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What ‘mystery’ of Ruto, Raila grazing cows with M7 means for journalism

Ruto, Raila and Museveni image

Nairobi’s finest political journalists could not believe their eyes. Were those true pictures of President William Ruto and his political nemesis Raila Odinga grazing cows with President Yoweri Museveni, or were the scribes ‘seeing their own things’?

The photos of the trio, against the backdrop of Museveni’s famous Ankole cattle, hit social media on the night of February 26. President Ruto met his counterpart at his Kisozi rural home. “We discussed critical issues that affect our two countries such as energy and petroleum,” the photos caption on X stated.

“Also discussed was the declared candidacy of Kenya’s former Prime Minister Raila Odinga for the African Union Commission chairmanship.”

How come no one in the media had a whiff of this meeting? President and opposition leader cross the border to discuss some weighty matters, but the nation’s watchdog has no idea. Was it because there was no prior press release from State House? Is that how we do journalism nowadays?

The secretary general of the Consumers Federation Kenya Stephen Mutoro promptly raised probably the unspoken question in the minds of many news consumers.

“Is our investigative journalism dead and buried?” he posed. “How come all mainstream media houses just learnt of the headline story of the meeting of President Ruto and Museveni and Raila Odinga in a neighbouring country after State House Kenya and Uganda broke the story? No media house could have linked RAO and WSR in Uganda from early Monday afternoon?”

Fair tackle, don’t you think? Mutoro is a consumer activist, so it is safe to assume he could have a pretty good idea of whether or not media audiences are served as they deserve. He is a lawyer, so he knows the Constitution guarantees the freedom and independence of the media.

After the pictures, the media tried to play catch-up. The People Daily published one photo under the heading, “Handshake loading” (February 28, p.1). But the paper said nothing about that, carrying instead the caption posted on social media by the President’s communications team.

The Nation Media Group’s labours were perhaps the most hilarious. The Daily Nation resorted to a commentary on the photos. “The Kisozi pictures, however, go beyond the African Union dream. They tell the story of brilliant political calculations, patience that defies logic, and the fragile nature of partisan relationships…This is a political masterstroke from Dr Ruto, who is himself known as a hard-nosed, imperturbable strategist” (February 28, p.5).

Of course, all that kizungu mingi is not news. It is called editorialising, a diversionary tactic from the fact that the media was caught flat-footed. And the following paragraph tells you an awful lot about the state of our journalism:

“The photos once again capture the power of photography in the right moment. State House did not officially share them with newsrooms, and the meeting had not been announced earlier, as is usually the case.”

In other words in 2024, Nairobi journalists do not necessarily consider it their professional duty to go out and search for the news. They are comfortably seated back at their desks waiting for handout photos and official announcements. They even quote themselves.

“In the words of Nation Visual and Syndication Editor Joan Pereruan, both Raila and Ruto were projected in the images as ‘friends walking down the same path’.” News, indeed.

The Standard “on its part” belatedly proclaimed exclusive knowledge of “behind-the-scenes preparations that made the meeting possible and the motives that brought the powerful men who months ago could not see eye to eye together” (February 28, p.4).

But it was a story by NTV that sounded quite off. Raila brokered the meeting in Kisozi to reconcile Ruto and Museveni. “NTV imebaini kuwa baada ya Raila kuhudhuria mazishi ya aliyekuwa Rais wa Namibia Hage Geingob, alimtembelea Museveni nchini Uganda. Na hapo ndipo Rais Ruto aliamua kutumia fursa hiyo kutaka kutuliza ugomvi ulioko kati yake na Museveni na kuamua kuelekea nyumbani mwa Museveni baada ya Odinga kutuliza hali kwanza,” Vincent Oduor reported.

Really? The same Kimathi Street that hailed the Kisozi meeting as “a political masterstroke from Dr Ruto?” Both clashing narratives can’t be true, or can they?

Let’s face it. Some bloggers have far more extensive and reliable sources in the corridors of power and all sorts of other places than many journalists. They work harder and smarter.

If journalism is the profession dedicated to researching, packaging, and disseminating verified information on matters of public interest, you can’t produce much value without doing the donkey work by cultivating good sources. You will be running around like a headless chicken to play catch-up after the big story breaks. And the jarring inconsistencies of your breathless speculations will expose you.

See you next week!

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