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If we don’t tell our stories, we’ll be murdered and called sluts

Agnes Wanjiru has refused to die. For a decade. True Daughter of the Land of Mekatilili, Koitalel and Kimathi. Resilient like the invincible rocks of Mt Kenya. Defiant like the waters of Lake Turkana that refuse to dry up in the burning desert heat. Wanjiru is us.

The Sunday Times of London broke the story of her cold-blooded murder on October 23. A British soldier from their base in Nanyuki killed her in March 2012. Her decomposing body was found two months later. The murder was common knowledge among the soldiers, and they even joked about it on Facebook. But the killer has never faced justice for his crime.

The Times reported that what had started as an ordinary beer-fuelled Saturday night out by British soldiers at Lions Court Hotel ended “with a group of them being led to the hotel’s septic tank, where they were shown the lifeless body of a prostitute one of their number had just murdered”.

Prostitute. The story sparked shock and anger in Kenya and Britain. A British MP started crowdfunding to raise money for Wanjiru’s daughter Stacy.

Kenyan MPs last week threatened not to pass the Kenya-British military agreement that could see UK forces vacate their Nanyuki training base, unless Wanjiru’s killer surrenders and is prosecuted under Kenyan law.

Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi protested that the life of a single Kenyan outweighs any economic benefits of having the UK forces in Nanyuki.

UK armed forces minister James Heappey pledged to “leave no stone unturned” and fully support Kenyan police as they reopen the case of Wanjiru’s murder.

The Times investigations is a lesson – if any were needed – that journalism matters in holding power to account. Of course, the paper – and other Western media houses that picked up the story – had no problem naming Agnes Wanjiru and describing her as “a prostitute” while protecting the name of her alleged killer, only identified as Soldier X.

And the point has been made repeatedly that our own media failed Wanjiru. Is it possible her story never reached the ears of a Kenyan journalist all these nine years? What do scribes based in Nanyuki do? Chasing MCAs?

Perhaps if a Kenyan journalist stumbled on the details of the brutal killing, the story would have been hushed or, at best, run as a “mysterious death”. Editors in Nairobi would have dithered, debating its implications for Kenya-UK relations. Media bosses around town are generally reluctant to antagonise “the international community” and “foreign investors”, some of whom have strong links in the industry.

At least that is the sense one gets from coverage such as The Standard report on October 25, based on The Times expose. “Journalist exposes cover-up in the murder of Kenyan by UK soldier,” the headline said (p.4). So, the story was about a journalist and not Wanjiru?

Wanjiru must get justice. Her spirit will not rest. The British soldier who murdered her must be tried and punished for his crime. Both the Kenyan and British authorities must do everything possible to deliver justice.

The Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff wrote on November 4 that, “If a woman was allegedly killed by a soldier in a British garrison town today, hopefully no effort would be spared to uncover the truth. But Agnes didn’t die in Colchester or Catterick. She was Kenyan, and she died in March 2012 near her home in Nanyuki, where the British army has long had a training base; a poor black woman in a faraway country whose death could apparently be brushed all too easily under the carpet”.

What does that tell Kenyan journalists? It is up to us to look after our own. We must draw the line at Wanjiru in our shameful worship of certain foreigners in our midst. Our journalism must peer into every nook and cranny in this country to tell our own stories, expose any rot and speak truth to power.

If we don’t tell our own stories, the world won’t keep quiet and ignore us. It will exploit us, murder us, and tell cynical lies about us to coverup their impunity – like they did to Wanjiru.

See you next week!

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