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How Tuko saved taxi driver who drove away ‘shooters of MP’

In the wee hours of February 7, 2015, Morris Njuguna, a taxi driver, received a call from a ‘customer’ at about 4am that would change his life and that of his family forever. He went and picked up a man, who was later joined by three of his friends. However, the quartet later turned out to be the key suspects in the gruesome killing of then Kikuyu MP George Muchai, his two bodyguards and driver.

Morris, deeply frightened by what he heard and saw during the one-hour trip ferrying the four men, still felt emboldened and reported the matter to a senior police officer a few days later. His action triggered a series of other events that included the swift arrest of the suspects and plans to place him under the government’s witness protection programme, a promise that never fully materialised.

What followed for the father of three was a dog’s life marked by shuttling between Kilifi (where the state had temporarily provided him with safety) and Nairobi (where he testified against the suspects under duress). All this time, his taxi business had virtually ground to a halt; his regular customers could hardly reach him because the state had instructed him to change his mobile number and his wife, nine months pregnant, was stressed and tormented by the ordeals.

However, it is after his testimony that the real nightmare began for Morris. A wave of carjackings and abductions followed, targeting taxi drivers plying the routes he often used. In one chilling incident that became a turning point in his now wrecked life, a taxi driver with a name like his (Njuguna) was carjacked, abducted and his body was later found in a mortuary somewhere in Ukambani.

Morris recounts the horrifying events in an interview with Tuko, an online news website that is pushing the boundaries of Kenyan journalism by reimagining the art of storytelling. For close to one hour, the audience is subjected to a gut-wrenching tale of betrayal, abandonment, broken family, despair, and torment – and finally resignation and hopelessness. The video, which has so far garnered one million views in three months, elicited strong reactions from viewers who expressed a desire to assist Morris.

Solutions journalism “examines instances where people, institutions, and communities are working toward solutions.” For a very long time, the Kenyan media, particularly the mainstream press, have been accused of not doing enough to evolve with the times. Their news coverage is still slanted toward highlighting problems (news negativity), even as revenues shrink, and audiences turn away in droves. While alternative news platforms such as Tuko and Lynn Ngugi are increasingly providing space for audience engagement where viewers can help people in distress, like Morris, the legacy media are still marking time.

Tuko made a follow-up video a month later to report that the father of three had received enough financial help to escape from the country. For a man who had jeopardised his life by accepting to be interviewed without concealing his identity, the interview turned out to be a blessing. However, while actions by Tuko viewers to assist Morris are highly commendable and should be strongly encouraged, that does not absolve the government of blame for ruining the taxi driver’s life. The major shortcoming of the first video is that not a single government official or agency was interviewed to get a balanced story.

Are there lessons that traditional news media outlets can learn from Tuko, apart from providing solutions to the problems affecting society? Yes. First, media outlets must change their news coverage model by placing storytelling at the centre. Alternative news platforms that tell stories, especially about ordinary people, have proven more than once that they highly resonate with their audience. Second, legacy media must follow up on stories seriously to win credibility. Gone are the days when a story could be hurriedly done, conduct no follow-up, and still expect viewers to stick around. Spoiled for choice, audiences will continue to dictate how news is covered and which media outlet survives. More importantly, news websites with an eye on earning revenue from YouTube will continue to be innovative as they adapt to the tastes and preferences of their viewers.

1 thought on “How Tuko saved taxi driver who drove away ‘shooters of MP’”

  1. The fact that such impactful and life changing stories are not done by ‘giant’ media houses is just appalling, and leaving a bad taste in our mouths. This story was a series of failed systems. A case where you can’t help but think, Maurice should not have done the right thing in the first place.
    I wonder how many more Maurice’s are out there in the dark and will never come out.
    Great job King’ori and Tuko for an extensively well done job

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