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Senior Women Editors Campaign For Peace

by Kwamboka Oyaro

NAIROBIĀ  - The story of a 12-year-old girl stabbed by her 14-year-old neighbour just because their parents supported different presidential candidates in the Dec. 27 elections will hardly make headlines here. Neither will the story of a woman in President Mwai Kibaki's backyard sheltering about 100 workers who have fled the post-election violence.

Reporters and editors are concentrating on covering politicians -- giving them the tools to polarise the country even more. The post-election tribal violence the country witnessed soon after Kibaki was declared winner of the presidential elections has reportedly claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced 250,000 people."We twist news for politicians... and smile at chaos as it makes us sell newspapers and attract more viewers and listeners to our broadcast media," said Mildred Ngesa, special projects writer with the Daily Nation, Kenya's largest daily newspaper.

"This is not helping heal the nation," Ngesa stressed, "Now is the time to change this and look for the real newsmakers who have been forgotten over the years."

Ngesa is among the women journalists from media organisations all over this east African country who have teamed up to seek a lasting peace through the Heal the Nation Campaign.

Ngesa said the deceptive calm in the country should not give the impression that the country is at peace. True peace can only exist if "we talk about truth, justice, history... only then can we start healing the nation."

The Heal the Nation Campaign will begin this dialogue through the use of their weapon: the pen.

"Biblical David felled a giant with a catapult, and Moses had only a shepherd's staff to deliver Israelites from slavery," said Rosemary Okello-Orlale, director African Woman and Child Feature Service and coordinator of the campaign. "We, the media women, have a pen. Through this pen we will bring peace to this country," she said.

The women stressed that unless the origin of the conflict was addressed, the calm in the country during the past week would be just "artificial peace waiting to be triggered off by a small spark." "We must confront the real issues," explained Jane Thuo, of the Association of Media Women in Kenya.

The post-election violence has seen newsrooms polarised and reporters using inflammatory language, which may be making the situation worse.

Jane Godia, senior editor with the Standard -- the second largest media organisation in Kenya -- cautioned reporters to avoid terms such as "genocide" and "tribal war" which do not help in the healing the nation.

Bitange Ndemo, permanent secretary of the ministry of information and communication, said the initiative was timely, as some media outlets may have encouraged the violence of the past two weeks.

"Some talk-back vernacular radio stations encouraged people to talk violence," Ndemo said. "They aired raw material. One case we have is where a caller asks: 'When do we start killing the foreigners in our midst?' Such sentiments could explain the wanton destruction of lives and properties as soon as the presidential results were announced," she said.

The police put the total number of deaths at 612, Monday. But those who have fled the most affected areas in western Kenya say many uncollected bodies are still rotting in farms.

Ndemo said that the women's initiative if supported would help give prominence to stories of the real victims of violence who are usually ignored by the media.

"Women were sexually and physically assaulted during the last few weeks of violence," Ndemo stressed. "After destroying property, some men went home demanding food but when told there was none, they turned their anger on their wives, sisters or mothers and beat them up. Such stories did not find space in the media."

Copyright © 2008 IPS-Inter Press Service

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