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How many journalists have heard about deadly drought out of town?

There is drought out of town. Yes, Kenyan droughts happen beyond the borders of the cities and towns. As reported by some media – Citizen TV had a story on Sunday, February 12, 2023 evening news on the destruction that drought has wrought in northern and eastern Kenya – the drought has affected almost half the country. Many of the counties in Eastern and Northeastern Kenya are experiencing hard times. Kenyans are starving some parts of Coastal as well as Central Kenya.

This is a big story. Millions of Kenyans are starving. Livestock, on which millions of Kenyans, especially the pastoralists, depend for livelihoods, is dying every day for lack of pasture and water. Wildlife is dying. Families are migrating in thousands to look for food and water for themselves and their animals. There is desperation in the affected regions. Non-governmental organizations that offer humanitarian aid in the affected parts are warning that the situation may get worse soon.

Yet, this situation is being reported by the mainstream Kenyan media in bits and pieces.

How can editors of Kenyan newspapers, radio, and TV stations as well as online outlets not have realised that this is a big, big story? Are they waiting for CNN, BBC, or other European, American, and Asian media to break the story before they lap up what remains?

On February 12 evening news Citizen TV reported that more than three million Kenyans are facing starvation. How can this not be a crisis worth the media’s undivided attention? What more does our media need to know to send their reporters, cameras, and recorders to the affected regions?

Yet this story isn’t even new: It has been around since last year. It was being reported way back in October 2022 that some parts of the country were experiencing drought. The short rains had failed to arrive. Crops had failed. Families that depend on subsistence farming had little or no harvest. They needed food aid. Kenyan authorities must have known that the drought up north, in Ethiopia, Somalia and Djibouti would eventually cross the borders into the country. The story of unpredictable global weather patterns due to climate change was and still is known to Kenyans.

But no one seems to have been prepared for the disaster that is happening in about 29 counties as reported in the media. Kenyans had been busy listening to politicians who were selling them dreams of a hunger-free country, a nation where all shall be treated at government hospitals for free, all children will go to school without paying fees and prosperity will flow from the mountains down the valleys onto plains.

Why can’t the media remind all Kenyans that it won’t be long before the situation reported in the 29 counties becomes a national case? Why can’t the media demand answers from the government on what immediate and long-term measures it is planning to implement to address the drought situation? Why can’t the media make this story a topic for national debate?

The poorest of the poor who have lost all their livestock and the little savings they had will be forced to settle on lands owned by other poorer Kenyans. This situation can easily lead to fights over water, pasture, and food. Families will break up as men travel farther away to look for livelihood and women remain behind to look after children. In some cases, old members of the family and even children will be left behind because they can’t travel faster or farther. This is a socio-economic disaster.

Journalists need to ask hard questions about who is responsible for the ‘early warning system’ that should alert local communities and government officials about impending drought. Indeed, the media is a key medium for sharing information about looming famine. Or the media should be posing questions about the role of the local leadership in alleviating the situation – where have they been all along; what are they doing right now to address the situation; what plans do they have to solve the problem in the long run etc. And if government is for sure providing relief food, is it ending up in the right hands?

Surely, the cliché of political headlines that Kenyan media runs every day can go on a break for a few days. Let’s have new headlines on this unfolding national disaster.

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