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African Uncensored roars with cutting-edge investigative journalism

The Kenya Kwanza administration is seething with rage. Reason? Fake fertilisers have been circulating clandestinely for more than a year ‘with(out) government knowledge’. The Kenya Bureau of Standards managing director has been dragged before a parliamentary committee to account for approving fake agricultural products. But we will come back to that later.

Are we witnessing the resurgence of bold investigative journalism after a long lull? Maybe. There was a time when Kenyan journalists were not afraid to speak the truth to power. The media understood their watchdog role, and the powerful were more careful to not engage in corrupt activities lest they were exposed.

Today, the powerful feel emboldened because the press, particularly the traditional media, has lost credibility and trust among their audiences. The days of brilliant exposés by journalists such as Dennis Okari (NTV) and Mohamed Ali (KTN) now seem like events of a long-gone era. In its place is timid journalism that intentionally shuns investigative stories. Some media industry players have cited the expensive costs of producing well-researched documentaries. A shaky business environment characterised by falling revenues means most of these outlets are trying to cut costs. But at what price to democracy?

It is, therefore, refreshing to see new media outlets take up the fight, even as the mainstream press conceals its cowardice and vested interests behind the veil of bad business. Taking advantage of the internet to distribute and market content, these platforms are not shying away from their watchdog role.

African Uncensored, founded by multi-award winner John-Allan Namu and some of his former colleagues at KTN in 2015, is once again bringing investigative journalism to the centre of public discussion, as we have seen with the fertiliser story. Namu and associates are reminding us of the critical role of the media in creating awareness among citizens and how they can question power. More importantly, the platform demonstrates that political pronouncements must always be treated with scepticism, and that politicians are prone to manipulation, lies and underhand deals likely to profit them.

Their latest documentary, ‘Fertile Deception’, produced and narrated by Cynthia Gichiri,dives deep into the deceit in the Kenya Kwanza government’s subsidised fertiliser programme. Promoted as a game changer to farmers to help improve their yields and boost food security, crooks have secretly hijacked the noble programme, packaged ordinary sand scooped from Kariandusi in Gilgil, Nakuru County, and are brazenly distributing it as fertiliser with the express approval of KEBS and the National Cereals Produce Board. The two government agencies have since distanced themselves from the scandal, as expected.

Released in two parts, the documentary has not only exposed the impunity of state officials in allowing crooks to game the system but also the overall Kenyan mentality of making money – a lot of it – at all costs, even if it means harming fellow citizens. The exposé has equally laid bare the deliberate failures and inefficiencies of crucial taxpayer-funded institutions that are supposed to protect people from harm, which have now become safe spaces for rent-seekers and cartels.

Like their previous documentaries over the years, African Uncensored never takes its eyes off the prize: The overwhelming cost of corruption and abuse of office in the lives of ordinary people; those the Kenya Kwanza government ironically calls ‘hustlers’, yet are barely surviving and struggling to make a living. Such people, unlike the Kenyan working class or middle class, who can afford private interventions to confront a broken system, virtually depend on the goodwill of the state to provide them with things like genuine fertilisers because the majority are subsistence farmers. Therefore, when government officials deliberately con them, as witnessed in the fake fertiliser story, these people and society suffer immensely.

Kenya Kwanza’s failure to honour its promises of running a clean government should motivate legacy media to live by journalism’s enduring dictum: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. However, the fact that it’s an alternative media platform that broke the story about fake fertilisers speaks volumes. This calls for public support for outlets such as African Uncensored, which continue to hold the powerful to account in order for ordinary people to have a dignified life.

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