Online fury over CNN's story on unnamed militia group

By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU ashiundu@ke.nationmedia.com  ( email the author)

Posted  Friday, March 1  2013 at  17:24

In Summary

  • In a rejoinder following the criticism, CNN senior press manager Jonathan Hawkins said: "The potential threat has been well documented by Human Rights Watch and the Kenya Police among others
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Kenyans online have reacted angrily at a CNN story about an unnamed militia group preparing to cause mayhem in the Rift Valley in the election period.

The story, uploaded late Thursday on the CNN website and broadcast on the CNN as a curtain-raiser to Kenya’s elections scheduled for Monday, shows four people whose faces are obscured carrying, what the reporter Nima Elbagir, describes as “guns fashioned from iron piping, home-made swords and bullets bought from the blackmarket”.

The story is titled “Kenyans armed and ready to vote”.

The bile from the online community was that the story ran on the day that there was a rally at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park about peaceful elections, yet the story did not even mention the rally, or the preparations by the police to ensure acts of crime and violence do not happen at election time.

There was also no mention of the unprecedented move earlier in the week where all presidential candidates met and made a public vow that they will concede defeat, and if they felt aggrieved, they will go to the courts.

The peace messages being aired in mainstream Kenyan media and the deployment of 99,000 police officers to maintain order, are indications the country is keen to avoid a repeat of the 2007-2008 chaos.

On Friday, Kenya’s online community revived the popular hashtag (keywords used to follow conversations on the Twitter) #SomeoneTellCNN and poked holes in the CNN story.

“A story needs to be balanced, where is the side of the coin showing people who are going around preaching peace?” posed Michelle Anekeya in her tweet to the reporter, Nima Elbagir, whose handle is @NimaCNN.

In a separate tweet, Ms Anekeya added: “Reporting like this is what makes them lose rating both in the States and soon here in Kenya @NimaCNN we want peace!”

Also Grant Brooke posed: “Where was CNN when all the candidates stood together and told their followers to commit no acts of violence?”

In a follow-up tweet Grant added: “Parachute-in journalists in search of disaster completely miss the great story of peace and reform b4 their eyes”.

Gideon Serem too had queries for the global, American-based broadcaster: “Don't your journalists have anything positive to report about the Kenyan election”.

“Isn't there just something else to anticipate apart from your WAR & ARMS, it just sounds twisted,” noted a person whose twitter handle is @AverageKenyan.

"#SomeoneTellCNN that (there’ll be) no war and Kenya will vote peacefully, no running battles, only Kenyans running home to celebrate a new president,” @AverageKenyan added in a separate tweet.

The CNN reporter concentrated on the four men in a forest, whom she said, were “local Kikuyu militia” armed and ready to fight, because, in the 2007 post-election chaos, they were caught off-guard.

The men in jeans, t-shirts and one in a singlet, rolled around in the grass, with one of them acting as the commander carrying a knobkerrie and looking at the trio in front of him as if conducting a choir.

The alleged militia are shown in the CNN clip carrying pangas, arrows, swords and metal bars. The reporter said they were training and went ahead to pick a sound bite of one of the men, with his back to the camera, saying, “ if you need peace, you have to prepare for war”.

Nima also interviewed a farmer, named James Maina, who she said was displaced from his farm.

“Some of the people we’ve been speaking to say that they are going to start fighting back, do you ever think of doing that?” Nima, the CNN reporter asked.

Sioni kama nitabaki nipigane…” Maina’s response in Kiswahili fades off, and the reporter translates that to mean “I have got nothing left worth fighting for”.

She quoted an undated report of the Human Rights Watch which she said spoke of Kenyans arming, and also makes passing reference to the response of government spokesperson who said the police were on top of things.

Though the violence was severe in 2007-2008, the CNN reporter had this to say: “In a country that has for decades known violence following elections, tribal leaders say preparing for the worst, is their mission.”

She did not mention the tribal leaders that she spoke to.

Crispus Mahea agrees with the CNN story: “The question is, why are we preaching peace so hard? CNN's story is credible, the threat of violence is very real people”.

Most Kenyans are quite sensitive to depictions of violence and strife in Kenya, when the country is just calm. The experience of 2007-2008 when tourists fled the country and Western nations issued travel advisories against Kenya did not go down well with the ordinary citizens.

On Friday night, CNN defended the story as well-sourced.

“CNN is covering a broad range of stories relating to the Kenya elections. Anyone following our coverage will attest to this. The potential threat of violence has been well documented by Human Rights Watch and the Kenyan Police among others; in this context we felt the actions of the local Kikuyu militia in the Rift Valley warranted scrutiny. We stand by our decision to report this story and have taken great care to place it in context,” said Mr Jonathan Hawking, the broadcaster’s regional press manager, in an email to the Nation.

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