Saturday, October 29, 2011



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By Mildred Ngesa
By Mildred ngesaTHURSDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2011
We have not gone to war yet. 

We think we are already at war but we are fooling ourselves. Yes, our soldiers are out there in the frontline, heaving away precious years under the slippery jaunts of a faceless enemy, but before we claim victory over this battle then we must look down and see that we still have the guns in our hands – uncorked, unused.
No, we haven’t gone to war. 

Journalists know when they go to war because when they do, something happens, the earth moves and the terrain is never the same again. They know very well that war comes deep, passionate and unrelenting to journalists who believe in a just cause – war comes with a somber warning to unpack the looming gaps and loop-holes within a system that has knowingly or unknowingly let down its people. 

Let me explain. 

Kenya is at war with Somalia. We all saw it coming. All journalists saw it coming, infarct we knew it so well that to paraphrase the words of poet/author Toni Kan in Don’t go home, he knows, we flirted with the idea of war for a long time. We were like a woman teasing a bad tooth with her tongue, waiting for when it would sire real pain. Well, the pain is here and suddenly we are bewildered by just what a little flirting can do! 

Kenya is at war with Somali. Words with such gloomy finality it almost makes the opposite of war seem like something we dreamt up. Just how did we get here? How did we replace the regular first news items with jungle fatigue, tankers, guns, rifles and a people bewildered by the uncertainty of when or where grenades will explode next? 

Let me tell you how we did it. If journalists had fought the “journalistic war” the moment we let in the first Somali refugee past the Kenya border-line many years ago then maybe this current war need not have happened. But we were not smart enough then to read between the fine prints to know that as a nation, we had sold ourselves to the devil by inviting him to our backyard. 

The Refugee is and always will be a big story anywhere in the world. However, the story dies just as soon as the paper rolls out of the press. The Refugee story is the one story that a good (Kenyan) journalist ear-marks as one of the must-do’s before she takes the final bow. Like the urge to scratch an irritating itch before swiftly moving on with life, we hurriedly scratched the surface of the refugee story over the years and hoped that we could move on without a hitch. But that hope has dumped us. Today we are in the middle of a war and as journalists, we stand bewildered, stupefied like a man who has woken up on a strange bed, wondering how we got here in the first place. 

We got here when we were too busy to dig deeper into unraveling the implications of the expanding refugee camps in Dadaab and elsewhere. We were busy invoking international laws and treaties to justify the humanitarian character of the government of Kenya showering its neighbors with compassion. 

When pockets of bad news started emerging that arms and armed militia were invading camps, we hurriedly reported the News aspect of the invasions and moved on to the next story in the docket. Then we got excited with the political spin into the whole Somalia question that poised Kenya as the don of conflict mitigation and peace-maker..we even gave them ‘permanent residency’ to lay their heads and chew khat while sorting out their squabbles! Now, pray tell me why are we stunned by this war even when as journalists we are yet to grab our fighting gear and hit the battle fields? Why do we wonder just when this neighboring community became such a substantial part of the Kenya population when we stood aside and watched them troop in? 

Numbers do not lie. The Somali population is humongous here. Ask a monstrous jungle named Eastleigh Estate. This is where journalists should have created their combat base and sustained the battle of duty until change came. This is where they should have pitched tent long before our men and women in green crossed the borders under the shattering of machine guns and droves. Eastleigh is where we should have fought with all our journalistic might to ensure the enemy does not gain root and flourish. But just as that tiny space in the North where we allowed the first bunch of refugees to trot in, so did the snake that is Eastleigh grab a life-line from our very own hospitality. Before we could blink, Eastleigh was “small Somali”.

And so we specialized on feeding this snake that is Eastleigh. We sporadically spoke of an influx of small arms and foreign exchange scams there then hurriedly moved on to the next story. We weakly lamented the lawlessness of foreigners who had invaded our sovereign space but secretly pocketed the wads of dirty cash pinched into our palms to keep us quiet. And the Eastleigh snake continued to thrive. 

When international terror lists pointed directly at Eastleigh, we rushed to clean up our image lest the allegations damaged our reputation and messed up our precious tourism industry. But then, you cannot hide a bulging live snake under your shirt, can you? So here we are – journalists shocked to the war frontline, covering each gun-shot and still wondering how we got here in the first place. 

Wonder no more comrades for we got here long before this ‘here’ was conceived.
We got here when we refused to pick up the fight with our mighty pens and microphones to report the enemy back to hell the very first time it reared its head.
And still, we are yet to go to war!