Senior Kenyan media women lead healing initiative

Date: January 1, 1970
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Nairobi, 10 March 2007; In the past two months. Kenya has been talked about in the same breath as Rwanda, Liberia, Afghanistan and others, with analysts breaking down our history to a conflict between two “tribes.À Terms such as “ethnic genocideÀ and “ethnic cleansingÀ have been bandied about with no regard to the real issues behind the on-going unrest and blood shed in the country.

Kenya is in turmoil. The lives of over 1,000 citizens have been snuffed out and over a half a million Kenyans have been forced to flee from their homes. Somewhere in the midst of media reports of ethnic cleansing, and government claims of a return to calm and normalcy, the real story is being lost. The truth is not weighing into debate as it should.
A group of women journalists have come together, facilitated by the African Woman and Child (AWC) Feature Service, the Swedish and Norwegian envoys in Kenya, to launch an initiative called “Healing the Nation.”
The reason for the campaign is for media women to use their space to foster a sense and reality of one-ness in Kenya, to heal the wounds opened up by years of inequality and to tackle head-on the very issues that have brought this country to its knees in this unprecedented way.
Through the campaign, senior women journalists are pledging their commitment to go the extra mile to bring a balm of healing to a bleeding nation. The media are the torchbearers, through their pens and their cameras they can take the rest of us to the heart of the unrest.
 “Now those pictures and stories are not enough, Kenyans needing the truth for healing to begin,” points out Mildred Ngesa from the Nation Media Group. In the absence of a media that is committed to giving Kenyans the real story, the kind of peace that this country has enjoyed and prided itself for since it became sovereign, shall remain elusive.
This commitment translates to the critical issue of language used by media. Jane Godia, an editor with The Standard, cautioned against using inflammatory language. Godia said that using terms like “tribal war” and “tribal cleansing” would not bring us the needed healing. “I have sent back many stories because of this,” she noted.
Mildred Ngesa, emphasised that “true peace can only exist if we talk about truth, justice, history…only then can we start healing the nation.”  In addition, she cautioned that the present calm might just be the lull before a storm if urgent measures are not taken.
In agreement, Jane Thuo of the Association of Media Women in Kenya likened the calm to “artificial peace waiting to be triggered off by a small spark. We must confront the real issues.”
The media therefore has the role to bring the real Kenyan stories to the society by understanding that chaos will and should not translate into higher sales.
“We twist news for politicians…and smile at chaos as it makes us sell newspapers and attract more viewers and listeners to our broadcast media. This is not helping heal the nation,” Ngesa emphasised.
The women journalists said that the truth has been sidelined, and it was time the media gave it the leverage it deserves because Kenyans deserved nothing less. In circumstances that have seen media house become highly polarised, this initiative would not have come at a more opportune time.
Launching the campaign, Dr Bitange Ndemo the Permanent Secretary Ministry Information and Communication said the initiative was timely as some media outlets could have encouraged the violence that has been witnessed by flaring up tensions.
“Some talk-back vernacular radio stations encouraged people to talk violence. They aired raw material. One case we have is where a caller asks: “When do we start killing the foreigners in our midst?”
Such sentiments could explain the wanton destruction of lives and properties as soon as the presidential results were announced,” Dr Ndemo said. Such inflammatory statements, he said, led countries like Rwanda, to one of the most horrifying genocide ever.
In seeking a lasting solution that will heal the nation there is need to reflect on historical injustices which have been overlooked.  In supporting the initiative, prominence would be attributed to stories that are key to bringing this country on its feet again.
Rosemary Okello-Orlale is the Executive Director of the African Woman and Child Feature Service. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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