When he attended the 2016 World Mobile Congress in Barcelona, Kennedy Kachwanya noticed one important attribute Europeans and Asians have that sets them apart from the rest of us – their level of curiosity is way above and beyond anything he had observed in any tech event held locally. The questions the Europeans and Asians asked those manning various stands to showcase their products were deep, informed, and curious. He could not help but conclude that we as Africans and particularly Kenyans, even those in high tech professional fields, are lull, lazy, incompetent, and myopic. Our ineptitude can be seen right from our political, religious, and professional leadership, down to how our ordinary hawkers and mama mbogas prefer shortcuts when performing their ordinary tasks. The professionals who exemplify our ineptness are Kenyan Journalists, and allow me to show you how.
Over the last few days a friend and I have been having a sober discussion on death, stemming from the fact that he believes in the supernatural dimension of afterlife whereas I hold to a purely naturalistic worldview – hence rejects the proposition that a dead person can be alive in another dimension (hell, purgatory, heaven, paradise, reincarnation, whatever else). To support his supernatural worldview, my friend brought two types of evidence: 1. Ghost sightings including those captured on CCTV, and 2. The case of Salgaa as a black spot.
Ghost sightings were easy to debunk, as the only thing I had to say is that there are a number of people who use movie clips, clever editing, and outright misinterpretation of incomplete data to arrive at outlandish conclusions, most of the time conclusions that already support their worldviews (belief bias). Alleged physical sightings of ghosts have been shown to be no different from nightmares (dreams) or hallucinations (visions). On the case of Salgaa, I wanted to use a properly conducted research on the area that accounted for the geographical landscape, geology, geometry, road design, and any other natural/artificial variable that may contribute to Salgaa’s rate of accident; so I Googled using the search term “Why Salgaa is a black spot” and got nothing important, except two that at the end didn’t address the question at heart.
Articles in the Star, Daily Nation, The Standard and other blog sites are those that mostly report the news of particular incidences of accidents at Salgaa, or provide accident statistics at the site. They however provide zero explanation as to why those accidents are rampart in that area. Two articles attempted to provide the why, with the one appearing on SDE (Nairobian) titling their article thus “How killer ghosts and juju cause accidents” in which the writer cites a number of village elders who believe that those who have died on the road in the past, especially the Sachang’wan terrible accident, are the ones who are causing the continued accidents. To beg God to cast out these ghosts out of the road, Rachael Ruto who is the wife of Kenya’s Deputy President and Doctor in Environmental Sciences Dr. William Ruto, held prayers, including going ahead to also pour anointing oil on the road. The second article that, going by the title, seemed to have addressed the real cause of accidents is an article written by Dickens Otieno and published in our friend’s blog site Hivisasa. The article is properly titled, “What could be the real cause of accidents at Salgaa blackspot?” then he gives anecdotal answers, including a superstitious one, as follows:
“Definitely, there are contributors to the endless accidents at this particular place. 1. The government could be blamed for failure to establish a dual carriage road on a busy superhighway of which could be a leading contributing factor to the rear-enders at Salgaa. Instantaneous action should be taken.2. Careless driving. As we pile blames on the poor state of roads, we cannot avoid questioning drivers who propel the vessel encountering such accidents. Drivers are in better control of the vehicles they drive in thus their carelessness could be the reason for the loss of lives and properties at Salgaa blackspot. Our drivers need to take extreme caution while navigating through the so-called black spots and anywhere else. 3. Supernatural powers could be having a hand in this. Well, we are in a society made of different beliefs, right from the traditional to the modern, that is Christianity. We could agree that there is a Satan dwelling at Salgaa blackspot and should be rebuked. If this is the case, then we should not only pray but also fast and hold prayer meetings at Salgaa black spot.”
Dickens Otieno can be excused as he wrote for a blog site and us bloggers thrive on writing quick personal opinion oriented articles devoid of any objective thinking – mostly, but I cannot excuse Emmanuel Wanjala who wrote for The Star an article titled “A look at Salgaa black spot, the highway to death“, which ought to have been titled “A summary of accidents at Salgaa”. The problem I have with this article is that it appears at the top of Google’s search results under the search term “Why Salgaa is a black spot” yet provides only one anecdotal sentence that comes close to answering the question. The sentence reads, “Police and the National Transport and Safety Authority have blamed most of the accidents on speeding, careless overtaking and free-wheeling, especially by truck drivers.”
No article written by a Kenyan Journalist or blogger came close to answering my question, “Why Salgaa is a black spot” from a pure research standpoint, most probably because no research has been done by anyone about Salgaa accidents. To be clear, the type of answer I was looking for is close to that contained in the paper Identification of Black Spots on Dhaka-Sylhet National Highway by M. Safikul Ahsanl; M. Mizanur Rahman and M. Hadiuzzaman that contain among other things, definition of a black spot as follows:
According to Belgium, Denmark, and Australia, a location is said to be dangerous or black spot when its priority value (P) equals to or more than 15 within three years. Two methods such as Percentage Deviation Value and Hierarchical Bayes Model are elaborately used of this analysis. The developed formula:
P = X+3*Y+5*Z
X: Total no. of light injury,
Y: total no. of serious injury,
Z: total no. of deadly injury.
The paper goes ahead to provide engineering, geographic, and several other variables that are directly responsible for accidents in several places identified as black spots, causes that have been documented following meticulous observations.
Incompetence of Kenyan Journalists is not limited on Salgaa, but can be seen on how they report several business, tech and science oriented news. Particularly, I am taken aback whenever I read stories of people forced to eat grass after stealing from someone who took them to a witch doctor, or a couple that’s stuck after engaging in adultery – stories that are told and let go without proper follow up to answer questions such as whether or not there are any scientific explanations for the rare occurrences. For example a video that is currently idling in my phone has a couple stuck after sex, and a solution those who found them brought is a witch doctor. This witch doctor is supposed to perform some chants and do magic using certain herbal concoctions in an attempt to separate the two. When he realises that his chants are not working, he asks everyone to leave the room so that he can perform his magic in private. The video ends at that point so I have no idea whether his chants worked or not. These types of stories, when reported by Kenyan Journalists, never receive proper follow up from a scientific perspective. A meticulous journalist would for example take the opportunity to use such a story to inform the public of vaginismus so that the public can always rush the affected couple to a medical facility or call a specialist on location.
The structure of articles written by Kenyan Journalists also scream incompetence. Take any story published by The Standard for example. It won’t be long before you spot a serious typing or spelling mistake, including but not limited to omissions. The choice of words, the length of sentences, and the general voice in an article written by a Kenyan Journalist will tell you just how amateur they are in writing. Two days ago I got to reading the article How exercise may help keep our memory sharp and by the time I was in the third paragraph, I knew there was no way the article was written by a Kenyan, so I checked the byline and there it was, the article is from New York Times.
Two years ago I wrote the article Kenyan Bloggers should rise up to the occasion and tell the Kenyan story in depth and in style, an article the Kenyan Bloggers reacted to via Twitter, but two years later I haven’t seen any significant improvement, well except for the bloggers over at The Elephant who I must say are doing a very good job at churning out highly informative articles. Although Patrick Gachara did not provide much on why Salgaa is a black spot, his article titled THE BLACK SPOT: Why The Kenyan Road System Is Designed To Kill properly analyses the inadequacies of current interventions geared towards addressing the ever increasing incidences of accidents, and goes ahead to direct us to an alternative approach that Sweden is using to ensure zero deaths resulting from road accidents – an alternative that would create a complete paradigm shift in thinking.
As hinted to in the title of this article, the myopia demonstrated by Kenyan Journalists is nothing but a reflection of how we as Kenyans are inept. In a talk I had with another friend comparing how the whites (and some Asians) go about their business contrasted sharply with how sloppy we tackle our tasks. For example, a typical hobbyist photographer in Europe who also earns money from his hobby just doesn’t pick up a camera to meet a client without any preparation at all. The photographer will also ensure that he makes proper preparations before the shoot to the tiniest of the detail, maintain proper records of the event, and even document his businesses transactions in a properly organised manner. That is, a hobbyist photographer in the developed world, just like any other person who we could consider to be a person undertaking a form of informal business, makes sure that he or she formalises his hobby as much as practically possible.
The best way to illustrate our ineptness is in the film industry. A typical Kenyan filmmaker (Producer/Director) who has film equipment for example will not bother to write down a properly structured screenplay, breakdown the screenplay to take note of needed props, costumes, actors, and other details, transform the screenplay into a shortlist, come up with a shooting schedule, prepare a call sheet for cast and crew, rehearse with the cast, brief the crew of what is required of them before embarking on the production, but will have his story in the head or scribble an outline on a piece of paper, explain the story to a few friends who can act, then head out to shoot a wacky movie that no one wants to watch past the first 30 seconds.
If the Kenyan filmmaker approached his film making with the required professional mindset, however short the film he wants to make is, and every other business man and woman currently engaged in any form of informal businesses followed suit, then the 88% of the work force who are languishing in the informal sector would easily find avenues to add value to their products and services; and the added value would quickly work back to improve their standards of living.
The rate at which our standards of living improves can be accelerated if the Kenyan Journalists started approaching stories meticulously with a scientific mindset that encourages people to think, reason, and probably stop praying. And by the way, if we as Kenyans were not comfortable with half baked journalism, the Kenyan Journalists would have no choice but to do their jobs properly.