We are not out of the woods yet. In fact, it might just be the beginning of another storm. But when the dust settles and Kenya is back to her old, confident, loving self… history will be analysed and questions will be asked. I say when the cloud of division dissipates, the fog of tribalism clears and smokescreen of politics is lifted, the people of Kenya will finally see plainly, and we will have nowhere to hide. Because we, the Kenyan Media, have terribly let down our country.
For the past four years, we have thrown all ethics out the window. Subjective reporting, partisan stands, twisting of facts, open bias… mainstream media has become so good at it gutter press has had to close shop.
But what in the heavens happened?
Things exploded after February of 2015 during the digital migration row.
The Jubilee government, freshly unshackled from the yoke of ICC, was in the mood to get things done, fast, and the global migration deadline was looming. However, the media business empire, a closely knit, highly rigid family was so terrified of opening up the gates to all and sundry it pulled all stops to derail the inevitable.
The young leaders had found an exclusive, very private club and just like that, brought down the walls letting in every Kamau, Kaloki and Khadija.
Unblinking, unmoved and pressured by the impatience of youth, the duo of UhuRuto pushed through with the switch despite major TV stations going off air for three days in protest. The young leaders had found an exclusive, very private club and just like that, brought down the walls letting in every Kamau, Kaloki and Khadija. And things were never quite the same ever since. We declared war on the nascent regime.
For three years, the media has meticulously waged a psychological war by cultivating a feeling of hopelessness among the population. We have hunted for bad stories and blown them out of proportion. Where none could be found, we have created.
Was it an oversight we failed to mention that for the first time, not a single person died of starvation in Kenya during one of the worst droughts to hit this region? Was it by design that instead of celebrating the successes of our military in Somalia like other countries’ media would do, we turned against our army echoing the terrorists’ message after the Afmadow attack?
Even what is ideally one of the greatest single achievements of this country, the successful construction of a rail line that has been a government blueprint since 1976, went by with muted pomp. It did not matter that we were the envy of not just our peers in the region, but even the wealthiest country in Africa by GDP, Nigeria. Amid the stories grudgingly acknowledging the achievement, we also unashamedly worked harder at poking holes, finding fault, anything to lower the grandiose. We questioned why our train was not fully electric like our neighbour’s, never mind that our needs and abilities are different. We linked the project with corruption, of course reporting verbose what our single-most reliable source, the leader of opposition said.
Filling the airwaves and newspapers with despondency convinced the people that the country was hurtling towards a precipice
When the source claimed the line had been dubiously overpriced by Sh100 billion, we happily ran banner headlines of the same without cross-checking the accuracy. We did not even bother to explain to the public that a difference of four years can affect costs through inflation, land appreciation as well as currency depreciation. We conveniently overlooked information supplied to us that the project scope had also changed significantly from a plain Standard Gauge Railway to an electric-ready one that would be pricier in the short-term but way cheaper in the long term. We did not find it important to mention that land along the line was expanded by about 15 metres and a fence to span the entire 500km included in the final design. Running side by side pictures of our locomotives with European bullet trains made more journalistic sense.
Negative news does sell, but filling the airwaves and newspapers with despondency convinced the people that the country was hurtling towards a precipice. The negativity transformed a nation feared globally as a proud world-beater into a miserable, dejected and bitter lot. It was part of our ego-driven, revenge-seeking ploy, whose ultimate end was regime change, a media assisted coup.
And we nearly succeeded… just nearly, even sacrificed our country’s inner core in the process.
As usual, we are today on a self-cleaning mission, blaming the Church, politicians, past leaders, everybody else but ourselves on the bitterness that is feeding on our nation like a cancerous wound. No one has yet seen through our façade and that’s because we continue to feed the animosity by refusing to change the country’s focus away from the self-destruction path. It is a monster we continue to nourish. Soon, it will outgrow the shed, snap the leash and break out into the murderous beast it’s meant to be.
As it devours our nation, the people will look at us and finally realise that we have been knowingly leading them to destruction. The fingers will shift from the direction we have so carefully directed them to and point at us. This is a society that spent a fortune to take us to journalism schools to learn the noble, age-old trade and that realisation will be painful. But it will not be as devastating as the realisation that they entrusted us with their most vulnerable value, ‘trust’, and we used it against them. And they will never forgive us. By jingo, the future will one day look back, analyse the betrayal, the letdown, and #WeTheMedia of post-2015 will seek a place to hide our shame, and find none.
By Kimathi Mutegi
Sub-editor, People Daily