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REPORTER’S DIARY: When I marked birthday as ‘guest of the state’

For those who care to know, I was born on the Good Friday of 1966. At the height of the crusade for multi-partyism in Kenya in the early 1990s, it was just one day to my 26th birthday when the then authoritarian Kanu regime of now retired President Daniel arap Moi struck and converted me into a reluctant, uninvited Guest of the State

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Long gone are the days when journalists were a bold lot of courageous men and women driven by facts, consistency, principles and research as the irrefutable tenets that defined members of the Fourth Estate who relayed information as they saw and heard it.

 We now live in an era where comedians, hackers and tricksters have permeated and rebranded the once noble profession to give the trade a new identity and meaning.

 For those who care to know, I was born on the Good Friday of 1966. At the height of the crusade for multi-partyism in Kenya in the early 1990s, it was just one day to my 26th birthday when the then authoritarian Kanu regime of now retired President Daniel arap Moi struck and converted me into a reluctant, uninvited Guest of the State.

 As I headed to work on that Thursday morning in 1992, I was walking past the open parking lot between Kencom House and Tumaini House when I realised some mass of human bodies moving along with me towards our offices. I noticed that the open space was unusually congested with strange faces. I smelt a rat.

 I had just been arrested. This was the beginning of a chilling travail that saw me being held incommunicado over the entire Easter weekend at Ongata Rongai police post (now station), driven to Mombasa where I was charged with 11 counts of sedition together with Nyamora, his wife Loise, Njoka and Gitau and spent harrowing lengthy days and nights with hardcore criminals at Shimo La Tewa Prison after being denied bail by the Mombasa Chief Magistrate.

 I worked for the then fierce – some called it radical – Society Weekly political magazine where I was the News Editor and Pius Moseti Nyamora was the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Blamuel Njururi the Managing Editor and Samson Mwenda Njoka the Deputy Managing Editor.

 Mwangi Chege was the Deputy News Editor while Laban Gitau and Macharia Mugo were senior reporters. Fred Geke, George Obanyi and Mburu Mucoki completed the sub-editors’ desk. Learning the ropes of the journalism trade was Tom Osanjo who had deserted a teaching job in north-eastern Kenya to try his hand as a scribe. I was accompanied by the mass of humanity through the stairs to the third floor of Tumaini House where our offices were located.SHIMO-LA-tEWA-150x150 REPORTER'S DIARY: When I marked birthday as 'guest of the state'
At the reception, the editorial secretary Janet Marende had barely greeted me after calling my name while asking: “Wewe hujachukuliwa?” when the stalkers pounced on me. The heavily built moustached men carried me shoulder-high through the corridors and stairs of Tumaini House. Outside the building, we found over 60 other crew-cut men in dark suits who joined the fray to push, shove and bundle me into a waiting white saloon car.
As we were being charged in Mombasa, tens of my family members who had travelled all the way from Kabras in Kakamega County to Nairobi were all groping in the dark in the capital city as they had no clue of our whereabouts.

 The stint at Shimo La Tewa were the most excruciating. Apart from the nauseating meals and horrifying stories from my fellow inmates – most of them capital offenders – we were forced to squat naked every morning on two lines – one for men and the other for women – for medical check-up. Mind you, Mrs Nyamora was much older than us and our boss as a co-director of the Nyamora Communications firm that had employed us.

 It was an unsavoury experience to watch our naked female boss squatting on the women’s line, just two metres from ours. The purported medical examination entailed a warder pinching our private parts – the testicles – and if one writhed in pain they were declared fit. I have never come to know how women were being tested (obviously I could not ask my boss about it!) Yes, it was a demeaning experience for all of us.

 All these troubles were created by a cover story in our magazine titled “Kilonzo Go Home,” which was an assault on then Police Commissioner Philip Kilonzo (father of immediate former Yatta MP Charles Kilonzo) whose brutal stewardship of the law enforcement agency had assumed unimaginable proportions.

Also in Reporter’s Diary

 After spending several days in custody, Chief Magistrate Joseph Kanyi finally granted us bail. It was during the nascent days of the original Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD). One of the so-called Ford Six Founder Members, the now late Ahmed Bahmariz mobilised Mombasa politicians and business people to stand guarantee for our bail. I was about to miss a guarantor when journalist Njuguna Mutonya (then the Mombasa Bureau Chief of the Nation Newspapers) stepped in at the nick of time and presented his car log-book to secure my release.

 We had the first decent meal at Splendid Hotel that evening and, together with members of the Release political Prisoners (RPP) lobby group who had travelled from Nairobi to show solidarity with us led by Njeri Kabeberi took the train back to Nairobi where we joined hunger-striking mothers of political prisoners at the Anglican Church’s All Saints’ Cathedral.

 One seamy element is that when I finally rejoined my family members, one of family older kin who was then a rabid Kanu supporter refused to greet me; his reason being that that I was an outlaw. It still puzzles and amazes me.

 Henceforth, we were to travel to Mombasa twice a month, for a period of three years for the mention of our case before then Attorney-General Amos Shitswila Wako entered a nolle prosequi to have the case dropped. Kenya’s journalism has walked very intricate terrains.
It is so sad that nowadays the gains made so painfully by a few brave practitioners who sacrificed so much are now being eroded shamelessly so fast by a bunch of greedy Judases who are ever ready to flout every rule in the book and throw every tenet of the profession through the window for some few pieces of silvers.

 The author is a Revise Editor with People Daily newspaper. Email: [email protected]

SHIMO-LA-tEWA-150x150 REPORTER'S DIARY: When I marked birthday as 'guest of the state'

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