14 March 2013


One of the drivers in our compound is a tall guy. Not tall-skinny, but tall and broad-shouldered. Still: He’s afraid of Ollie. It’s happened several times that he hops sideways onto the grassy bit when we meet him out on walkies, or that he walks a careful curve around the doglet. He does realise that this is a little comical: whilst the doglet is technically a dog and therefore fearsome, he is also the size of a malnourished housecat.

He has taken to calling Ollie ‘simba’, lion – maybe because of his fluffy chest? ‘Siiimba siiimba!’ he almost singsongs when we walk past.

And Ollie is indeed fearsome when he has a go at the German shepherd guard dog who comes to our compound at night (always safely on a leash, and Charlie the guard dog mostly has a look of concern on his lovely face): bark-yelling furiously, shaking his head and spitting with rage, and all back fur up like a row of dragon spikes. Demon doglet. He also wags his tail, but nobody at the gate really understands dog behavior well enough to pick up on this confusion.

11 March 2013

Post-Election Thoughts (PET): Silence or Sensationalism?

I hope that everyone who is so busy bitching about 'foreign media' will apply the same scrutiny to local media - those are the outlets that Kenyans get the bulk of their news from. It wasn't the idiots at CNN organising the violence in the Rift Valley.

There was very little interrogation of the role of the local media in the violence in the last elections. Media houses did acknowledge that they may not have played things quite that well, but did they ever sit down to go through this in detail - and make the results public? Did any Kenyan non-media organisation analyse this? I’m sure the scrutiny is more intense for the large, English-language outlets, and less for the smaller, local language outlets.

So far, the only journalist I know of who has been taken to court was Mr Sang, but he was taken to the ICC, and the ICC is a meddling foreign instrument (never mind that the majority of Kenyan MPs, including Mr Ruto, I believe, voted not just once, but three times to take Kenya's PEV cases to the ICC).

Here is a very interesting and detailed investigative report on corruption in the Kenyan media sector, both affecting the coverage of corporate and business news and of political news. Not once has this document made any waves. Anyone who has issues with foreign media would do well to read this, too. If corruption has long been a problem in political coverage (and remember that many outlets are partly owned by politicians).

I think that stereotyping, sensationalist, simply wrong article about Kenya should be ridiculed, no doubt (and I've done plenty of that in my column and on my Facebook page). But just as much as Kenyans don't want to be referred to wholesale as tribal murderers for the 1,500 people who died in 2007/2008, it makes little sense to lump together all 'foreign media'. There are ignorant idiot pieces, and also a great many sober, insightful ones, and a lot of plain old reporting.

I find this vilification of all foreign media particularly worrying in the context of the self-censorship of the local media, the 'tyranny of peace', and the wider vilification of all things foreign. Yes, I understand: there was a huge (undoubted) need to call for sobriety and calm, and it was always going to be a delicate balance to get this right. But reporting, plain legitimate reporting, largely fell by the wayside. It’s perfectly fine not to broadcast politicians’ press conferences live – but it’s still necessary to pick up their claims.

Not publish them unquestioned, but to interrogate and attempt to verify them. When CORD claims that constituency tallies didn’t match, media must check this. If Jubilee claims that there is a British military invasion, a phone call to the Ministry of Defence about the longstanding UK/Kenya agreement on training facilities might have cleared things up.

In the past week, when international media did cover criticism of the tallying process, they were attacked as sensationalist and bloodthirsty. Effectively and ad hominem argument (what’s the word when you refer to organisations rather than people?), as it no longer addresses the substance of the argument, only the origin. So this has effectively become a narrative about outsiders, not about Kenya itself anymore.

CNN won’t make a difference to Kenyan lives. Nation and KTN coverage will.

Here's Muthoni Wanyeki on the (unnecessary) trade off between peace and truth.

And a great piece by a Kenyan blogger on the 'lobotomy of silence'.

Just two pieces showing that the 'tyranny of peace' did not go entirely unquestioned. Not all Kenyans agreed with this approach.

I was constantly on social media during the week after the elections, and Kenyans on Twitter are a notoriously lively bunch. So the local media can decide to silence themselves, but we've seen that the international media won't necessarily follow this approach. Similarly, social media are hard to silence. Kenyans love a good conspiracy theory, and for that reason, too, I think it's hugely important to have media who actually address and pick apart claims, factually so. What other way is there to offset the crazier rumours?