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Whose body? Rash of bad reporting clouds KVDA boss missing for 12 years

A sensational story broke on December 30, 2023, when a farmhand stumbled on a body buried in a shallow grave in Elgeyo Marakwet County. The body wrapped in a blanket was discovered in the compound of former Kerio Valley Development Authority managing director Silvanus Tubei, who disappeared about 12 years ago.

What followed was a wave of bad reporting of this important story.

Look Up TV reported on January 4: “Mwili wa Silvanus Tubei wafukuliwa miaka 12 baadaye”. The station said:

Mwili wa aliyekuwa mkurugenzi mkuu wa mamlaka ya KVDA Silvanus Tubei umefukuliwa. Tubei aliyeaga mwaka wa 2012 katika hali tatanishi umefukuliwa ili uchunguzi zaidi uendelee. Tubei alipotea nyumbani mwake na kupatikana amezikwa karibu na nyumbani mwake.”

Look Up TV told its viewers it was definitely Tubei’s body that was exhumed.

Ditto TV47. “Mabaki ya aliyekuwa bosi wa KVDA Silvanus Tubei yafukuliwa,” its headline said. But the intro was different. Mabaki ya mwili unaoaminika kuwa wa Silvanus Tubei, aliyekuwa mkurugenzi mkuu wa Mamlaka ya Maendeleo ya Kerio Valley (KVDA) yamefukuliwa.” Do you notice the difference, or your Kiswahili is a bit rusty?

Major TV stations like Citizen, KTN and NTV were generally careful to state that the body that was exhumed was believed or suspected to be that of Tubei.

On January 5, a day after the exhumation, the Standard and Nation newspapers carried detailed reports of the incident. But the stories were not without errors.

Discovery of body at ex-KVDA boss home fails to end mystery,” the Standard headline stated. What does this mean at first glance? “The discovery of human remains near former Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) managing director Silvanus Kiprais Tubei’s home has further compounded the circumstances in which he disappeared 12 years ago,” story said.

Both the headline and intro are misleading. Surely, the journalists on Mombasa Road know that once an unknown body is discovered and exhumed by police, the next steps would be to carry out DNA tests to try to identify it.

How can you report that the discovery “fails to end mystery”, or “has further compounded the circumstances” blah, blah, before any identification tests are done? Are these facts or opinion?

And then you proceed, without any sense of irony, to quote Keiyo South Police Commander Abdullahi Dahir as saying that “further investigations would help determine if the human skeleton at the compound is indeed Tubei’s”?

But Mgala muue na haki umpe, the Standard story was by far the most comprehensive of all the coverage, providing fine details of Tubei’s life and work and some of the events surrounding his disappearance in September 2012. Some excellent research there.

Police start fresh probe as body of missing KVDA boss found in farm,” the Nation reported. Did you get that? The body is definitely Tubei’s. How did Kimathi Street reach that conclusion?

“Police have launched a fresh investigation after a body believed to be that of former Kerio Valley Development Authority managing director Sylvanus Kiprais Tubei was exhumed from his Chepkumkum farm in Keiyo South, Elgeyo Marakwet County, yesterday.”

This intro clashes mightily with the headline – unless, of course, you have trouble understanding simple English. There is a clear difference between stating categorically that “body of missing KVDA boss found in farm” and leaving room for doubt by saying “a body believed to be that of” Tubei. Si ndio?

Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital pathologist Dr Kibet Kitany said “the samples will be taken to the Government Chemist for further analysis to determine the person’s identity,” the Nation reported.

Why would you report about an identification process after stating in the headline matter-of-factly that “body of missing KVDA boss found in farm”?

Ahem, pay attention. Think carefully about the words you use in your story and what they mean. You’re in the business of communication, mtu wangu.

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