Being a scribe is hard. Telling real stories about real people, often doing bad things, is as dangerous a job as they come. To use an Orwellian quote, news is what someone else doesn’t want you to know; everything else is PR.
Often times you survive the backlash, but sometimes you don’t.
7. Joseph Masha: Standard Group, Suspected PoisoningThe latest suspicious death by a journalist was that of Standard scribe Joseph Masha. On his way from the toilet on the first day of September, 2016, the 50-year old journalist collapsed and died. While the postmortem showed no signs of toxicity, Masha’s death was as suspicious as they come. He was most likely poisoned one or two days before his death, at a meeting with a legislator.
In the days after he died, the main point of contention became when he had held a meeting with the legislator. His family insists it was on Thursday, two days before his death, while the legislators claim it was Wednesday. The implication is that if he had been poisoned at the meeting, where he ate a heavy meal as he waited for the legislators, then three days would have been too long. There was a smaller disagreement on whether he had eaten before or after they arrived.
Joseph Masha first worked at the Ministry of Information in the coastal towns of Lamu and Kilifi. Then he moved to Standard Group as their Kilifi journalist. As the man in charge of churning news from the coastal county for the second largest media house in the country, he became a powerful man.
There’s another, often glossed over part of this story. Whichever day Joseph Masha met the legislators, he returned home with a brown enveloped filled with wads of cash.
6. Dennis Otieno: Freelance, Shot.
6 days before Joseph Masha’s death in Kilifi, 26-year-old Dennis Otieno was shot at thrice with an AK-47 assault rifle. The first two shots narrowly missed the young photojournalist, but the third didn’t.Otieno was a photojournalist based in Kibomet, a small town in Kitale. On the night he died, his killers found his wife outside at 11pm and forced her into the house. They were armed with the gun and a panga, and arrived at the house on a boda boda. Dennis Otieno’s wife later said she recognised one of the killers as he was of her husband’s close friends.
Inside the house, they found Otieno and repeatedly demanded a photo he had taken earlier. He tried to defend himself at some point, and they shot him dead. They ransacked the house, staging a robbery while actually looking for the photos.
It’s unclear what he had captured either that day or in the days prior to his death that was so serious that someone put out a hit on him and sent one of his friends.
5. John Kituyi: Weekly Citizen, Bludgeoned.On the last day of April 2015, John Kituyi was walking home in Eldoret when two men attacked him and bludgeoned him with a blunt object.
Kituyi was walking the short distance between the Country Lodge Club and his home. The only thing that was robbed from him that night, other than his life, was his phone. His sim card was later found with a soldier called Nicholas Kavili. Kavili was charged with robbery with violence, although there’s evidence that that’s not what happened that night.
John Kituyi was the editor and publisher of Mirror Weekly, a small publication based in Eldoret. He had first worked as the Eldoret Bureau Chief for The Standard, Standard Group’s flagship brand. In 1995, he left to establish his own weekly, a mash up between political and regional news.
One of the last big stories he worked on was “Now ICC Plot to Lockup Ruto.”
The story covered in intricate detail, among other things, the disappearance and murder of a key witness called Meshack Yebei. According to a few of his friends, the 63-year old Kituyi was working on an unpublished story on Yebei when he was killed. It’s likely why the only thing that his killers robbed from him that night was his phone.
4. Francis Nyaruri: Weekly Citizen, tortured, killed and decapitated.
Francis Nyaruri’s mangled and decapitated body was found two weeks after he disappeared on January 15th, 2009. His hands had been bound, his eyes gouged out and his lower jaw broken off before he was killed. The gruesome murder quickly faded from the limelight, and that’s because all fingers pointed to it being a police execution.
Under the pseudonym Mong’are Mokua for the Weekly Citizen, a regional weekly, Nyaruri had written extensively about police corruption. In the months before his death, he had focused on a specific construction project for police recruits, from which senior cops were clearly stealing. He had been threatened a few times, but never attacked.
On the day he died, Nyaruri was himself on his way to Kisii to buy construction materials. He called his wife at 11am, and then disappeared until his body was found on the edge of Kodero Forest, on January 29th.
What followed were concerted attempts to block a proper investigation. In fact, the only reason we have a vague idea who killed Nyaruri is because the initial investigating officer was diligent. Within weeks, the policeman, Robert Natwoli, arrested a taxi driver and a known member of a local militia. The driver, Evans Bosire, said he had transported Nyaruri, two cops, and two gang members to the home of Kisii Town councilor, Samuel Omwando, on January 15th.
When Nyaruri got suspicious on the way and tried to get off, one police man hit him. Then they dragged him into Omwando’s backyard, and tortured him to death. Bosire was later released and then he disappeared too. Natwoli himself was threatened with disciplinary charges. His house was shot at, and his life became total misery to the point that he quit the force.
Nyaruri’s big story was still published four days he disappeared. He had written about the housing project, and pointed at the police officer in charge of Nyamira, Lawrence Mwaura, as the man leading the corrupt senior officers. In the months before he died, he had written other stories about Mwaura, including one where he said the cop was using police vehicles to transport prostitutes.
Nyaruri’s murder, despite the concise initial report, remains unsolved.
3. Samuel Nduati: Royal Media House, shot.
Samuel Nduati was killed in almost the same way as Dennis Otieno. On Sunday, October 27, 2000, the Citizen Radio Business Editor was at home watching TV with his wife. Then there was a bang on the door. His wife went to check, then Nduati followed.
At the door, two assassins shot him using a silenced gun. Then they made it look like a robbery, stealing money, the TV Nduati and his wife had been watching, a VCR, radio and clothes.
Samuel Nduati, at 41, was an established business journalist. He had moved from Nation Media Group to Royal Media House, the stable that owns Citizen Radio. Nduati had worked on several stories about corruption at the Coffee Board of Kenya. A century after coffee was introduced to Kenya, the industry was on its knees. To scribes like Nduati, the situation had become volatile, as farmers were suffering while the monopoly institution was plagued with multiple scandals.
Although the murder of Samuel Nduati was never directly connected to his work on the coffee industry, his colleagues suspected it was the reason he was killed.
3. William (Michael) Munuhe: Former Freelance Journalist, Shot and disfigured.
Three things. Officially, Michael Munuhe’s death is still considered a suicide. Two, his name was actually William. Three, he wasn’t a journalist when he died.
William Munuhe Gichuki’s body was found in his bed on January 17th, 2003. He had been shot once in the head and there was a jiko next to his bed. His face was disfigured, most likely postmortem, with acid. He had been dead at least two days.
Munuhe was killed when he tried to lead Rwandan fugitive Felicien Kabuga to a trap in his home. The closest anyone had ever come to catching Kabuga before that January in 2003 was six years prior, in 1997, and at least once in August 1994. In the 1997 raid, all Kenyan police found in the townhouse where Kabuga had been hiding was a note from one of them warning Kabuga of the ambush. Then in 2002, Munuhe said he had met Kabuga, and he was willing to help the many police agencies looking for him catch him.
A few hours after Munuhe died on January 15th, Kenyan and American police lay in wait outside his house waiting for the Rwandan to arrive. They gave up after six hours and left, unknowingly leaving the corpse of their contact inside the house. When he still didn’t show up two days later, they broke into his house.
By the time he died, Munuhe wasn’t a journalist. He had become a government supplier and a bagman for a senior public servant, two things that would eventually lead to his death. In the years before, Munuhe had worked for The Star, and then for The People Daily as a freelancer. At 27, he had weaved his way through the complex underworld of government tenders. The house he would be found in, where he had lived for a while, was in Karen.
A letter his family found in his pants, written in late December 2002, detailed an earlier kidnapping. The 27-year-old former journalist had been abducted from the Safari Park Hotel and driven for four hours in the boot of a car. He was then taken to a room, beaten and interrogated. Later he was taken into a room where he met Kabuga and three men who told him that they had recordings of his sit-downs with an FBI handler only known as “Mr. Scott.”
The month before he wrote the letter, Munuhe had written another to powerful Moi-era PS Zakayo Cheruiyot telling him he had spoken to Kabuga. The CID then summoned Munuhe, and within weeks Kabuga abducted him. Munuhe told the FBI he could bring Kabuga to them, so they set up a trap only they were a few hours too late.
At the time of the Rwandan genocide, Kabuga was Rwanda’s richest man and one of the financiers of the genocide. His trail went cold once he entered Kenya. He was given a false identity as Sadiki Nzakobi, a military man, treated in military hospitals and given round-the-clock military protection. One member of his detail, Michael Sarunei, was later killed after he photographed Kabuga in 2008.
Munuhe and Sarunei are not the only two people whose deaths have been linked to the Rwandan fugitive. The third was a retired colonel and medical doctor, Peter Rwakwach. Officially, Rwakwach died of a heart attack. He had treated Kabuga in military facilities several times before he retired in 2002.
1. Hos Maina, Anthony Macharia (Both Kenyans), Don Eldon (Kenyan resident), and Hansi Krauss (German): Reuters and AP, beaten and stoned and shot.
Two months before The Battle of Mogadishu, on which the 2001 film Black Hawk Down is based, four international journalists were cornered, beaten and stoned to death. Two of them were Kenyan. One of them had only been in Mogadishu for just a few hours.
On the morning of 12th July 1993, American gunships under the UN force rained hell on one of the command posts of Somali warlord and later self-declared president Mohammed Farah Aideed. No one knows for sure how many people the air attack killed but within just a few hours, four journalists would join the body count.
Barely an hour after the 17-minute American attack, Aideed’s men drove to the hotel the journalists were staying in and offered to show them the carnage. Several cars left the hotel but only two cars made it through the first angry mob they met on the way. Of those two, only one would make it back with its occupants alive. As per protocol, all the journalists were wearing bullet proof jackets, but for four of them those wouldn’t help at all.
The last time ever saw the four men who died that day was in the bombed compound. No one seems to remember seeing Hos Maina after he entered the compound but someone saw Don trying to jump onto a fleeing Reuters’ truck. He was knocked off by the crowd and then chased into the streets, with Macharia behind him.
Dan’s body was found that day, while Macharia’s and Maina’s were found the next day. Krauss was found the day after; his flak jacket had been ripped off and he had been shot multiple times. His killers demanded a ransom for his body and his camera. When his colleagues checked his camera, they found that Hansi had still been snapping the shutter as he died.
The four men had been beaten, stabbed, stoned, and shot to death.
Of the four, 38-year-old Reuters’ photographer Hos Maina was the most experienced. He had worked for Daily Nation before moving to Reuters, which sent him on the assignment as 22-year-old Don Eldon’s relief. Don was a British-American citizen who had lived in Kenya since he was a kid. Maina, a father of three, had covered almost every major conflict of the 1980s and the early ’90s in the region. He had covered the overthrow of Mengistu, civil wars in Uganda, Somalia and Sudan, and even the turmoil in Kenya. Maina arrived in Mogadishu just a few hours before he was beaten and stoned to death.
?#BMUnBounded (@bonifacemwangi) October 20, 2015
Maina was once covering an event where President Moi was denouncing multipartyism when he turned to Hos and asked him what he thought of it. Without flinching, Hos told him he thought multiparty democracy was good for Kenya. He later said of it “someone had to tell him.”
Little is known about Anthony Macharia, the second Kenyan. Macharia was a 21-year-old Reuters’ television sound recordist. Hansi Krauss worked for the Associated Press, and had also covered several conflicts. He was 30 at the time. There was another Kenyan in the crew, Mohammed Shaffi, but he survived the attack and escaped with gunshot wounds.
The media houses had to pay the UN 800 dollars per body to transport the bodies of their colleagues to Nairobi.
Three journalists survived that attack. One of them, an Italian pen called Ilaria Alpi, was killed less than a year later by a seven-man commando unit while following a story on traffic in weapons and illegal toxic waste in Somalia.
See a more concise chronology of attacks on Kenyan Press on Ajua Press [Link].
Cover Image Source [Link]
One story is good,
till Another is told.