My favorite newspaper publishes an unfair article about Kenya.
The situation in Kenya – as throughout the entire world – is not as good as we expected it would be a year or two ago.
Kenya was plucked from near abyss by a Grand Coalition Government that ended the political violence that accompanied the December, 2007, Presidential elections. There was great hope, then. The struggle was then clobbered by a double whamming: a drought in the north and northeast that came as far south as some important agricultural lands to the east of Mt. Kenya, and a world economy catastrophe.
Yesterday, the New York Times bureau chief, Jeffrey Gettlemen, wrote an article about Kenya that I consider unfair.
It’s important to note that Gettlemen has been in Nairobi for a little more than 2 years. He came from Afghanistan, where conflict was the name of the game, then arrived Nairobi as the political apparatus was unraveling before the December violence, and then reported well throughout that period. He covers a wider and wider region for the Times, including the conflicts in the Congo and Ethiopia.
There’s nothing that Gettlemen writes in his February 28 article (republished on Sunday, March 1) that is patently untrue, but much I think is misleading and reflects rather that “half-empty” glass that the I guess readers want to see, instead of the “half-full” one that I see.
I’m sure that much of Gettlemen’s material was simple broom sweeping of the local media, because last week in particular, the numerous vocal columnists in both major newspapers, Kenya’s very active and political group of lawyers, and a prominent clergyman all delivered or published scathing reports of the current government. There was no original reporting in anything he wrote.
It was an appropriate time for local critics to hit the government hard, as the time for constructing a “Truth & Reconciliation Commission” to probe the December, 2007, violence had come and gone, and the UN who is charged with overseeing the coalition was rightly mad. Some very prominent political watchdogs like John Githongo, the anti-Corruption Czar, went public, too. Githongo caused a sensation last week when writing, “The only thing that holds this government together is the glue of corruption.”
Gettlemen, of course, reported that. But what he didn’t report was that the pressure to create a commission or kick back the commission to the World Court at the Hague (provided for in the coalition agreement) is going to work. There will be action, soon, in Kenya, to deal with this problem. The Attorney General may even resign shortly. The process is working.
What Gettlemen didn’t report was that Githongo had fled to London for several years, fearful for his life as a robust whistle-blowing journalist and anti-corruption crusader, and that he accepted government and private offers to return last year to help in reconstruction. At least Githongo considers the political climate in Kenya much improved right now from even two years ago.
Gettlemen reported that”Ten million people face starvation, partly because farmers in crucial food-producing areas who fled their homes last year have not returned, instead withdrawing deeper into their ethnic enclaves, deeper into fear.” He has exaggerated the numbers and stretched reality.
I have rarely known a year in Kenya when some integer of “millions” were not starving. In the developed world we tend not to care about this unless it is linked with something even more ghastly, like a revolution. Consider this: On the same day that Gettlemen published his “Menace & Starvation” article, a better news source, Reuters, also published a story on Kenya including this remark: ”Climate change has hit this part of Kenya hard over the past few years. With fodder and water for cattle increasingly scarce, the regular droughts that are part of life in the Rift Valley now put communities at risk of starvation.” (Click here for the full article.
That is a much more balanced account. Obviously, any political stress whatever is going to exacerbate something like food shortages which might otherwise simply be the result of drought. But for Gettlemen to imply that it is substantially caused by ethnic conflict, is simply wrong.
Finally, Gettlemen reported with a flair that tourism is down 35%. My goodness, this is something I know about! As my faithful blog readers know, I removed everything from Kenya in 2008 that we had booked through June. If all companies had done that, tourism would have been down at least 50%! So I don’t consider Gettlemen’s figure of 35% bad at all. In fact, it really does show a rebound greater than any of us expected.
And by the way, tourism is down that much or more in all the neighboring countries. In southern Africa it may be down by half. It is “down” because of the world economic crisis, not because of any kind of social disruption.
Kenya has had drought, and political conflict, and robust political debate, since its inception. This is without doubt a rocky period, and a positive political future in Kenya is undoubtedly compromised by the situation in the world that has little to do with Kenya, namely the economic recession and climate change. While it is hard to fault Gettlemen for inaccurate reporting, he should definitely be chastised for not being more balanced.
What attracts viewership to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh ought not be the motivation for our much lauded NYT.