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On El Nino, media owes weatherman unreserved apology

The following story ran on the BBC on January 22, Year of our Lord 2018. “The president who made people take his bogus HIV cure.

The Gambia’s former leader, Yahya Jammeh, who left the country a year ago after two decades in power, has been accused of many crimes. But one of the strangest was forcing thousands of people with HIV to undergo treatment with a concoction of herbs he had invented himself. An unknown number died, reports Colin Freeman.”

President Jammeh not only called a press conferences to declare that he had found a cure for HIV and Aids but went on to set up a HIV clinic at State House in Banjul.

The President then lined up before the press thousands of Gambians he claimed had been ‘cured’ after using his wonder drug he claimed cured HIV and Aids in three days. All the patient had to do was ‘surrender’ at his State House clinic, swear to ditch cigarettes, tea, coffee and sex.

The President’s magic cure was, like in all authoritarian states where the President is always right, in the headlines in Gambia’s mediascape.

We, fellow Kenyans, having lived through such dark days of autocracy, perfectly understand that media in Gambia had to do what it had to: Report that the all-knowing, His Excellency Doctor Jammeh, herbalist and witchdoctor number one, researcher number one, commander of the armed and unarmed forces of the Republic of Gambia, could cure Aids.

Jammeh is not the only maverick the media in Africa has had to deal with in terms of wild, science-defying claims bordering on madness. Down south, another maverick was in the news for claiming that a quick bath after casual unsafe sex would ‘wash away’ the HIV virus.

Let’s come closer to home. The following story ran on NTV on October 23, Year of our Lord 2023: There will be no El Nino, Ruto says…”

The government now says Kenya will not experience El Niño rains as previously expected.

Earlier Capital News had ran to town shouting: No El Nino, just short rains. Says who? The President.

The smart people at The Star yelled: Ruto: We will not experience El Nino.

The People Daily reported: Our prayers for rains paid off, Ruto says as El Nino ruled out.

The presidential weather forecast was quickly picked up by prayer warriors. There will be no El Nino, President Ruto says,reported Signs TV.

Online, the presidential weather forecast was disseminated like wild oats. There will be no El Nino, just a lot of rain.

Now, there are some who would say that the media reports as said. But a media that quickly picks up every he said/she said/ he reiterated/he urged story and goes on to parrot these is a media whose public watchdog role has been reduced to public tail-wagging.

Back to the Gambia, and BBC reported that the President’s wonder drug lured thousands into queues of death. “Some 9,000 people are believed to have been treated, although since Jammeh kept all the clinic’s records secret, nobody has yet established just how many of them died. One thing now seems certain, though – the only “miracle” about his cure was that anyone survived at all.”

In Kenya, the death toll from El Nino is rising every day. Granted, the weatherman is reported to have “apologised for saying that there would be no El Nino,but the apology ought to have pricked our collective conscience. The weatherman was the first to warn that the El Nino was coming, long before the President said it would not; long before we, the media, joined mobs poking fun at the weathermen and women for reading the weather by looking out through the window.

There are lessons to be learnt here, chief among them that the media in Kenya, either did not learn, or forgot to learn from media coverage of both President Jammeh and President Zuma’s attempted coup on science.

By reporting that the President has declared there shall be no El Nino’, knowing too well that the President is not an expert in weather forecasting; by joining in the lynch mobs against our weathermen and women for quietly insisting that El Nino was at hand; and by joining the same lynch mobs to drag the poor weathermen and women out to ‘apologise’, we ought to feel ashamed of ourselves.

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