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When soldiers die on duty, secrecy denies nation chance to mourn our heroes

A military aircraft crashed on Monday night, September 18, in Boni Forest, Lamu County.

Seasoned TV news anchor Tom Mboya told viewers of KBC Channel 1 the helicopter on patrol killed “all its occupants”, quoting a statement from Kenya Defence Forces. “The leadership of KDF remains tight-lipped on the exact number of fatalities,” Mboya said.

TV47 reported that, “Several KDF soldiers and officials have lost their lives in a helicopter crash in Lamu County.” The station reproduced the public statement by Brig Zipporah Kioko, in charge of military strategic communications.

An anti-terror operation within Boni Forest in Lamu County turned tragic after several Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers lost their lives in an aircraft crash,” the Daily Nation reported. The paper said “official KDF reports provided scanty information.”

By the time of going to press, KDF had not revealed the number of casualties, though our sources counted eight bodies.”

No official info on casualties and other details.

Every good journalist knows that in case of a tragedy the heart of the story is the casualties. Why? Because journalism is ultimately about human life. Doesn’t matter how much property is destroyed. The full scale of an accident or attack is revealed in the death toll.

The first cardinal principle of professional journalism is accuracy. Reporting that “several soldiers died” in an aircraft crash falls short of accuracy. Audiences receiving this information might quickly blame the media for doing a bad job, which is why media houses make a point of stating that KDF “remained tight-lipped” or “provided scanty information”.

Newsrooms shift the blame. But, what is more, beneath those phrases lies the media’s seething frustration with lack of adequate information on an important story.

By far the most frustrating story in coverage of KDF was the El Adde attack inside Somalia on January 15, 2016. How many soldiers died in the al Shabaab ambush? Local and international media was left to speculate.

Major Lucy Mukuria, a retired KDF psychologist, told the Washington Post that, “The bodies, they came in trucks, you know, trucks. I haven’t been able to smell since then; I’ve lost that entirely.”

CNN reported that, “The exact details of what went on at El Adde – and just how many Kenyan troops died there – remain shrouded in mystery.” There was “no national day of mourning, no roll call of honour, and no explanation.”

The veteran journalist Roy Gachuhi wrote in the Nation in 2019 that “El Adde is the most emotive name in KDF. Conversation about it is awkward and unwelcome. It is the nightmare that won’t go away and haunts bosses at Defence headquarters with unforgiving relentlessness every day.”

Kenya’s men and women of war are sons, daughters, brothers, wives, husbands of this land. Each of them who dies in the line of duty bravely sheds his or her blood to defend the Motherland. They pay the ultimate price of citizenship. Their death is a sacrifice par excellence that should inspire every Kenyan undertaking public duty to, always, put the good of Our Land and Nation before self.

Our soldiers continue the gallant and honourable tradition of the liberation heroes who fought and won against Kenya’s first invaders, the British colonialists. As long as KDF lives, Kenya will never again be invaded, conquered and enslaved by foreigners.

The military is entitled to keep its operational and other strategic secrets. But if you decide to put info out in the public domain that ends up raising more questions than answers, you are squandering your credibility. You are destroying, rather than building, public trust and respect.

Public info should not confuse, mislead, or create room for speculation and myths. That requires accuracy, clarity, and completeness.

It is not just that Kenyans are entitled to info about matters of public interest. Soldiers succeed in their missions with the esteem and support of the citizens they are ready to die for. Since time immemorial military victories are not only a result of operational and technical competency but also the result of a deep sense of duty and national pride.

When soldiers die on duty, the nation should be allowed to mourn them. The esteemed Kenya Defence Forces needs to review its strategic communications.

See you next week!

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