Guest Post: Dealing With The Salvo of FAKE News

Words: Anyango Odhiambo

In a move necessitated by the erosion of national integrity by social media hate-mongers 27 people were charged and 250 are under investigation. The crackdown by Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integrity Commission is a great move.

Vice Chairperson, Irene Nyoike, revealed the offensive material and fake news violators were reported by concerned citizens.

Readers in the age of internet are bombarded with FAKE and HATEFUL news from all angles. Not long ago as a rookie writer, the Telex , a global transmission method reminiscent of Twitter in its economy of words was the rage. Sensationalism and exaggeration were strictly confined to forums and publications known for their fluff and entertainment value. Even “dirt” was quantified and rarely hurled. Falsifying data and plagiarism got you fired and ostracized.

Of Miguna And Our Basket Of Deplorables

In America, we trust and look up to, so it was not going to be long before Kenyans jumped the bandwagon from Barrack Obama’s good manners to Donald Trump’s chauvinism. Good values are great in private but out in public, running for high office, a touch of aggression, bullying, chauvinism, flamboyance and an air of superiority is how to get noticed as an outsider in politics. The person who speaks his mind, irrespective of how disparaging his remarks are, is still respected for voicing his truth.

Miguna Miguna seems to personify this Trump brand of politics. He takes no prisoners, abuses anyone who disagrees with his position and generally comes across as the kind of intellectual bully who could talk Tony Gachoka under a table.

OH My! What A Guy! The Many Facets of Being Jeff Koinange

Jeff Koinange is without a doubt, Kenya’s most celebrated journalist. As host of the popular JKL show  on KTN TV his industry remains unmatched and his ability to find connection with all types of people has elevated Jeff to an undisputed position, as a voice of influence in our times.

Jeff was the first African in history to win an Emmy and notably the first African to win a Peabody, and the first African National to be awarded a Vernon Jarrett and the Prix Bayeux.

The “Bench” a moniker for Jeff Koinange’s JKL show hosted by Kenya Television Network has become an institution warranting the title “the voice”. It is where talent is unearthed. It is where issues of contention get aired providing a weekly catharsis for dedicated viewers. The “Bench” helps us by constantly calibrating national events and contextualizing issues, thereby birthing a more informed audience.  The bench will clock 9 years in November 2016 and it has provided a platform to more than 3000 guests. This is what is considered good journalism.

But it what does it take to consistently operate at this high level? Does Jeff have a life outside the bench?

 I invited Jeff to my bench and this is what he had to say…

Real Men Cry

Jeff Koinange, celebrated TV journalist and talk show host of Jeff Koinange Live had former star cricket talent Maurice Odumbe as his guest on the bench not too long ago. Kenyans nostalgic for cricket’s Golden Era hold Odumbe in a special place.  During the 1996 World Cup, Kenya achieved one of the biggest upsets in the cricket World Cup history. They demolished world champions West Indies, a team that comprised world class players such as Brian Lara, Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh. Maurice Odumbe was the man of the match on that day. Cricket was a fringe sport, never previously associated with epic moments of this nature but that night the whole country celebrated that instance of greatness.  I was part of a bunch of merry makers who spent that night in a bar singing “Brian Lara, amelala”. In 2003 World Cup, Maurice Odumbe alongside Thomas Odoyo, Kennedy Otieno, Hitesh Modi, Martin Suji, Steve Tikolo, Asif Karim took Kenya to unprecedented heights by reaching the semi-finals. They again made history by becoming the first non-test cricket team to ever reach the World semi-finals. Of all the cricket stars of the day, from the calm Steve Tikolo to stalwart Aasif Karim, it was Odumbe who had the charisma to rise beyond the realms of cricket fratenity to become a celebrated national sports hero.

Then in 2004, Maurice Odumbe was banned from the game for allegedly match fixing and his fortunes took a turn for the worse.  Like most sports heroes this country has birthed, Odumbe was quickly relegated to the dustbins of history. Therefore watching him recount a heart wrenching story of survival on the bench with Jeff Koinange was moving. As he shared his frustrations, he broke down overcome by emotion. That was a special moment on TV, typically associated with Oprah Winfrey’s famed teary public confessions that men had mocked all these years. It takes great strength for a man of his former stature to bear his soul on national television. Men are socialized to never show their pain. Never to admit defeat. Never cry out for help. Many would rather drown like a man, with your head up.

When Jeff asked him a poignant question, about picking up the pieces, he simply replied, “I just want to be a man again”. The sentiment was loaded. A man is defined by his peers and society through his career and his contribution to those around him. Take that away from him and you kill him softly. When work ends and a man cannot get back on his feet despite his best efforts, it saps his confidence as he is rendered a failure. The resolve to keep trudging despite the circumstances reduces and the net worth shrinks as people shun the jobless one like a leper. When a man falls from grace, he must bear the cross of his mistakes without so much as a whimper. Former friends avoid him, tired of hearing about his problems and accuse him of lacking the spine to deal with his plight. Man up! We say. Everyone has problems. Deal.

As a result, the average man on the brink of depression suffers in silence. Neglected, vulnerable men turn to alcohol and drugs seeking escape and when that fails to provide relief, some decide to take the final drastic step of unburdening society of a useless life by committing suicide and we still dismiss the victim as a coward who wasted his life.

If there is one lesson we can all pick from Odumbe’s tribulations, it is the ability to cry. Only when those tears of pain and frustration flow, does the real healing begin.  Real men should never be afraid to cry. It is only human nature.

Of Ebola And Africa’s Single Story

There is bar joke that I first heard from the prolific South Sudanese author Taban Lo Liyong. A group of native villagers who customarily walked around naked were visited by a Caucasian relief worker. She came bearing devastating news of a disease called AIDS that was decimating the African population. There was an outbreak in the towns and it would soon disrupt their blissful lives if precaution was not taken.  Thankfully, the remedy was a rubber sheath that had to be worn regularly.  A condom wearing demonstration was carried out on a wooden penis model and the relief worker warned them to always wear one if they ventured into the city. AIDS has no cure was the final refrain. One month later, a group of villagers ventured into the town and caused a stir. They all showed up naked as per custom with condoms tightly strapped on their members.

I am reminded of the ignorant villagers with the alarming news of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.  Ebola like HIV before is scaring the living daylights out of people with dark skin. It spreads much like bushfire, fueled by ignorance and panic. There is a serum out there but not quite accessible to those who need it because the cure is still “experimental”. The international press describes Ebola as an African disease even though we have only had cases in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, Nigeria, 4 out of the 54 countries in the continent. This is what celebrated Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie meant when she spoke of the single story narrative on Africa. Something that seasoned talk host Jeff Koinange once described as the 4 Ds of Africa, Death, Devastation, Despair and Disease. The darkest stereotypes play off the back of the Ebola virus and the Western press know that when it bleeds it leads and are milking the Ebola story for all it is worth.

Ebola as the popular narrative goes came about from Africans eating bats and monkey brains which in turn spread to human populations.  God forbid you develop a sore throat on an international flight and you just happen to black. You will be in thrown into a quarantine unit faster than you can say ‘Strepsils”. While some countries in Africa are facing a real health crisis, it is hard to dismiss the conspiracy theorists who see a highly convenient opportunity for the mega pharmaceuticals to parachute in with medical supplies to help save Africa from itself.