I write this review with the Ebola virus in West Africa at the back of my mind. I think of the journalists who are working hard to make sure you get the story of what is happening in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and Guinea. So far I haven’t heard of any reported cases of journalists getting Ebola. It brings to mind Jeff Koinage’s book through my African eyes and his quote that no story is worth dying for.
We live in a society where we love our news. Whether it is neighborhood gossip or what is happening in the cities or counties or internationally we want to know it all. So that we can be in the know and go discuss these issues with a voice of authority. Yet we rarely give a thought to the courageous journalists and their cameramen who many times risk their lives, limbs, or health to get us up to date access to the stories as they happen around the world.
Often we envy journalists who are able to travel around the world covering events. We see them interviewing famous people or wearing tuxedos and designer gowns to dinners with presidents and stars. We sometimes think it is all glam. But behind those designer clothes and smiles are stories, some good, some bad, and some that cause some of these journalists psychological trauma. Some of the things these journalists see causes some of them to quit the profession like Boniface Mwangi after 2007/2008 post election violence.
The book through my African eyes is the autobiography of Jeff Koinange which gives us a glimpse into some of the situations journalists find themselves where they risk everything just so that you can get your breaking news on TV or read the paper from behind the comfort of your desk in the morning as you have a cup of tea or coffee. In this riveting autobiography Jeff takes us through his life from the beginning of his journey. He shows us the lives and times of an upper middle class family in the 60’s and 70s. In the first chapter he talks about his journey to become a father after he had given up on the dream of being a father. The book is dedicated to his son.
Jeff gives some history on his family so that those of you who have always wanted to know about the Koinange family can get to know something about that. He mentions briefly in the prologue about a biography he wrote about his grandfather called Koinange-wa-Mbiyu, Mau Mau’s misunderstood leader which seems like it would be a fascinating read .he takes us through his school days (the time he set the fence of their house on fire is hilarious), his first career as a flight attendant before he decides to go back to university to pursue a course in broadcast technology and management. He also talks about his first failed marriage. He also talks about how he started off working in the USA before coming home to work for Africa Journal (Reuters) and KTN. Then going on to work for CNN before coming home to work at K24.
For the romantics you will sigh over Jeff meeting Shaila (his wife) again after so many years. They had been flight attendants together at 18 but had been dating other people. Almost 8 years later they met again in Mombasa and there was a spark. They started dating which from the brief description he gives must have been a challenge because he was African and she was Asian. Jeff is lucky that both their parents accepted the relationship and after three years of dating they got married.
There are stories in the book that haunt me. In one of the last chapters up close and personal Jeff talks about an incident that I can’t put out of my mind. One time in Liberia while following a group of rebels he noticed a 12 year out boy carrying a sack that he wouldn’t let go off. At the end of the day the boy drops the sack when he is exhausted and there were around a dozen human heads in the sack. When Jeff asked was told that the boy was trying to work his way up the ranks and the only way to do this was to prove this was by killing many people. He would carry the heads of his victims so that he could provide a physical tally of the people he had killed.
It was a sobering glimpse into what war could do to children. That it could turn innocent boys into monsters, killing machines with no conscience. Where other children around the world were playing elsewhere in the world this boy and others had been turned into soldiers with no childhood. This boy and others are probably men now and I wonder what kind of men they have turned out to be. And the warlords who create child soldiers and child prostitutes as part of their war do they have regrets? What is the impact of these damaged children on a society recovering from war?
There is also a story of several hundred women who were raped during the conflict in DRC. Jeff goes to cover the story of a courageous doctor who was treating them, Dr. Mukengere. Jeff did a story on them and brought their story to the world. A story that won him an award.
Sometimes being a journalist puts you right in the eye of the storm. A story breaks and you get to tell the story to the world. Sometimes in the process one loses close friends and colleagues. In the perils of telling a story Jeff talks about Sierra Leone in 1999 and the beginning of what would be a long war. Jeff talks about going into Freetown filled with bodies of dead sierra Leoneans, who had been shot, killed and their bodies left on the streets as others fled the violence. After awhile Jeff decided to go back to the hotel only for his cameraman to come back and tell them their rival news agency colleagues had been killed. His cameraman was lucky to be in the last car in the convoy and they managed to escape. That was the beginning of 26 days of horror, for Jeff, Clotaire (his cameraman) and the other news agency journalists who had to cover the conflict.
Reading this chapter really sent chills up my spine. The solders who had shot these news people were children soldiers manning a blockage. Children who as one of the peacekeepers had said were “mere first line of defense by the rebels.” These kids had gotten a taste of power and were enjoying killing innocent people for the sake of it.
There are issues that Jeff did not dwell on much, like his time at K24 and the scandal involving a woman called Marianne Briner. It would have been interesting to get his side of the story as to what really happened. But as he said at a book launch at Michael Joseph Centre this book is just a beginning. I Hopefully one day he will write in his own words what happened.
There are so many interesting moments and stories in the book that make the book a must read. It is an eye opener into what happens during wars and disasters. This is a book worth reading and also sharing. This is book that shows you the reality of human nature, it makes you despair but it also gives you hope that Africa will rise again. We must learn from history otherwise we will keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
This book was published by a Kenyan publishing house Footprints Press Kenya. The quality of the book is very high. This is one book that would be a great present for your friends and family. It is a great read and I recommend that you get yourself a copy.