Eurobond and the graft Holding pattern


Kenya has been traumatized by corruption, especially that of the grand variety. Ever since before Independence, and shortly after, corruption has been the spreading blight on Kenya’s rap sheet. From the investigation into the pinching of funds doled by the World Bank to fund the Africanisation program less than five years into independence, to the enabling of civil servants to own and manage private businesses in the 70’s. A decade later there was emergence of projects, different than the complexion of elephants than our (then) swelling herds of bark colored jumbos. Nyayo Tea Zones, the erosion of our coffee sector and the ransacking of our Parastatals were, alongside the spread of HIV, the (under)told stories of the eighties. Then came Goldenberg, Anglo Leasing, and then legion of revelations of grand-corruption over almost all of the years across the rule of the grand coalition and the Jubilee governments years so far. There definitely is a pattern here.


Yet for all the scandals that have taken place on this Kenyan stage, the Eurobond debacle seems to have gone one step too far. At a time when Kenya is struggling with news of the crumbling global economy shaking its foundations; when an interest rate hike by the US is followed with such keen attention because of its effects in many of the world’s nation capitals and country sides, we have wolves snapping at the flesh of an international instrument meant to spur on one of Kenya’s most ambitious infrastructure investments (or so the Eurobond has been painted as doing). When Kenya is anxious about terrorism, stories are being shared on Whatsapp about yet another abuse of the law by a police officer, adding to the weight of hundreds more heard over the years, hiding the efforts of officers who truly are in the police force to do some good (I have met a few officers like these).


Who though, is paying for this? For the entire span of our history of corruption, the answer to that is almost nobody. None of the people who stole big paid big. Instead, they bought their way into a social and political class that was beyond prosecution. So many have joined, and so many are trying to join (can I get a “grand Prix”?) that class that it is now full, and the levers that the corrupt used to pull as a club of the few are now the well known main stream routes that anybody willing to pay out of an indiscretion or access an undeserved benefit uses regularly. This is socialization into believing that as long as you can afford it, then you shouldn’t have to worry about the law. That we watch theft of billions means that we are no longer fazed or scandalized by the millions they used to be. Two years ago, on, the average amount paid as a bribe was 6,000 shillings. If that form of corruption is so affordable, what of the other indicators of corruption? Those pervasive forms that we see in our estates and in our homes? This is how much corruption has not only traumatized us, but also leached into our society. Look at the new faces of alleged corruption that emerged from the NYS saga. Or at the middlemen in the case of the influencing of the IEBC in the Chickengate scandal. These are peddlers of influence and not wielders of power. Look at at a few of the newer entrants into the National Assembly. There are parliamentary committees that have members who’d be shamed beyond belief if their phone records were pulled, and the calls made were triangulated to the periods when they were on retreat, completing parliamentary reports on a number of issues.


Yet we are, in the same person that is Kenya, a great and positive contradiction. Many Kenyans still feel, as we all should, that corruption is wrong, and that the fight against it should be most present with those in rungs above us; our leadership. Frustration with this has built up very fast after the Eurobond issue, because it is a slap in the face of Kenyans who have kept stoic about things, tough as they may have been, and looked positively on the things that have been going right. Also because it comes at the latest ring of the alarm bell from the auditor general’s office in a string of many alerts over theft. Their department motto must be one long, breathy sigh, ode to the dizzying amounts of money that cannot be accounted for by national and county governments.


However, stories about corruption are also a pointer to this question: What’s new? The heft of those two words permeates the Eurobond story. John Ngirachu pointed out, rightly so, that the latest piece on the Eurobond in the Business Daily, about Treasury’s inability to explain what projects the Eurobond funds were used on really was a collation of facts we knew about the saga phrased differently. This isn’t the fault of the reporter, or the paper. We’re in a holding pattern; one we have been in before. It has been established that there may have been some serious wrongdoing, and everyone is asking the next obvious question. Who is responsible? Politics has the blame swinging like a toddler during playtime. It either is a scandal that never was, a thinly veiled political takedown of Jubilee by a divisive opposition, or proof positive of bungling, burgling government machinery, going hell for leather for new heights of corruption. What it hasn’t been is an opportunity for the public to see that the cliché actually is a fact: crime doesn’t pay. So we are stuck, knowing as much as we do, but not knowing enough to make sure that we can get our money back. Whistle-blowers are scared or unavailable, so journalists have to take the long way round – to actually prove, using the facts available, that there was a fraud and we should be worried about it. To follow every transaction made after the transferring of the funds from the foreign account to the treasury. To read documents that could reflect where this money may have gone, be it to the sinkhole we all fear that it might have, or to actual good use. To get to the bottom of it, carrying readers and viewers with them to the very end. This is where journalism gets heavy. Carrying the story until it reaches its end, good or bad. Absent of which, it will become another signpost of corruption caught in the question, “What’s new?”


In every crisis thought, there is opportunity. I’ve been to a few public forums where corruption and how to end it is a conversation that has been taken to heart. The #Mjadala7 a few weeks back is one such conversation. There, I heard suggestions about “crowd sourcing” information on the assets of our leaders. We know which ones they are, and some of us have the proof of it. So why not come out and say what they own, and hold the public’s record against that which has been declared. This was Ory Okolloh-Mwangi’s response to a question from the crowd about what we can do. There are a few holes in how that would work, but essentially, this can be done. Why not? I know for certain that reporting around corruption is now a big issue in some newsrooms. I’m retooling myself to be better at reporting it. There also seems to be a general disgust with it that feels different now. If Jersey Island can try two of our own, why not us? This is my hope for 2016. That we start to reclaim lost ground. That all of us are able to tough it out and stick with this issue; let fighting it occupy our minds and direct out action. That we’d change the story, or at least move it forward.



Patrick and the Margins of Society

“Blood and bones melt into one another, and become the backbone of any attack. They are the reason that armies go to war, fences are built and people think twice about shopping malls. They are not value neutral; they bring you face to face with your mortality; you breath in the reapers vapors, reminding you that you are alive, but, just like blood and bone, that you’ve always been part of the awful symmetry of the circle of life. One day, it will be you, and it could be like this. They are death. At very best, in a terror attack, they are pools, splints and speckles of suffering – of dead nerves and shattered rib cages in the walking wounded.”

Until Patrick, I had become accustomed to thinking about terror attacks in terms of scale, and the time that they would spend on the front pages of the news and at the top of news bulletins. Back then, grenade attacks rarely had any casualties, and the horrors of Westgate, Mpeketoni and Garissa were still out in the far reaches of possibility as far as terrorism on Kenyan soil went. 1998 was the anomaly; that one event that, as with unchartered territory in a courtroom, was precedent – to be the benchmark that would be hard to supersede. Patrick changed all that for me.

Patrick Ndung’u washed cars at the Machakos Country bus station. I imagine that before March the 10th 2012 that his life was tough, but simple. Avoid Kanjo when fetching water. Get to know the heads of the Matatu routes that launch from Machakos Country bus. Befriend the drivers and touts in the bigger matatus. They pay more when you wash their cars. Get there early. Work fast. Eat quickly. Think faster. Save your money.

He lived these little maxims, squirreling away almost all he had so that he could pay for his driver’s license and trade in suds for traffic behind the wheel of a matatu.

A terror attack stopped him in his tracks. For months after the Machakos blast, he literally could not take another step. He would be immobilized, at the Kenyatta National Hospital, with four long screws of an aluminum brace jutting out of his shin, holding together his shattered bones. Shrapnel from the grenade tore off part of the flesh on his cheek, so that today, the scar from this wound looks like an off-center dimple, closer to his lower lip than to the center of his cheek. When I met him for our first interview, he showed me a long scar on his stomach. Doctors had to open him up to put his intestine back in place; another piece of shrapnel had almost gutted him. When we first met, he was asking for help to address the then Ministry of Special Programs, that, in emotion-sheathed politics, had announced that it would settle the medical bills of all of those who were injured in the blast. They had done so for Patrick’s first surgery, but the brace in his leg was fitted badly, so in addition to having a brace in his leg, he now also had festering wounds where the screws of the brace stuck out. He needed the brace replaced. So I did his story. Nothing happened. They didn’t pay up, and the wounds in Patrick’s leg became septic.

Patrick lived in a small bedsitter on the edge of a dusty field in Kayole. His rent was two thousand shillings a month. Given that he couldn’t work because his leg was still badly injured, he couldn’t pay the rent. His landlord, a man whose voice I came to know well at the end of every month for six months, had waived his rent for a while, but, understandably, couldn’t sustain Patrick for much longer. So I decided to chip in; fundraising from a few friends to stay on in the bedsitter, and more importantly, make a small contribution to the enormous effort that he had already made to raise funds for surgery on his leg. He needed 250,000 shillings; by the time we met, he had raised well over half the amount. Patrick’s surgery went well and a few months later, he was back on his feet again. Patrick and I have been in touch since; it’s been more intermittent than constant, but he’s updated me on every milestone in his life since he started walking again. He got his old job at the bus stop back; he met a girl; they moved in together; they now have a beautiful daughter. Every now and again, though, he lets me know that he is struggling. The money he makes is barely enough for him to survive on. His partner lost her job, so now; his is the only income that they have. His leg still aches, but there is no way that he can consistently pay for medication. Those messages consume me with guilt, and I often can’t respond. What do I say to a man who I watched struggle against wave upon wave on misfortune, almost making it each time, only to be forced under by another challenge? His disposition was positive, even as his leg was sore and had septic wounds. Now he finds less and less room for hope as life shuts him out from a place in the sun. Patrick’s life is the nuance that we all miss in this “war against terror”. Yet for every Patrick, there is another man or woman, with circumstances just as difficult if not more so, whose will to live a productive life has been ground down to dust. Whose broken spirit has been fashioned into a weapon of terror. It is revolting, and vile to think that one person could willfully harm or kill another person whose situation has been just as tough as his own. Yet this often is the reality of terror. Those at the center of power fail to address those at the margins of society, and some in the margin, completely misguided and full of hate, hit back. Only, often, it is the margin that suffers the most in this vicious cycle.

So what do we do to end this? We, who can, must make sure that Patrick does not get his hopes crushed, but through our efforts to make our leaders address inequality. To paraphrase Pope Francis, we can no longer operate in an economy that persists in the belief that the majority of its people will be lifted out of poverty by a trickle down from the largesse of our richest. It doesn’t work. For those will choose the dark, perverted path of terror, we must make our leaders understand that the choices they make in retaining a system that concentrates wealth and opportunity around them perpetuates terror. It accentuates perceptions of injustice and makes people bitter. The kind of corruption we have in Kenya is one that persists in the belief that there are those who are more deserving than others, and that has its foundations in the way our economy has been run. From the center to the margins. From the top to the bottom. Some argue that devolution will resolve this; but what will it solve if we replicate centralization in smaller units? This is a far wider discussion than I would have hoped to address in this article, but it is part of Patrick’s story, whether he knows it or not. Patrick, and his nemesis in the shadows are the center that those in power pushed aside long ago. They are at the edge of our frayed society, and they are unraveling; from the margins to the center.

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WHEN IT’S GOOD TO BE GREEN, AND BAD TO BE AN EXPERT – Reflections for Kenya on Tanzania’s General Election

In his book, “Blink – The power of Thinking Without Thinking”, American author Malcolm Gladwell offers a very interesting theory about why our instincts ought to be relied upon more than planned, thought out decisions. In this theory he talks about the “adaptive unconscious”, a part of our brains that helps us process a lot of data in order to make quick decisions about what is being presented before us – our instincts. I like one example that he gives in particular, the first one in his book – about the statue that didn’t look right. The story goes that a famous art museum had stumbled onto a Kouros, a rare Greek statue of a naked man, valued at around 10 million dollars, and before putting it on sale, the museum, quite rightly, wanted to verify whether it was a forgery. They spent 14 months doing so, and came to the conclusion that it was the real deal. Until a group of art critics set eyes upon it, and within the first few minutes of looking at it, were certain that something wasn’t right about it. As it turns out, they were right; the statue was indeed a forgery. One critic, asked how he knew, simply stated, “The Statue just didn’t look right”. In another one of his books, “Outliers”, Gladwell talks about the 10,000-hour rule- the average number of hours one takes to achieve mastery in a specific field. He did this by studying the lives of highly successful people, and mined into their backstories to discover the sheer amount of time that they had spent practicing their craft. From The Beatles to Bill Gates, each one of the people he profiles spent what seem like innumerable hours getting better at what they do. I found myself thinking about these two books as I reflected on my time covering the Tanzanian General election for two, reasons: First, the feeling I got that the election was, in many ways, fraudulent, and the undeniable impact of a tolerant, non-violent culture in their politics that I found myself craving for once we crossed the border back into Kenya.


My “feeling” that the good old election wool, sewn to stich perfection across the African continent, was being pulled over Tanzanians eyes is informed almost purely by anecdotal evidence patched together as I, alongside tens of other bored journalists, watched and waited for election results to be read by Tanzania’s National Elections Commission. Very quickly, a trend started to form – aside from the cities and urban towns across Tanzania’s expanse, and in Northern Tanzania, a large number of the results that came in had Edward Lowassa, Tanzania’s latter day opposition doyen, beating CCM’s candidate (and now Tanzania’s President) John Maghufuli comprehensively – in constituencies with relatively small numbers of registered voters. When it came to the bigger, vote rich regions like Mbeya, at the border between Tanzania and Malawi, the trend was reversed – Maghufuli would take it by a country mile. Now, the assertion here is that there may have been a padding of CCM’s figures in the regions where it matters, and that Lowassa was robbed blind by the party he was a part of for decades – but the election was far more comprehensively won by CCM at the parliamentary level – often a better indicator of a presidential candidate’s popularity. I’m not ruling our that kind of fraud, but my gut tells me that even without it, Maghufuli would have won. The fraud, for me, was in Edward Lowassa’s believing that with barely two months to campaign, CHADEMA under him would upend a party like CCM – the public’s fatigue with it notwithstanding. There simply wasn’t enough time for him to make Tanzanians believe that they could do without CCM, or that his hair that had greyed after years within that party would suddenly speak to the anti establishment wisdom of CHADEMA. The fraud also lay in the belief that with an elections body whose members were appointed by the president, a party with the networks that CCM has, and a constitution that bars challenges to the election result being retained just months to this election, that the chips would have fallen any other way. Here, I think Tanzanians should have trusted their instincts. Then again, in spite of the fact that Tanzania has had multi party politics for just about as long as Kenya has, its elective politics has been anything but competitive. So only those who were exposed to other forms of politics saw the harbingers of this election result. Those in urban areas, who voted overwhelmingly for CHADEMA. Kenyans had seen those same signs in its elective politics since single party rule – so collectively, our instincts tell us what weight they carry when heading to an election.


Let me dwell on something that Tanzania does have experience in: a lack of violence in its elective politics. That CCM has been the only belle at the tea party for so long has something to do with this. It has had the time to build on the intoxicating legacy of Julius Nyerere – “Ujamaa” made it so that the cacophony of tribal voices in Tanzania (they have over 120 different tribes) plays a very peripheral role in national politics. In short, tribalism doesn’t drive the agenda there, so one match that has set countries alight, by and large doesn’t exist in Tanzania. Without tribe dividing Tanzanians, they are left to deal with bread and butter issues that do not speak as directly to their hearts as mother-tongue politics does to us in Kenya. It was deeply refreshing to be at an opposition rally and not hear in any single speech, references to the dominance of a tribe in ruler ship. Tanzanians have collectively long since passed those 10,000 hours of experience without tribal politics that, if they were to fight, it would be for far different reasons. In Kenya, that maturity has eluded us. Our 10,000 hours have been spent stoking ethnic hatred, so much so that the ridiculous tribal stereotype that a man’s foreskin has anything to do with the way he thinks, made as a matter-of-fact statement by Kiambu’s Governor William Kabogo would be greeted with applause and agreement. In Kibera, that the ne’er do well chubby ex-mayor George Aladwa would also make the most incendiary of pronouncements and not be condemned but celebrated is proof positive of this. Our expertise at tribalizing everything is legend. It pervades every political party, tea party or “chama”, it is so much a part of us that most of us barely notice it any more. Many Tanzanians may have failed to recognize that CCM had the election sown up before ballots were printed, but now they do, and Tanzania’s politics will not be the same. In Kenya, we know the cost of our indiscretions and where the road that we are on now leads. I wonder when we will take our foot off the gas and turn a corner into a new political experience.



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TUMBO, HOSPITALI, NJIA, MADAWA (Stomach, Hospital, The road, Medicine)

Photo Credit: Washington Post

Photo Credit: Washington Post

But for those memories that are stored outside of our minds, we would think that the Post-Election Violence was one of those cliché Kenyan-isms like “ ebu imagine”. It sometimes seems like the fear, raw loathing, even the agreements that came out of that time were a lifetime ago, if you listen to how politicians talk about the post-election violence. Yet the whitewashing of Kenya’s collective memory of that time continues. A new word with multiple meanings that has wormed its way into our peculiar lexicon through hash tags, headlines and off-the-hip political verbiage, to continue airbrushing stubborn facts about that time. “Fixing”.

“Uhuru fixed Ruto, Raila fixed Ruto, Kuria fixed Ruto.” Everybody, it seems, is fixing our Deputy President. Poor Ruto. He’s been “fixed” more times this week than all the randy dogs at the Veterinarians. Now that he has been fixed, can he and the fundis who’ve been tinkering with him all this political week get to fixing the country? Because it is well and truly broken.

That the pronouncements of politicians this week have made it so the facts about the post-election violence become the footnote to so much political drama is yet another sign that of all the things that are broken in this country, the most noticeable is our sense of shame.

The period of Late December 2007 through to late January 2008 was one of deep trauma for all of us. The number of Kenya’s who trooped to Saint Peter’s Gate or Jannah at that time took us all by horrible surprise. We were moved to tears by the stories of those who fled for their lives, facing the bitter cold in white, paper thin tents laid out in neat rows or unruly clumps in our countryside. We prayed together for a solution to our madness. Then we forgot. Harangued by our grief, we believed in a handshake on the steps of a government building; that our political pied pipers were now tone deaf to violence of days before. We saw new hope for our country. Our social contract with one another and our leaders was drawn with the embers of the violence smoldering not too distantly in our memories. Political scientists will tell you that constitutions are drawn in times of crisis. We were on the right track, right? Looking back at our Olivia Pope-esque “Fixer” of a week, I wonder whether we are still ashamed enough of that time in our past to call out the nonsense spewed from both sides of the political aisle.

Which brings me to the title of my post. Sometime during those trying days of 2008 JB Mwangi, Purity Mwambia and I visited the Eldoret showground camp to do a feature on the state of affairs there. It was an experience that I wasn’t prepared for. Having reported the first wave of violence and destruction, I thought that recounting the tales of those left in its aftermath would be less trying. I was wrong. The story I did from that camp won JB and I a CNN Award, one that I have reflected about whenever I think about where we are as a nation. It is the well-worn, almost boring refrain of those frustrated that there is no apparent search for justice for those who lost everything. It represents a line of thought that motivated our march to the ICC,where stories like it have now been abandoned. It was the moment when cynicism towards our political class truly took hold of me. Cynicism is a bad thing for a journalist. It makes your voice shrill and subjective. I had to temper my emotions every time I was assigned something political. I cannot imagine what all of you had to do to get over what you felt.

Boniface Mwangi, I received the Whatsapp video you sent, and those images made me reflect a great deal about where we are. Thank you. I hope the story I did all those years ago will help someone somewhere do the same. Listen out for the words that make up this blog posts title in the story. I called it: “Scars and Sufurias”.


I try not to be one of those people who “eat their own”, but a certain almost avaricious craving takes hold of me whenever I think of our latter-day “Reporters”. Cannibalism is so last century though. So I rant. Furious, frothing, almost rabid rants about my people, mostly to myself, on the way home in the inevitable traffic jam from Mombasa road. If you see me gnawing at my steering wheel, whisper a prayer for me. Today though, I’ll just type, and hope that raging prose gives way to reasoned arguments. I may fail, but stay with me.

You see, it not only is frustrating to have to talk ill about fellow journalists, it is deeply disappointing. I am part of this fraternity, after all – a marginalized, underfed part to whom executives concerned with bottom lines and panicky editors are pained to keep – the hangnail of the newsroom, but nonetheless, I am a part of this fraternity. So in many ways, I am also disappointing. The failure of a lot of our journalism to draw, even in some indirect, accidental way, public interest content from all spheres is a shortcoming that all of us who use the pen should be concerned about, and find reflected in our own careers. Here’s why:

I believe that a lot of journalists have forgotten what the meaning of the word that describes them means. A “Journalist” to my mind, is that person who, through training or professional experience, publishes or broadcasts material that is in the public interest. Many, many pieces I have seen done on TV and posted online do not take into account this very important principle that is embedded in any sub-genre of journalism – the public interest.

censorship-1Our latest preoccupation with the admissions of Moses Kuria is an example of this. He came out and admitted that he (along with others) plotted to fix Deputy President William Ruto. So far, that is all that has been reported about it. The man just admitted to plotting to, and indeed, committing a crime under local and international law, but we’re just wowed that he said it. I read an opinion piece that even praised Kuria for doing so, because it exposed the lie that was the foundation of ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s case against William Ruto and Joshua Arap Sang. It may very well have done so, but what of the man who admitted all of these things? Shouldn’t he, at the very least, be the subject of some investigation for crimes he has admitted to committing? Crimes that, in the long game that the ICC cases have become, denied Kenyans real answers about what happened in 2007/2008? How much more has been done to subvert the course of justice here? Shouldn’t we, as journalists, be asking these questions? There are very many dimensions to this story that we aren’t exploring. This is just one example.

Yet this example sums up what a lot of the journalism in Kenya is today. Stories that are published or broadcast, that have been narrowly restricted to a “here and now” context. Inured to the culture of short-term sugar-highs of the latest scandalous statement but devoid of the deeper perspectives that would make sense of any story. We are a generation of professionals who, by and large, have failed at our profession. We are failing our people at a time when they need us to be at our best. So much is happening in this country, on this continent. We are taking on mountains of debt, yet this is all we know about our situation. Few, if any pauses to ask why this is happening and give the public answers that help them make sense of why their money spends less and less time in their hands. Cancer is now the one of the leading causes of death in Kenya, yet this is all we know. No questions about why this is happening to our people. At a time when wheelbarrows cost more than school fees, we shrug our shoulders; along with the people who we are supposed to be informing, and say “Counties are the new black for the corrupt”. HOW is the money that is supposed to transform our countryside being stolen? Do we know?

Our legislators are defacing numerous laws around land and security, two pillars that hold up any society, but we aren’t looking into why this is happening, or who is motivating this.

When we are challenged about our failure, rather than be reflective, we sit and wait, cynically consoling each other, willing the public to “accept” our latest transgression and “move on” to the next controversy. We say that the mob is fickle. Well I say, if this mob is fickle, then the mob is also starved – of the information it needs from us to make sense of what is happening. The smallest unit of a mob is a person. A person who has needs. The closer you get to people, the closer you get to their stories. We cannot fulfill all of this persons needs, but abdicating our role to nourish this person with information is as pretentious as an African saying that he has never bathed using a bucket.

This by no means is meant to be a condemnation of all of Kenya’s journalistic fraternity. I by no means am saying that my work or my career exemplifies the best of our profession. There are those who are far better at this than me. I know, have worked with and follow the work of a good number of people passionate about their careers and their country, who are pushing the envelope. For all of you who do so, I salute you. I hope to be counted among you. Yet you alone cannot change the fate of your profession, you who spend time and effort and love on your story, you need to speak up, show up and shame into action that journalist who is jaded, misguided, corrupted or just plain lazy. Kenya, and Africa needs great journalism.

Sexy headlines are interesting, but so is solid journalism. Lets climb out of the trap we have fallen into and dust off the notion that hollow journalism dressed up can pass for the real thing. My favorite Orwellian nugget sums up what, by and large we are doing to each other and to our country now:

“Under the spreading chestnut tree I sold you and you sold me: There lie they, and here lie we. Under the spreading chestnut tree.”




His head had been emptied of whatever fluid it held by the time we got there. Dark brown clumps of soil and blood clung to pieces of sinew, skull and grey matter, and strangely, I thought of scrambled eggs as I stood over him, zoned in on the huge hole in his head. His eyes were still open, at least one of them was. Half of his face had been pressed into the ground, so I could only see the top half. His eye had in part rolled back into his head; his skin was ashen and his hair shaggy. He and his cohort lay in suspended frames of contort, rigor mortis about to take hold of a bodies that moments earlier were just as alive as I was at that moment. To this day I don’t know what he looked like; my memory of this man was saved in a series of close ups – death captured in detail, minus identity. I wouldn’t be needing that information anyway.

Martin, my cameraman and I had spent the better part of the afternoon tailing police who had been chasing these two fellows – to everyone else it must have been a languid Wednesday afternoon under Nairobi’s oppressive heat. The duo had stolen from a timber yard in Kangemi, and had been engaging the cops in a shoot-out as they searched for an escape. They chose the wrong moment to make a run for it. Within minutes it was over, although they both covered an impressive distance on foot as they ran away.

It was going to be a top story for sure; we had all the drama on tape, and here we were, waiting at the scene where it all ended, for the usual one-two-three police comment that would make for official comment: “ They fired. My boys fired back. We gunned two of them down and have launched investigations.”

As we waited, I asked Martin to take a couple of GV (General view) shots of the scene; the surging crowd of “curious onlookers”, a long shot of the scene, a couple more shots to help carry my voice-over; the usual. My mind was pre-occupied with one scene though; where these two men lay. We’d been taught in class that we were not to show dead bodies on TV unless the circumstances were extreme enough to call for it. In the newsroom, that statement was qualified; we couldn’t show dead bodies in their entirety; it was a cameraman’s job to shoot the scene, and the bodies in such a way that viewers understood what had happened, served up in a sanitized edit that wouldn’t have them throwing up on their screens and having nightmares. “His foot!” “We can take a close up of his foot!” I thought to myself, then repeated the same to Martin. I had pictured it perfectly; a shot of his foot would help me sum up the drama of the day with some pithy, memorable line. So I crouched next to the man’s lifeless body and showed Martin where he’d take the shot from; placing the camera next to his hips, he’d be able to get a tight close up of this mans foot in the foreground, and a melted montage of police and members of the public staring at the bodies in the background. I don’t know what it was that made me turn and look down at him, but when I did, a wave of guilt hit me. I stood up slowly and went to join the other reporters who were standing a distance away. The guilt I felt was because I hadn’t taken time to absorb that this was the first time I had seen the corpse of a person who had been killed. Well, maybe not the first time. I had previewed loads of footage of dead men and women being dragged around by the police , had heard horrifying stories from the more experienced reporters in the newsrooms about bloodbaths that formed the basis of this story and that feature. I had never been at the scene of a killing until that day. How could I, who had seen this for the first time, be so removed as to stand so close to a dead body, and think of it was the inevitable outcome of a run in with the police? No heed paid to this man’s back story, his crimes outside of that day, who he was, why he chose a life of crime – was he a sociopath or a victim of those vagaries that often turn many of our brothers and sisters into Kenya’s most wanted? Like the way I had saved the images of the place where a policeman’s bullet had torn into his head, my summation of that scene was of facts tied only to the way the man died that afternoon. He may very well have been a criminal who, through his own gun-totting standoff with the police, got the end that was coming to him – but it always bothered me that I didn’t know for sure; and later that evening presented only the drama and the death but none of the context.

Years later, I wonder again if we are doing what I did that afternoon, with the subject of extrajudicial killings, especially under the context of terrorism. We all know too well what terrorism has brought to our soil – that realization that for no other reason than that you are Kenyan, there is someone out there planning how to kill you, or members of your family. We have seen our loved one’s die most gruesome deaths, or lead lives after these attacks that are punctuated by physical and emotional trauma. We are all traumatized, and angry. So when we hear journalists like myself or my brother Mohammed use terms like “extrajudicial killings” in reference to the elimination of people who the Police say are terrorists, we are furious.

“What about the victims of these attacks?” “Why would you sympathize with these people?” “You are no better than those animals who attacked Westgate.”

We (more Moha than me) have stood accused of a morbid Stockholm syndrome that only helps strengthen terrorists resolve, and worse. I’ve often seriously asked myself, and those close to me whether this is true. Am I supporting terrorists by reporting about extrajudicial killings? Am I demoralizing those who stand in harm’s way? My answer to these questions is No. Terror attacks are a devastating centerpiece to a context in which we live, but they are part of that context. If we are to fully comprehend why we are in this mess in the first place, we have to understand what is going wrong with how we have chosen to confront terrorism. Extrajudicial killings are also a part of this. So is radicalization, marginalization, an ill-equipped police force, ethnic profiling, a disengaged public, real and perceived silence from true Muslims in the face of attacks made in the name of Islam, a history devoid of true national integration and inclusion. I could go on. To wall ourselves off from those things that connect to what we see only leaves us in a box with our own pain.

Many pieces make the whole. Our job as journalists is to sew them together, so that everyone benefits from understanding our context as a whole. When you include mass murder in this, then helping people make these connections becomes doubly hard. Nonetheless, stitch the pieces together we must. I go back to that hot afternoon, staring into the cavity where that man’s brain was, and still feel rue that I didn’t see enough value in his story to show how it connected to ours. He went into a box in the ground as constricted as the box I had placed the events of that day. I can’t remember the line that I used to end the story that day, but, as I linked it to the shot of his foot, I bet it was something like “ This gangster met the end of the road.”

In Her Eyes – Part 1

Teenagers shouldn’t have the look that she does in her eyes; at least not for the reason that she does. Haniya stared at me from across the brow of her school desk and said with a blunt, matter-of-fact tone, words I have heard so many times before “ I feel like I am not Kenyan”. Her eyes shone and reflected a mix of guilt and anger for having to justify to herself why she is worth a second thought; why she deserves to be taught by actual teachers, instead of stand up and lead her class in a revision session of the trapezium method. Coming from “down”, the truncated slang for “Down Kenya”, It has dawned on me, in the way that dull hunger pangs dawn on you, that those who are victimized the most in the teachers strike are Kenya’s students, but sitting here in Haniya’s white-washed classroom, transfixed as this 19 year old made that statement that I have heard and distantly identified with, I realized that I had failed her. Me, a guy whose only relationship to her was a national boundary and an identification card that says we are both Kenyan (well, perhaps just the boundary, she hasn’t got her ID yet).

Let me explain my failure. In December of last year, the Al Shabaab waylaid a bus full of Kenyans from “Down” , forced them off a bus, separated Muslim from Christian and slaughtered them. Many of them were teachers. Headlines that I read screamed bloody murder, and I quite loudly cussed “fuck these terrorists.” I didn’t know that up North, hundreds of kilometers from my outrage was Haniya, just as furious as I was, but also just as scared. She knew that at some point, the hammer of our indignation would fall hard, but I would be cheering the government’s response to terror attacks, while she would be the nail. She is young, but already she knows that the wages of sins committed in this part of the country are paid for in full by everybody who lives here. If your last name is Somali, if you wear a hijab or pray five times a day, then in some indeterminate way, you are guilty. In person. We both hardly had time to heave that tragedy off of our chests when another attack took place. This time, the victims weren’t teachers, but students; 147 of them in the county 400 kilometers from her home. The Garissa attack rang in the month of April for us in horrific fashion. Again, from my corner of Kenya I snarled expletives, and again Haniya shook with rage, and trembled with fear. The round of collective punishment of her people hadn’t yet began, but she could hear the messages from Kenya’s majority non-Muslim population loud and clear “ These Somalis/Muslims need to be taught a lesson”.

The lesson was her teachers from “down” withdrawing from the region. A dramatic flight for their lives, captured in newscasts and tweets.

Who could argue with the slaughter of teachers as being reason enough for those who were lucky enough to survive this part of Kenya to run while they still had the chance to do so. Did we ever ask who it was that would stand in orphaned classrooms or with the kids who were devastated by terrorisim in this region? Haniya certainly couldn’t. She agreed that her teachers needed to be safe. She loved her teachers. The lesson she was taught though, was captured in her leaderless classroom and near empty staff rooms in her school. For terror attacks that happened 400 kilometers away from her home, she would be abandoned by her teachers. She would be left twisting in the wind like the shrubs in her sparse surroundings. She couldn’t voice her pain too loudly, or ask too brazenly for replacement teachers. She couldn’t express to those who left her that she too hates the Al Shabaab. They weren’t there, and many of us weren’t listening. Her ethnicity is the scarlet letter that we have, wittingly or otherwise, sewn onto her hijab. Trouble makers, sympathizers, refugees. Doesn’t matter if they learn, we’d be educating foreigners anyhow. The versions of these statements that I have heard repeated to me by people who know nothing about Haniya would fill books. We don’t know it, but our failure to see what our silence or acquiescence to the maltreatment of people with Haniya’s features, background, religion and experience does to us. Otherization becomes us. This is my failure. This is our failure.Eyes in hijab