Wednesday, May 7, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

Two months since Kenya’s political turmoil ended, there are still untold heart breaking experiences hidden deep in the hearts of many Kenyans. The wounds are so deep that when these individuals are called upon to discuss the aftermath, they either break down in tears or tear our hearts with their personal anguish during those dark days in our country’s history.

The just concluded Editors’ Forum in Nairobi provided such an opportunity for the media’s gate keepers to bare their souls out, ask tough questions and find out precisely how the media handled the Kenyan crisis.

In the past, different interest groups our society have placed the blame on third parties except themselves. The media has had its fair share of the blame from politicians, the clergy and other stakeholders. The politicians have not been spared either. While ODM leaders were initially accused of planning ethnic cleansing against Kikuyus in the Rift Valley many months before the elections, the PNU politicians have not escaped tongue wagging either.

Whereas known prominent ODM leaders from the Rift Valley were accused of planning massacres, equally prominent Kikuyu politicians were fingered for hiring murderous Mungiki militias, arming and paying them to cause mayhem in Naivasha, Nakuru, Eldoret, Molo and Kisumu in retribution missions.

We shall really never know the truth until the Truth and Reconciliation Commission gives the final verdict.

However, what happened at the Editors Forum that was largely ignored by Kenya’s senior editors in mainstream media made me keep thinking! Has the full story of the anguish that Kenyans as individuals went through been fully told?

I listened to Dr. Bitange Ndemo, Kenya’s Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication analyze the cause of the mayhem and for the first time I saw a government technocrat being sincere, objective and truthful.

Bitange first analyzed the cause of the violence that left many people dead and maimed with thousands more in internally displaced camps. He saw the disputed elections results as merely a trigger to decades of frustration and resentment arising from unsettled social injustices. He also saw the hand of disparity and inequality among Kenyans as another cause. To prove his point, he questioned why Kikuyus, Luos, Kisiis and Kalenjins killed each other in the slums of Nairobi and poor rural areas but remained good neighbors in the posh areas of the city?

When Bitange started narrating his experiences on the first day of killings, he lost control of his emotions. Memories of that day overcame him; he broke down in tears and had to sit down for awhile before continuing with his presentation. At this moment, the audience went dead and numb.

We didn’t know what to do to salvage the situation because what happened was rare. It is not an everyday occurrence to see a grown up adult male break down in tears in public and in front of television cameras; but Ndemo did! When it was all over, I felt Ndemo’s pain personally. I shared in his guilt, helplessness and pain.

Following this harrowing experience, it was now the turn of Caroline Mutoko, the talk show host at KISS FM.

Mutoko was detailed to discuss Ndemo’s presentation along side Faridah Karoney of KTN. In her presentation, Caroline made no apologies for not being a journalist in the sense of the word. She confessed to those who cared to know that she was purely a broadcaster and a programme manager at the station. Her gripe was with the fact that the media was being accused for the chaos that erupted following the elections fiasco.

In her own narrative, Caroline recounted how many times she broke down on air, pleaded with Kenyans to stop the killings. For those days that the chaos controlled the country, she was in the studio every morning preaching the gospel of peace while at the same time appealing for all sorts of humanitarian assistance to the growing number of displaced persons, women and children that needed help.

In her own assessment, she was strong enough to admit that the media did well but could have done better under the circumstances. However, the passion and sincerity with which Caroline Mutoko presented her case was the tipping point in her presentation. Yes, we had to put ourselves in her shoes to feel her anguish.

Thinking about these two presentations days later, I hoped that our brothers from East Africa who were at the forum would have a different perspective of the Kenyan crisis now that they had listened from one of their own and a representative of the govern.