power to organize public affairs. We should all be interested in how that is done. But is that the type of media coverage of politics we see?

Hardly. It is mostly about personalities: what politician A said, who is making alliances with whom, etc. It is about who is going up and who is coming down.

The media, as we all know, has agenda-setting as one of its many functions. It may not be very good at telling people what to think, but it is quite powerful in telling people what to think about. So, there is a sense in which Kenyans’ alleged obsession with petty politics is a creation of the media. If media opted to shift focus, it can be reasonably expected that in time the public will follow suit.

Is that about to happen? We can only hope. Important developments like the use of video conferencing surgery are opportunities to relegate politics to the back burner and signal to the public that there is more to the news than what’s going on in the minds of William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, etc.

That may require more creative and bolder heads at decision making levels in our media houses; people who are willing to use the powerful means at their disposal to help the nation dream of possibilities beyond the power games of the political class.

 

What TV business news?

A while back, NTV launched a daily business news programme called PM Live. A great initiative when one considers that, as we have already stated, the important news in the Kenyan media tends to be about politicians. K24 and KBC Channel 1 also have new business programmes. That’s great.

The only problem, though, is that the programmes basically focus on what the corporate honchos and state mandarins are doing around town. Of course one or two stories about start-ups are thrown in from time to time.

But the general impression one gets is that doing business is an elite domain for the very lucky few who were chosen by God before the foundations of the universe were laid. The rest of us should watch from the sidelines and take notes if interested; otherwise we should continue our wretched existence watching political theatrics as a form of entertainment.

The business news programmes never really dig up stuff about those big firms. They are all great enterprises conducting every transaction above board and enriching the nation; they are great corporate citizens who meet all their obligations under the law and have great records in corporate social responsibility, and so on.

We refuse to believe this narrative. We are more inclined to buy the argument that most of the stories are PR stuff meant to attract advertising from the big spenders.

That is why it is nearly impossible to find a critical story about the corporate giants- until the trade union calls a strike. We know media organizations are themselves businesses and that some of the owners or directors sit on the boards of the same companies their journalists should investigate. The challenge here is for the media to make up its mind about its primary role of speaking the truth to power – including corporate power.

Something else: there is an entire area of big business that is largely ignored. Whereas the main focus of business news is how well the big firms are doing, the Larry Madowos, Liz Ntonjiras, James Karanis, Wallace Kantais and Steve Kimanis of TV business news in this town aren’t telling us who gets those huge government contracts and how. There are interesting shenanigans going on in that area.

One striking example: The East African news magazine last week carried a story about how the geothermal sector in Kenya has become the new battlefield where Western and Chinese companies are scrambling for contracts. Already a Chinese contractor has signed a secret deal with the government to drill 80 geothermal wells, the paper reported.

What’s interesting about the deal, according to The EastAfrican, is that the contract was not awarded after competitive bidding. Moreover, the state-owned Geothermal Development Company is capable of drilling the wells at a cost far less than what the Chinese will take. No doubt there is a funny smell about that deal.

When are we going to see these kinds of investigations on TV business programmes? Are certain powerful politicians cutting deals with big firms to raise campaign money for 2012 elections? Right now, Kenyans are buying sugar at extremely high prices. What exactly is behind this crisis?

TV business news people may be seated in their glitzy studios lulling us to sleep with tales of how good or bad business is in town while powerful people are colluding with local and foreign corporations to rob us.

You owe this country a lot more, folks.

Whose agenda matters?

On Sunday 11 September 2011 and the following day, the media carried many reports about the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the US. Nearly 3,000 people from many nations, including Kenya, died in the bombings by Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.

As reported, the attack changed the world in many ways. But what was missing from the analyses is the fact that the global war on terror (GWOT) launched by America and its allies in the aftermath of the tragedy has caused plenty of suffering for millions of innocent people around the world: in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example.

Under the pretext of GWOT, America and its allies continue to pursue their imperialist agendas in Africa, going after oil and other resources.

Equally disturbing is the fact that over the past decade, the GWOT has had nothing to say about the injustices and inequalities in many parts of the world which feed radicalism and violence.

In carrying the reports (many of them produced in the West), our media appeared to back the mistaken Western notion that the GWOT can give the world peace. It is a lie. Violence only begets violence.

And by the way, are all human lives equal? If so, why did the media give such scant coverage to the ferry tragedy in Zanzibar, when acres of space were dedicated to a memorial recount of 9/11? Tanzania is a sister-state in the East African Community.

While can afford to devote time and space to the 9/11 anniversary, when was the last time anyone saw such coverage of the annual commemorations of the Rwanda genocide in which about one million, yes a million, people were killed in 1994?

Rwanda, in case media houses did not know, is a sister-state in the EAC. Or is what happens in the US more important to us than events in our own region?

All The Bulletin is asking is this: Whose global agenda does out journalism serve?

‘Fuata nyayo’ at SG

And finally, a senior journalist at The Standard recently spoke candidly about how media owners in Kenya meddle with editorial content to suit certain interests. It is something many news consumers are not aware of. Kenyan media is generally thought of as fiercely independent of vested political and other interests, hence the immense public approval ratings in opinion polls.

The Standard man attempted to trace the decline of his paper to 1997 during the election campaign when the paper led with the headline, ‘Why you should vote for me’, or something to that effect. Under that banner was a huge picture of the owner of the media house, who the journalist did not think he needed to name.

With that single editorial decision, no doubt pushed from above, The Standard had blatantly reduced itself to a partisan rag at a time when the public was decidedly tired of then President Daniel arap Moi.

Of course Moi went on to win the election, thanks to the divided opposition and the smart manouvres of ‘the professor of politics’. But, in the opinion of The Standard journalist, his paper lost credibility in the eyes of the public and has never fully recovered.

Today, Moi still regularly makes the news in the Standard Group’s outlets while other media houses generally do not bother with the former president’s preachments. Sometimes Moi doesn’t say or do anything really newsworthy, but he gets space and/or airtime in the paper and on KTN news. Now, we cant begrudge the editors their decision making right. But take, for example, his meeting last Wednesday with Mheshimiwa Chief Justice Willy Mutunga at Kabarnet Gardens in Nairobi. KTN carried the ‘story’, which was just pictures of Moi shaking hands with Mutunga as his ever unsmiling hangers-on – John Lokorio, Lee Njiru, etc – looked on.

As a public service, The Bulletin would like to direct Moi’s admirers and all those who miss him and want to ‘fuata nyayo’ to always buy a copy of The Standard and watch KTN news. You will catch him there busy ‘building the nation’ he sat on for 24 years.

A Better Picture of Women

A news item about women carried last week by a Christian news agency caught the attention of The Bulletin. It was titled, ‘Church holds women dearly, says Cardinal’:

‘The church will continue to support women in their religious activities, says Cardinal Njue. The church, he said, appreciates the important role played by women. “You can always count on us when it comes to assisting you advance your religious activities,” said Cardinal Njue.’

What is interesting here is that, if indeed Cardinal Njue said those words, he succeeded in portraying women as mere appendages to “the church”, which here appears to be “us” – presumably Njue and certain other people not named in the report.

But since The Bulletin is not a theological journal, that as far as we are concerned is the smaller sin. The bigger one is the manner in which the news agency basically stripped down a major women’s event to the bare bones of just one man’s views.

Njue spoke at the third convention of the Kenya National Council of Catholic Women (KNCCW) held at Nyayo Stadium. The function was attended by Catholic women from around the country.

“Earlier, the KNCCW chairlady, Mrs. Emily Oduma, had urged the church, through Cardinal Njue, to assist them to put up a retreat centre in Nairobi…” the story went on.

Even the organization’s leader appeared to think, according to the report, that “the church” constitutes Cardinal Njue and others, the women excluded.

Perhaps if the big man had not attended the function, and only the women were present, the agency would have considered the event less newsworthy.

This is generally a common practice in Kenyan news reporting. It is often the big man, yes man, who is the focus of media attention – even when the event is by women and about women.

But that tends to change in most negative news, where the media invariably depicts women as the victims. If the church story under discussion was about a tragedy, the report would most certainly have appealed to public sympathy by dramatizing the suffering of the women involved.

Media coverage of the drought and famine in Kenya and the Horn of Africa comes to mind. Who did those haunting pictures on TV and in the newspapers feature? Men? Yes, a few elderly men, but mostly women and children. Check out the pictures published by Daily Nation last Wednesday in a feature titled, ‘When the shillings poured in’ (DN2, Pg.2)

Women are often portrayed not only as the victims of some failures or tragedies but they are also presented as being dependent on the men for their very lives. They are not equal partners to the men in any endeavour. Without the men they cannot on their own do anything. You get that impression in the church story.

A harambee was conducted during the women’s convention for construction of a retreat centre. Whose contributions were reported by the news agency?

“Cardinal Njue made his contribution of Ksh200,000, the Kenya Catholic Secretariat gave Ksh100, 000, while the Apostolic Nuncio to Kenya, Archbishop Alain Paul Nuncio (Lebeaupin?) gave Ksh30,000.”

Apparently, no women gave any money worth reporting about.

This picture of Woman is, of course, not only false but grossly unjust in the 21st Century world. Everywhere in this country, women have demonstrated throughout history that they are achievers in minor and spectacular ways.

It was with this in mind, we believe, that The EastAfrican newsweekly devoted 15 pages in last week’s issue to celebrate the region’s female achievers. Reading through the special coverage, a better picture of Woman emerges.

We have said here that we acknowledge the right of religion to organize its own space: a religious entity is free, for example, to define for its followers what constitutes “the church”. But it is unacceptable that a religious organization, its spokesmen or affiliates, promotes perspectives and ideologies that run contrary to the values of the Constitution.

Our Supreme Law recognizes that women and men are equal in dignity and rights. In this country, Christianity is quite influential. No one can underestimate the force of its views on the minds of many citizens. Therefore the views of church leaders or spiritual organizations about women must not be allowed to erode constitutional values.

Church leaders – largely men – have said they support the Constitution despite opposing it at the referendum. That is great. They have even asked to be included in its implementation. Good.

But such involvement must not be defined narrowly as appointment of religious figures to key commissions. It means, quite significantly, that religious leaders (and politicians, maize roasters, ‘dere na konda wa mathree’, everyone) should use their space to champion the values of the Constitution. It is the duty of every citizen.

It would, therefore, be insincere for a religious leader to purport to support the Constitution while undermining its values in his sermons.

As well, in this New Order church media – and all other media – must champion the Constitution. Obsession with the big man and the depiction of women as always the victims, or as somehow inferior to men, should be left to the Neanderthals.

The journalist as citizen

Radio presenter Joshua arap Sang’ who is facing serious criminal charges told the International Criminal Court at The Hague last week that he is a professional journalist with experience spanning 12 years. His ambition is to be the greatest broadcast journalist not just in Kenya but in the world.

Sang’ said that, having been trained at diploma and degree levels, he fully understood journalism and its ethical codes. He therefore could not have used his position as Kass FM presenter to take part in organizing killings, maiming and mass displacement of people during the post-election violence of 2007/8 as alleged by the ICC Chief Prosecutor Louis Moreno-Ocampo.

Instead, Sang’ said, he used his programmes to promote peaceful co-existence among the different communities living in the Rift Valley. He invited leaders of different political persuasions to his shows. He wasn’t a member of ODM and couldn’t have been party to planning and executing the violence that targeted perceived PNU sympathizers.

In fact, being a journalist, Sang’ couldn’t have been a member of any political party because he always strived to give equal opportunity to all sides of the political debate ahead of the election, he said.

Well, it is up to the ICC judges hearing Sang’ to determine the veracity of his claims. But his arguments make a certain erroneous claim about ethical journalism that needs correcting.

Whereas accuracy and fairness are the first cardinal principles of journalism according to the Code of Conduct and Practice of Journalism in Kenya, it is not unethical for a journalist to be a member of a political party. He or she retains his constitutional right to the freedoms of association and of opinion. That is why a journalist expresses his or her political opinion by voting for a certain candidate at elections.

What ethical journalism requires, though, is that, in the public interest, every effort should be made to ensure that one’s personal views on politics or any subject do not influence their professional work.

“Journalists, while free to be partisan, should distinguish clearly in their reports between comment, conjecture and fact,” the Code stipulates.

All we would like to state here is that the impression must not be created that journalists should not belong to political parties, champion political causes or hold political opinions. As citizens, they are entitled to these and other rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.

Tuju’s presidential bid

Several months ago, Mr. Raphael Tuju, then a presidential advisor on media and ethnic relations, embarked on nationwide tours to promote nationalism especially among the youth through an organization called Kenya Hope Foundation.

Tuju’s initiative received plenty of coverage. Everywhere he went there were news reports about it. But here at The Bulletin we were a bit skeptical.

Tuju was appointed to his job, a public office paid for by the taxpayer, shortly after he lost his seat in the 2007 election. There have been numerous initiatives to promote peace and unity in Kenya since the post-election violence. Why did it take him more than three years to realize the importance of a nationwide campaign against tribalism? Was that part of his mandate, considering that we have the Kibunjia Commission?

The answer came the other week when Tuju quit his job and announced his entry into the race to succeed President Kibaki. It is impossible not to conclude that the Kenya Hope Foundation activities were actually part of his strategy to launch his political agenda – although the media decided not to see things that way.

Nobody has seemed interested in asking Tuju any questions. The launch of his presidential campaign at a Nairobi hotel has received considerable media attention.

What does Tuju stand for and how has he demonstrated it? What did he achieve in his past political jobs? How has President Kibaki and the coalition government benefited from Tuju’s supposed expert prescriptions on media and ethnic issues?

Did Kenyans get value for money? Is Kibaki less tribal now, three years on? Or was the job a reward for Tuju’s support for PNU in 2007? What is the man’s vision for Kenya and how does he intend to take us there?

But as far as the media is concerned, that does not seem to be the way to frame the discussion about Tuju’s presidential ambition. What is important is Tuju’s attempt to reach out to the youth (of Nairobi’s Eastlands basically), as reported in the Daily Nation on Wednesday.

“In the race for State House that has recently seen politicians embrace the use of social networks, former minister Raphael Tuju has generated the biggest buzz with a video in Sheng that is generating plenty of comments on Facebook and Twitter…”

“Rapho”, as he introduces himself, refuses to be identified with any ethnic group and simply announces “kabila yangu ni mkenya…”

We are supposed to believe, by this report, that tribalists are those people who announce their ethnic identity on Twitter, Facebook or even on the street. Really?

Tuju’s populist attempt to fight negative ethnicity and the media’s adulation of his moves are really simplistic. As a matter of fact, there is absolutely nothing wrong with belonging to a tribe. The real issue is treating all Kenyans equally without discrimination based on any grounds whatsoever. That is what our Constitution says.

The idea that Tuju, or anyone else for that matter, can help erase the various grounds of “otherness” – or that this is necessary – in order to build one Kenya is sheer rhetoric. It is even dangerous: any attempt to destroy pluralism is an assault on human freedom.

Why should a Luhyia, Gikuyu or Omogusii be harangued into feeling ashamed of his identity? Why should any Kenyan reject her ethnic identity? How would that end tribalism? How would that cut the dominance of one ethnic group in Kenya’s politics and economy?

The only meaningful project is for all citizens to embrace unity in diversity. And Kenyans are capable of that.

So, is Mr. Raphel Tuju the man who could lead Kenya to the promise of the New Order? Honestly, we don’t know. It will be up to the voters to decide – if his name ends up on the ballot.

For now, all that the media owes Kenyans is the duty of probing political aspirants beyond the excitement they might cause on Facebook or Twitter.

Week’s ugliest intro

And finally, the sterling performance of the sons and daughters of the Motherland in Daegu, South Korea, last week was in the mind of a Nairobi journalist it seems. He must have concluded that he could pay no better tribute to our true heroes than to employ an athletics metaphor in the intro of his story. Good intention, but the resulting mess made unbearable reading:

“On starting blocks of race to pick head of the new electoral body, manager of elections next year and overseer of demarcation of 80 new constituencies, stand only four people.”

This could really be stated simply and clearly, which is what good communication is actually about.

The grotesque prose was on the Front Page of The Standard newspaper on Friday, September 2, under the headline, ‘Only four apply for top elections post.’

How did that amazing intro pass?

PLO’s last conference?

Wait, wait! Why did PLO Lumumba call that press conference last Monday? Why? The little politician inside him must have urged him on: keep the media excited. For no matter what else PLO says in his ‘big’ English, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission boss made it clear to the public that there is no fight in the dog.

Lumumba called the press to sensationally announce that Assistant Minister Cecily Mbarire and her husband had been trying to bribe him so that he stops investigating a company associated with the couple.

Mbarire and her man were expected at Integrity Centre early on Monday to give Lumumba the bribe. Lumumba intended to have the couple caught in the act. That did not happen. They were tipped off by someone and did not turn up.

Very well. What did Lumumba expect from the public after telling this story? Applause for a job well done? How could the director of KACC tell the public that he laid a trap for would-be bribers but caught nothing because information was leaked?

Is KACC really capable of doing its basic job of investigating corruption and forwarding files to the Director of Public Prosecutions for action?

If fellows who were allegedly intending to bribe Lumumba with a paltry Shs100,000 (paltry because PLO’s salary is a seven-figure sum) could be tipped off, what about the numerous major thieves KACC is supposed to pursue? Could they not buy the entire Integrity Centre?

Mbarire called a press conference of her own shortly after PLO’s. But she cancelled it without explanation. A day later she appeared before the media fighting back tears. She was as pure as a newborn where corruption was concerned; she had been defamed by PLO and would be suing, etc.

But Mbarire did not deny being tipped off. There is this person she talks to every night before she sleeps. He (she?) tipped off the Assistant Minister that PLO was up to no good. She identified the tipster as God.

Could Lumumba please call another press conference to tell the country if there is a member of staff at Integrity Centre going by that name? How could this person have access to top-secret files at KACC? Could God be a nickname or the initials of an officer at KACC? What kind of people are working at KACC if they can leak information about ongoing investigations? How much could have been leaked by now?

How can KACC under Lumumba be trusted to carry out sensitive investigations if a trap set by the director and his technical team catches nothing because information was leaked?

Significantly, Lumumba did not announce that he had launched investigations to establish who tipped off his would-be bribers. Yet that, really, is a serious matter.

There is no question that corruption is the country’s biggest governance problem. Lumumba knew as much when he took office more than a year ago. But we are yet to see any big names that have been mentioned in connection with scandals prosecuted. Well, there is the matter of Henry Kosgey but that’s it. Strictly speaking, it is not the kind of corruption busting we are talking about. That’s abuse of office.

PLO talks big, promises to move heaven and earth to end graft. But what does he have to show for the ‘big’ English?

The political animal he is, he seems to have discovered an interesting strategy: keep the media excited. The other month he told Kenyans through the media that he would shortly make earth-shaking announcements. Here at The Bulletin we expected big fish to be fried. Nothing.

Lumumba then offered a 60-day amnesty to repentant thieves to return their loot. We don’t know whether anyone has returned a penny.

PLO goes around the country preaching against corruption and issuing threats. He has even mentioned names of politicians in connection with the vice, but when the politicians came out with guns blazing he coiled his tail.

Can Lumumba really convince anyone that he is equal to the task assigned to him a year ago? People, we are losing money in this unending anti-corruption circus.

Where’s the research?

The quality of a story really depends on how much thought and research have been put into it. And nothing could be more appalling in the journalism business than publishing a half-baked story about an important issue.

The other week the government suspended the sale of land in Athi River and Kitengela citing irregularities. The Permanent Secretary in the Office of the President, Francis Kimemia, announced the formation of a taskforce to investigate the questionable land allocations.

It is suspected that public land set aside for various projects may have been illegally allocated and fake title deeds issued.

KTN, the ‘authoritative news channel’, sent a team to Syokimau off Mombasa Road to do a report on the subject. But the team merely interviewed some people around, rehashed what has been published in the papers about the illegal allocations and their story was done.

Which public land was allegedly allocated illegally? Who did the allocations? What was the land set aside for? What are officials at Mavoko Municipality saying about the allocations?

There was no answer to these and related questions in the lead story aired by KTN on Sunday night. What kind of journalism is that? How much thought and research went into the story?

We refuse to believe that the people at KTN have no idea how a good story should be done. Rather, it seems to us that someone isn’t serious about quality.

A makeover for Wako

We are in a period of transition. And one of the biggest stories of the week was the end of Amos Wako’s tenure as Attorney General. Plenty has been written – and more will be written – about this man who has headed the State Law Office for 20 years.

Whichever way one looks at it, Wako is one of the most prominent faces of the Old Order that we buried at Uhuru Park on August 27, 2010. The matter seems settled. So, the stories carried about the former AG by The Standard on Sunday struck The Bulletin as a despicable attempt to re-write history.

As far as The Standard is concerned, Wako is “one of the continent’s most decorated lawyers” who played a key role in the mediation process that gave the country the Coalition Government after the post-election chaos of 2007/8.

Without him, there would have been no deal. “With Wako giving the pact a nod, the deal was as good as sealed.”

He persuaded Kibaki to append his signature to the accord and this earned him enemies among the PNU stalwarts, The Standard reported. Wako had to flee for dear life from the angry PNU crowd by hopping into the official limousine of Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

Apparently, Wako has enjoyed working with everyone in high office. Kibaki is the “intellectual”, Raila Odinga his “brother”, former President Moi a “pleasurable boss” and a “man who kept his word”, etc.

So, why is Wako vilified, to the extent of being described once as “the face of the phenomenon of impunity in Kenya”?

He isn’t any of that, if The Standard is to be believed. In fact, he made a major financial sacrifice to be our AG, giving up a better paying UN job “to make a contribution to his country.” And what a contribution Wako made!

His major setback was that he encountered “the marauding all-powerful Kanu party hawks, most of who regarded him disdainfully as a Kanu employee and publicly contradicted his positions on issues.” So Wako, far from being the face of impunity, was in fact a victim of the same, uh?

We can only wonder: what was the objective of The Standard in printing this story? Or did they just let down their guard?

Who pays the piper…

On Tuesday, the ministries of medical services and public health and sanitation held the first national non-communicable diseases (NDCs) forum in Nairobi. The forum came weeks before a September 19-20, 2011 UN meeting in New York where world leaders will discuss strategies for combating NDCs globally.

The statistics are staggering. NDCs (heart diseases, diabetes, cancer, respiratory infections) are currently the leading causes of death and disability globally. The annual death toll stands at 38 million: more people than those killed by HIV/Aids, TB, malaria, maternal and neonatal causes combined.

In Kenya, the government says 55 percent of deaths are caused by NDCs. Over 37 percent of the population has high blood pressure; 12.7 percent is suffering from heart diseases and 10 percent has diabetes. There are over 28,000 cases of cancer recorded a year.

This really was a big story. There have been media reports about the so-called lifestyle diseases. But last week’s forum provided an opportunity to draw serious national attention to this new epidemic.

But the media generally kept its eyes on its pet subject: politics. The NDCs issue was mentioned in passing – no detailed reports or interviews.

Citizen TV perhaps provided the worst coverage. The story was presented as a news brief lasting less than 30 seconds. In comparison, there was a long report about the so-called G7 alliance kingpins saying essentially what they have repeated over and over again: that they will remain united to win the presidency in 2012.

This is what sometimes makes one feel ashamed of our much-vaunted media.

Now, blah blah

Someone has rightly pleaded with TV reporters and news readers to drop that little word ‘now’ they like throwing around in their presentations. We ‘like’. “Moses Wetang’ula is back in the Cabinet. Now, it has been ten months since he stepped aside…Now, PNU is excited by its win in Kamukunji and analysts say the victory has strengthened the party ahead of the 2012 elections. Now…

And what is ‘all time’? “The shilling has hit an all time low against the dollar.” “The price of sugar is at an all time high…” These statements can only be sensible if they were made at the end of time. On the morning the world is ending, radio DJs at Milele FM may well tell their listeners that a particular song was the best rumba hit “of all time”.

Anyone who has been to school would know that time has three basic dimensions: the past, present and future. ‘All time’ would naturally mean all those three dimensions considered. Whereas we know of the past and present, the future is still out there.

Who tells those television people that the exchange rate of the shilling against the dollar will not be higher than it is today in 2018? Is the present cost of a kilo of sugar the highest it will ever be?

What about ‘exercise’? “The voter registration exercise has been marked by low turnout.” The police recruitment exercise will start next week.” “Hundreds of school children turned out for the tree planting exercise….”

All these statements can be made without the redundant ‘exercise’. Rewrite them and send your answers to The Bulletin. A winner will be selected from each TV station and will get a brand new copy of English Aid Book 5.

PMPS beats KBC

Finally, a dispatch from Prime Minister’s Press Service on Thursday August 25:

“Prime Minister Raila Odinga has put on notice traffic police officers for sleeping on the job resulting into increased incidents of gruesome road accidents that continue to rob precious lives of innocent Kenyans.”

We have all along known that it is KBC and The People who have the patent for this kind of writing. The guys at the PMPS seem to be learning fast. Keep it up

There are clear limits to media freedom

The recent concerns raised by the Media Council of Kenya about the Muliro Garden photos in the The Star newspaper point to a fundamental question on the issue of public interest and the respect for the code of conduct in media practice.

Weeks after pictures surfaced online showing persons in intimate positions at the public park in Kakamega Town, The Star newspaper ran one of the pictures. In an editorial responding to a barrage of public outrage, the paper defended its decision on the grounds that it wanted to instigate national debate on the issue.

Following publication of the photos in the daily, the media came under serious public scrutiny on its role in upholding ethical standards in its practice. The photo reminded us that ‘The Code of Conduct and Practice of Journalism in Kenya’ that the media fraternity developed a couple of years ago are not being adhered to in full.

While the Constitution gives media far reaching freedom, its places a caveat on this freedom. In Article 35 Section 5, the Constitution requires Parliament to create an independent body that shall “set media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with those standards.” That body already exists as the Media Council of Kenya, and The Code of Conduct is part of the Media Act 2008.

It is instructive to note that media scholars and practitioners are currently re-examing ‘The Code of Conduct’ in line with the Constitution and the new Media Bill scheduled for publication.

Indeed, as the photo reminded us about the ethics, it also raised other important questions: Which ethics? Who needs to be ethically conscious? And how will ethical standards be met?

Which ethics?

Journalism ethics is concerned with making sound moral decisions in journalistic performance and it assumes the presence of societal morality. Morality has to do with actions guided by generally acceptable human values and responsibilities. Compatible human values and responsibilities constitute a moral system.

A journalist should ask herself to whom his or her sense of duty is when writing a story, choosing words or deciding on the pictures to use. Is the duty owed to self, readers, audience, media houses, colleagues, or to society as a whole?

The answer to the question of what duties a journalist owes to self and to all other parties may itself have various permutations: respect for human dignity; respect for privacy; preservation of human life; not allowing other human beings to suffer unnecessarily because of our actions; maintaining human decency and good taste, among others.

The late journalism scholar Francis Kasoma, formerly of University of Zambia, said: “When journalists are aware that people know their unethical practices and can protest about them, they are likely to be more careful about how they practice their profession.”

But who should be ethically conscious? Unlike the traditional professions of law and medicine and others, journalism is uniquely a team profession. The reporter or the producer, the immediate supervising editor, the editor-in-chief or the director, the publisher or the station director, the printer or transmitting engineer and many more in between are all active participants in the journalistic process. Any of them can undo or improve on the other’s work with telling ethical effects.

While a lawyer’s or doctor’s ethical or unethical deed usually begins and ends with her or him, the same cannot be said of journalists. The personal acts of journalists have a way of affecting the whole team in one way or the other.

For example, when a reporter reports lies, it affects all journalists and not the reporter alone. From such incident, people start forming stereotypes about the profession, such as the idea that ‘journalists are liars or corrupt’. This is common in Kenya.

It is, therefore, the whole journalistic team, starting from the reporter up to the entire media house, that needs to be ethically conscious.

Likewise, the concern of moral journalism should not be restricted to journalists only. People—newsmakers and the media consumers alike—who are the real victims of unethical journalistic practice, should be conscious about ethical journalism. They have a broad moral duty to police the media because journalists derive their moral authority and existence from the public. We are the public’s watchdog.

It is the people who are adversely affected by unethical journalistic behaviour. The people can help to promote better journalistic morals by demonstrating that they are aware of, and take great exception to, unethical journalistic practices.

Ethical standards

How will the ethical standards be met? It has been pointed out that education in journalism ethics for both journalists and members of the public would help the conscience of journalists towards practicing ethical journalism.

What I feel lacking is that we have not indicated exactly how education and public pressure would encourage or in fact force journalists to have an ethical approach to their work.

And yet in most cases people have reduced journalism ethics to the study of codes of journalists’ conduct, an approach some scholars are uncomfortable with.

Dickson, in ‘Golden Mean of Journalism’ argues that equating journalism ethics with codes of conduct encourages ad hoc or situational ethics. She writes that:

Because such codes are at best normative guidelines based on no common moral philosophy, journalists tend to resort to situation by situation analyses of their ethical practices. The problem with a situational approach is that a journalist’s evaluation of his or her actions is always ad hoc in nature. Unfortunately, ad hoc evaluations based on situational ethics are insufficient to ensure that in the future journalists will act in a moral and responsible fashion.”

The other thing we have failed to do is focus on media managers as well when tackling ethical issues in the media. Journalists, who bear the brunt of unethical reporting, find it difficult, if not impossible, to apply ethical standards if they work under bosses who do not understand what journalism ethics is all about and have no intention of promoting it.

For now, the lessons the media houses must have learnt from this photo incident in The Star is that their audiences are increasingly becoming media literate and are going to hold the media accountable for any unethical practices.

The writer is the Executive Director of African Woman and Child Features