Hitherto reading this book, my most recent knowledge of Jeff Koinange was a case involving him and a lady that led to his dismissal from CNN. Before that, he used to pepper his African stories on our news screens from time to time.
It was not an intimate knowledge of Jeff, he was, however, one of the few African faces on international television, before the Isha Sesay’s and Tumi Makgabo’s .
“Through My African Eyes” is a journalistic-cum-personal tale of the Kenyan journalist. From the onset, however, you realise Koinange is not your usual off the mill character, given to the fact that the preface is by one of Africa’s foremost statesmen, former South African president Thabo Mbeki; and the foreword is by one of Kenya’s greatest authors, Ngugi Wa Thiong’o.
One of the leading chapters shares history about his lineage and how it contributed to the liberation of Kenya from colonialism. You get a feeling early on that Jeff was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and doesn’t try to hide it. His life in most cases is a case of triumph to triumph regardless the little hiccups here and there. In a way, he seems to be too self involved as you try and get through the first chapters because he’s talking about his achievements in a matter-of-fact no drama kind of way.
When his journalistic tale starts, you begin to enjoy the story more. His focus moves away from himself and onto other people. In truth, you realise that Jeff’s time as an African storyteller brought proliferated the African story onto the international scene much more than before.
Even though many of the stories are sad stories about wars, inhumanity, rape, disaster and other unfortunate events on the continent, Africa is no longer dark in terms of being covered. (I suspect that if Jeff was around when the incidents of Burundi broke out, perhaps we’d have a different story). There is a positive side to the negative stories because most times they engage viewers and governments into a quicker response.
The rape stories are harrowing. I cannot imagine how Jeff was able to handle all the sadness from all the stories he met, especially from the women in Sierra Leone, DRC, Rwanda and Kenya. On the news, you don’t understand the depth of the story as when you hear the backstory from Jeff.
The book moves well. Chronicling the places he lived in and their impact, like Nigeria and how his story about MEND created enmity between a man and a country; Jozi and how it was like James Brown without the panache, Kenya and how the things he thought would never happen in his home country finally happened.
He shows you the worst side of humanity but also allows you to doubt the story fronted by everyone. For example, when he talks about individuals like Charles Taylor, Joseph Kabila, Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki, you see the person and not the media person. You will see men in their privacy and what their mind was behind the things they did or do.
He highlights the difference between corporate life and the “on-the-ground” life. Where some people make decisions in high-rises and others have to grapple with them on the other side of the valley.
Good news is always a “tough sell” is one of the remarks by Mbeki and he realises that the African story is not being told fully. He applauds Koinange but also insists we must be wary of those who control the news and decide what image we must see of ourselves. This point reminded me a lot about the 911 deaths and the deaths in Garissa. How American media kept away the gory images on 9-11 but showed unbelievable ones during Kenya’s worst terrorist attack.
However, I guess the key phrase in this book was “No story is worth dying for”. When Jeff shares the tales of his comrades lost in the pursuit of a story, you realise no story is worth dying for and that man is helplessly evil. The story highlights the plight of others however, when it costs more than the change and silver from the banks, it asks for a high price.
Jeff’s courage comes out on top when he’s sharing these stories.
His personal life is mentioned but not too deeply, not too close for comfort. He, however, is a man that has paid the cost in his life but thankfully has had his wonderful wife beside him through it all.
An easy read because of the many pictorials in it, Jeff’s story is a good handbook for any African with a journalistic pursuit and perhaps anyone with a pursuit of the history of a more recent Africa.
It was hard to read and the start but when you soldier on, there are many lessons to pick.