Navigating Kenya’s ‘shaky’ investigative journalism landscape

April 29, 2016

The Kenya Media Programme (KMP), supported by Hivos East Africa, seeks to strengthen the existing media landscape in Kenya. It provides a framework of various interventions aimed at improving professionalism and effectiveness of the Kenyan media.

One of KMP’s core beneficiaries, Africa Uncensored, has sparked off a storm in Kenya’s media landscape with its premier investigative project, ‘’Kanjo Kingdom.’’ Hivos’ Sally Akinyi sat down with Africa Uncensored’s Founder, John Allan, to find out what all the fuss was about.

SA: What led you to start Africa Uncensored?

JA: Frustration with how spaces in the mainstream media for telling in-depth, well-told, investigative stories were shrinking under the influence of commercial interests and politics. These were a great inhibitor of good journalism as a rule across all fronts and led us to start Africa Uncensored. Our main focus is to tell stories that are unrestricted and told in a professional manner.

SA: Why the name Africa Uncensored?

JA: The name speaks for itself. We want to free up spaces for quality, in-depth investigative stories across Africa. Our ambition is to scale up from Kenya to Africa and be part of a team of journalists that tell these stories on a daily basis. Our motto is: ‘’Investigate, expose and empower.’’ We want to live by these words and also want citizens to be empowered by the stories that come from Africa Uncensored.

SA: What’s the focus of your investigative pieces? Only political life and exposing corruption?

JA: We focus on every genre; it only depends on where you can build enough capacity to investigate. For us no topic is off limits. We invest the time that most news rooms lack to understand subjects.

Our first project, Kanjo Kingdom, was about Nairobi’s City Inspectorate. We partnered with a couple of brave Kenyans who exposed the corrupt inspectorate officers. The investigative piece touches on human rights and bribery. There is no topic we would shy away from as long as we feel it serves the public interest.

SA: What are your thoughts on the status of investigative journalism in the country?

JA: Beyond the government, commercial interests have greatly influenced investigative journalism. In most instances, stories are ‘massaged’ to suit certain images. There has been a clamp down on space for and tolerance of investigative journalists.

SA: Would you shed light on Hivos East Africa’s support for Africa Uncensored?

JA: We approached Hivos having worked with them on previous individual projects at KTN and NTV (TV stations). This relationship allowed us to pitch the idea of having independent investigative journalism narratives that would serve as an alternative to the mainstream media. Hivos was receptive to this idea and provided funding for Africa Uncensored’s initial projects.

We would not be here were it not for the Kenya Media Programme’s faith in us. KMP has been of huge support to us, as individuals and as Africa Uncensored.

SA: What kind of support should rising investigative journalists have so they can thrive in the country?

JA: Mentorship is key. This is one of the areas where Hivos supported us. We will be training young journalists, first to have an interest in investigative journalism as a sub-genre and then to pursue stories they might be interested in with an investigative eye.

Investigative reporters also need safety and protection, and support by the government and wider public.

SA: Looking back at your career in investigative journalism, would you have done anything differently?

JA: One of the things I wish I had done more was to investigate topics that have a lot to do with the wider public than just the select few. That’s what Africa Uncensored will venture into. Our first project, Kanjo Kingdom, has an influence on the wider public both socially and financially.

SA: 10 years from now where do you see Africa Uncensored?

JA: Across Africa. We want to replicate our team in West Africa, North Africa and Southern Africa. In 10 years we see ourselves as an alternative to what’s happening in the mainstream media and eventually making a successful business from investigative journalism.

The full clip of Kanjo Kingdom can be found on YouTube.