Infamous goofs by Kenyan media in quest to break story


Village Elder
A story by The Nation castigating The Nation!

@fieldmarshal Couch p njoo uone watu wako!

Infamous goofs by Kenyan media in quest to break story

One early morning in December 1999, television comic Charles Kimani Kang’ara alias Masaku, who featured in the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation television programmes Vitimbi and Vioja Mahakamani, woke up to find the Daily Nationedition of the day had killed him.

Quoting police sources, the lead story on page 3 said unknown attackers had, in the wee hours of the night, burst into a house in the city’s Eastland suburbs where the comedian was sleeping and stabbed him with a dagger.

The actor had tried to seek help but collapsed and died from massive bleeding. The actor’s brother, one Joseph Kuria, found the body lying on a footpath and alerted the police, the story went on. The body was taken to the City Mortuary for postmortem examination.

But alas, at about 10am, comedian Masaku walked to the Nation newsroom alive and kicking! “I am very much alive and well as you can see”, he told the baffled news editor. It turned out there had been a mix-up of pictures. The comedian murdered was Peter Mbuthia, alias Mutiso, who too featured in Vitimbi and Vioja Mahakamani but Masaku’s picture was used in the story reporting the death.

Years earlier in the 1980s, the Nation had made a similar blunder when it reported the death of a famous city civic leader, Councillor Ndururu Kiboro. There happened to be a by-election for Mathare parliamentary seat and the civic leader was the chief campaigner of one of the candidates. As part of the dirty tricks associated with politics, somebody from the rival camp telephoned the Nation news desk to say Cllr Kiboro had suddenly been taken ill and pronounced dead on arrival at the Kenyatta National Hospital. But it was all fake news. The civic leader was alive and kicking. Indeed, he walked to the Nation newsroom that same afternoon as a living exhibit that news about his death was exaggerated, as writer Mark Twain would have said.

Related to the above but in a reverse way was the case of murdered Nyandarua North MP JM Kariuki. On the day his partially decomposed body was discovered dumped at the City Mortuary as that of an unknown person, the Nation had a headline that he was alive and booked in a hotel in the Zambian capital Lusaka.

The newspaper claimed it had telephoned the hotel and indeed confirmed JM was alive and staying at the hotel!

Super con Eric
Kenya has never had a shortage of crooks and one Eric Awori played super league in the gangster’s lottery.

One day in February 1986, he took the country for a ride by cooking a story he’d won a world competition in driving in reverse in New Zealand. He never had left the country, but was faxing the fake news to local media houses from a hideout in Nairobi’s River-Road area.

This is how the Nation reported the story in a page one lead: “Eric Awori has rewritten motoring history by becoming the first African driver ever to win a race in a European country. Awori, with his Kenyan assembled Toyota Corolla, beat the odds and technology to win the 620km Kiwi Auto Reverse Driving Rally in New Zealand. After driving in reverse for 31 hours, 55 minutes through some of the most rugged roads in Auckland, Awori was declared winner on finishing at Newbury Ranch.”

The story had all the elements of good fiction and went on: “He (Awori) started off at position 18 and had numerous problems with his Toyota after 45km, and only one hour into the race. His car had two punctures almost at a go, then the engine started overheating, followed by water leakage from the radiator spring, spilling into the coil and spark plugs. Lastly the Toyota’s brakes failed and he’d to use the handbrake.

“By the time he reached his service crew, the Kenyan driver had dropped to position 34 on the road. After 200km he slipped to 18th position and, halfway through the race, he was number 10. At this stage only 28 cars out of 51 starters were still in the

Awori and his Toyota pulled up the field and soon joined the top three. At the end of the section, and to the delight of spectators, he took the lead. Awori never looked back again until he finished the winner.”

Great story indeed, but it was all made up in River Road. No such competition took place in New Zealand or anywhere else in the world. It was all the work of Awori’s fertile imagination after downing a bottle of whiskey down River Road.

All he did is to manufacture letter-heads datelined New Zealand on which he wrote the fake news and faxed them to the government owned Kenya News Agency, which in turn distributed the “news” to subscriber media houses, including the Nation newspaper. That way, the entire country got duped.

General who never was
It began with a February 2002 “exclusive” in the Sunday Standard hyped: “The search for General Mathenge” and which read: “For half a century, one of the Kenya’s deepest mysteries has surrounded the fate of Stanley Mathenge Mirugi, the Mau Mau general who deputised Field Marshal Dedan Kimathi. While some believed that he died fighting in the forest, there has been widespread speculation that he was still alive somewhere within Eastern Africa.

Now, in a search that echoes the search for Dr David Livingstone in an earlier century, the Sunday Standard has finally tracked down the former freedom fighter and brings to an end one of the most enduring mysteries of our time. Read this spectacular story.”

Six months down the line, in August 2002, the Nation picked up the story, this time round reporting about the “General’s” intention to return home. The story read: “Nearly 50 years ago, General Stanley Mathenge, the Mau Mau war hero, fled Kenya in the heat of the liberation war. His whereabouts remained a mystery. He was presumed dead until he was tracked down recently in Ethiopia. Now, finally, the legendary freedom fighter has made a decision about the homeland he fled nearly half a century ago, and will be returning home.”

Believing the story, retired President Mwai Kibaki’s administration, which had just come to power in early 2003, took it upon itself to bring back the “General” and have him grace the fortieth Madaraka Day celebrations. But alas, while on a State paid junket in Nairobi that cost the taxpayer over a million shillings, the said “General” categorically stated he was not Mau Mau General Mathenge and that he was not, and had never been, a Kenyan.

During a press conference at the Panafric Hotel, where he was holed up, the visibly agitated Ethiopian said as he shook his head: “I am no Kenyan! I am no General Mathenge! I am no Mau Mau!”

DNA results that embarrassed government officials declined to release, indeed revealed he was never a General Mathenge. All along we’d been dealing with an Ethiopian farmer called Lemma Ayanu.

The farmer was quietly spirited out of the country back to wherever they got him from. Hope he enjoyed the junket in Nairobi.

Reader response: Reacting to last week’s piece on peculiarities of older generation of Kenyan editors, some mjuaji called to say that Hilary Ng’weno has never had an email address. If true, that would be curious because the veteran journalist’s daughter, Amolo Ng’weno, was director of the first ever internet-provider company in the country, Africa Online.

But I wouldn’t be surprise. Some years back while waiting in the reception room of then Attorney General Amos Wako, Ng’weno walked in. When given the visitor’s slip to write his name, he borrowed a pen from the person next to him.

The great writer never carried a pen!
This is how the Nation reported the story in a page one lead: “Eric Awori has rewritten motoring history by becoming the first African driver ever to win a race in a European country. Awori, with his Kenyan assembled Toyota Corolla, beat the odds and technology to win the 620km Kiwi Auto Reverse Driving Rally in New Zealand
Aaaaaaaand I've just discovered that New Zealand is in Europe.