BEST FEATURES 2019

Stories that touched our hearts, inspired us and made our blood boil

Greed, cruelty and determination defined the year’s best features

In Summary

• The top 20 feature stories of 2019 from the Big Read and Sasa pages of the Star

Clockwise from top: Illustration of rituals at a shelter inhabited by elders hounded out of their homes on suspicion of witchcraft in Kilifi ... Prof Benson Edagwa, a chemist working on a HIV cure at the University of Nebraska, during an interview with the Star in Nairobi on July 16 ... Elizabeth Kogo, 37, holds her book on GBV at her home in Ndaptabwa, Nandi county ... Stock photo of a sex worker
Clockwise from top: Illustration of rituals at a shelter inhabited by elders hounded out of their homes on suspicion of witchcraft in Kilifi ... Prof Benson Edagwa, a chemist working on a HIV cure at the University of Nebraska, during an interview with the Star in Nairobi on July 16 ... Elizabeth Kogo, 37, holds her book on GBV at her home in Ndaptabwa, Nandi county ... Stock photo of a sex worker
Image: FILE

Adversity is writ large across the diary of Wanjiku in 2019, but she registered some triumphs that bespeak her resilience. In good times and bad, the Star was there to dig up and document her untold stories on its feature pages.  

From having her innocence traded for beads to being a willing seller to willing buyers, from being dispossessed after getting widowed to barely surviving a hammering by a lover, Wanjiku had a long year. But she also made historic innovations and thrived in the international arena against great odds.  

The Big Read and Sasa sections captured her struggles and successes in depth through features, a genre media trainer Judie Kaberia defines as, “Colourful pieces that deal with real events, placing an emphasis on the people involved.” Below is a list of the best in 20 categories, starting with one that touches on Wanjiku’s worst fears in this economy.

 
 

1. Best TRAUMA Feature

How being declared redundant led one man to alcohol

By Jane Abukutsa

Excerpt: He remembered six years earlier, when the Finance Manager of one of the companies within the group was terminated. He did not inform his wife that he no longer had a job. For eight months, the poor man would leave home every morning at the usual time but he would head to an upmarket cyber café, where he would spend his whole day. Wafula remembers laughing at the man. But now that he, Wafula, was facing the big R, he empathised with the man.

Runners-up: 

Family’s horror after missing son pops up online cheering Shabaab

How being tagged ‘spy with a gun’ shook innocent journalist

 
 

2. Best SURVIVAL Feature

Diaspora nightmare for Nandi woman clobbered till hammer lodged in skull  

By Barry Salil

Excerpt: “I was sweating and trembling, pleading with him to spare my life as I remembered my son Florian and my six siblings and mother, who were looking up to me for support. But he could not listen. When he pulled the trigger, the gun jammed… God had jammed it,” Elizabeth Kogo, 37, recounted.

Runner-up:

Man beats stage 3 cancer after wife fled with treatment funds

3. Best HUSTLING Feature

The resilience of Kenyan immigrants in the US

By Elizabeth Mwarage

Excerpt: “I have fulfilled my dream. I have done odd jobs so that none of my children will do the same. Now that they are all working, I can go back home to retire.”

Runners-up:

How workers hawk goods in the office to make ends meet 

Betting addicts throng Uganda to escape 20% tax on winnings

4. Best HARDSHIP Feature

Decades later Shona speak Kikuyu but still lack IDs

By George Mugo

Excerpt: “I have been frustrated. I was born by my parents who I live with in Kinoo. I’m confused since I cannot start a business, and from the analysis of issues, I find myself being confined to being a cobbler. I repair shoes and I can see myself with all the talents I have remaining a cobbler,” footballer James Kiziwacho said. 

Runners-up:

Soapstone carvers live a hard life crafting 'white gold' 

Plight of interns caught between a sick economy and meaningful employment

God is Able Widows' Group from Loitoktok, Kajiado county, display their handmade necklaces during the International Widows Day celebrations at the University of Nairobi on June 24
God is Able Widows' Group from Loitoktok, Kajiado county, display their handmade necklaces during the International Widows Day celebrations at the University of Nairobi on June 24
Image: FAITH MUTEGI

5. Best GENDER Feature

In-laws from hell grab property, kids of widows

By Malemba Mkongo

Excerpt: “They said I killed my husband so I could inherit the land we had bought. I could not take in the pain of losing a husband and being accused of killing him. It was too much for me,” she said.

Runners-up:

Why odds are still stacked against women in life

Plight of parenting an intersex children

What population summit means for women's rights

READER COMMENT

“Nashami* (not her real name) quietly sat outside her manyatta, watching as other children played, not daring to join them lest her co-wife sees her.” I feel like crying. Really?? In this era and time? Where’s the children dept? Where’s the police? Aren’t these crimes against children? Where are the local politicians? Paedophiles!!?

Username: Thesage Bush

6. Best CHILD ABUSE Feature

By Njeri Mbugua

Samburu morans give beads to bed little girls

Excerpt: “They are babies and should not be having intercourse. It is a traumatic experience because they are not prepared for intercourse at all at that time,” Dr Allan Adungo, an obstetrician, said.

Runner-up: 

Sex tourists prey on minors pimped by own parents in Mtwapa

7. Best STIGMA Feature

Shelter where suspected witches feel like hunted animals in Kilifi

By Ernest Cornel

Excerpt: The sanctum, filled with skeletons, jack-o-lanterns and a pot, is for the oath-taking and ‘healing’ the sick. Seashells and oil are among the healing potions the magicians rely on for their rituals. Other paraphernalia are hidden in a hut that is forever kept dark. They possess ‘powers’.

Runner-up:

Don’t judge a woman by her motherhood — Millie Odhiambo

8. Best UNDERWORLD Feature

Streets, apps and brothels: 'Illegal' sex work booming

By Caren Nyota

Excerpt: “Although I was rained on, cheated, arrested and beaten by fellow sex workers, one day I'll go back. Prostitution is like witchcraft, you can't stop it once it's in your blood.”

Runners-up:

‘Devil’s breath’ used to hypnotise, rob victims

Slums fear and revere ‘killer police squads’

How women, schoolgirls are lured into drug trade

How police trap motorists into paying bribes

9. Best TABOO Feature

Why men should not fear vasectomies

By Geoffrey Mbuthia

Excerpt: “A lot of people think it is castration, but it is not. It is a modern, safe and effective family planning method for men whose families are complete,” Dr Charles Ochieng, 45, said.

Runners-up: 

Gays vexed but not cowed in fight for space

Culture shock hits Kenyans on women inheriting father’s land

Painful relief: When girls resort to abortion

10. Best LEGAL Feature

Battles for ailing parents’ properties show the need to write ‘living wills’

By Jillo Kadida

Excerpt: The advantage of having a living will is first, you as a parent decide who is best suited to take care of you and your wealth. Secondly, it saves the family from unending legal battles, which sometimes lead to bad blood.

Runner-up:

Why suspects change their minds after pleading guilty

11. Best HEALTH Feature

How herbal clinics make guinea pigs of Kenyans

By Magdaline Saya

Excerpt: They are greeted with a pile of leaflets on the receptionist's table, indicating the diseases they cure and the time frame. They include chronic diseases, such as cancer, gynaecological complications and detoxification agents. Some promise healing in as little as two weeks.

Runners-up: 

How patients are prescribed so many drugs, it’s killing them

How safe is your sukuma wiki?

Maleehah Khandwalla and Catherine Penda burst into laughter during an interview with the Star at Lion Place in Westlands on June 13
Maleehah Khandwalla and Catherine Penda burst into laughter during an interview with the Star at Lion Place in Westlands on June 13
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

12. Best ACHIEVEMENT Feature

Strathmore underdogs who downed Harvard to win global law contest

By Lewis Nyaundi

Excerpt: They came to the limelight as not only the first African students but also the youngest to win a global law competition: the John H Jackson Moot Court on World Trade Organisation (WTO) Law.

Runners-up:

How I shed 46 kilos to get six-pack — Mvita MP Abdulswamad Shariff

Air Force aviation engineer does it for God and country

13. Best INNOVATION Feature 

Could this Kenyan give the world HIV cure?

By John Muchangi

Excerpt: “Within a few weeks, the HIV is completely gone and there is no rebound,” Prof Benson Edagwa, 37, told the Star in Nairobi.

Innovate or end up ‘tarmacking’: Varsity churns out job creators

Kenyans turn to digital careers as technology alters job market

These are the kind of articles that really give hope. People should read and internalise its contents and go take action
Reader by the username Lyc on the modern farming feature

14. Best FARMING Feature

Modern farming needs little rain or land  

By Melanie Mwangi

Excerpt: “You find youths migrating from the rural areas to the city in search of work, yet they’ve left a shamba back at home because they were told in the town is where they will get jobs and money.”

Runner-up:

Farmers sell eggs at throwaway prices, burn trayloads as imports hurt profits

15. Best SPORTS Feature

Schools that used to shine in sports now dwarfed in games

By Agnes Makhandia

Excerpt: According to teachers and other stakeholders, different goings-on are to blame for the dip in performance among the once indomitable schools. They cite lack of incentives, age cheating, poaching, academic pressure and change of management.

Runner-up:

How team with quirky goal celebrations lifted youth from crime to world-beaters

16. Best TOURISM Feature

Why Diani risks losing its award-winning tourism appeal

By Mbaruku Mohammed

Excerpt: The research covered the social and economic impacts of dredging activities off the coasts of Kwale and Mombasa counties. It predicts a looming collapse of Diani’s beach-dependent tourism.

Runners-up:

It’s time for Kenya to invest in medical tourism

The untold story of Mama Ngina Waterfront Park

Komb Green Solutions members during a meeting in Korogocho
Komb Green Solutions members during a meeting in Korogocho
Image: SAM DINDI

17. Best ENVIRONMENT Feature

The change began as a ripple: How ex-gangsters created a park

By Cathy Watson

Excerpt: “It was a mountain of garbage here, a thieves’ hideout. Men could pull you here from the road and God-knows-what would happen,” says Sarah Nyambura, 34, one of the women involved.

Runner-up:

How 'crazy mzungu' built nature park in Malindi in 20 years

18. Best WELFARE Feature

The dream chasers of Mully Children's Family

By Allan Kisia

Excerpt: MCF’s work has inspired many and earned it multiple plaudits. Hollywood star Morgan Freeman flew into the country in December last year to interview the founder, Charles Mulli. The Academy Award winner travelled all the way from the US and spent time at the MCF.

19. Best SHOWBIZ Feature

What makes the Nyege Nyege festival tick

By Davies Ndolo

Excerpt: Kenyan artiste MC Yallah, who made the lineup this year, agrees that the most noticeable aspect about the event is the ability to meticulously put together a festival without any A-list artistes.

Runner-up:

Quality question haunts the push to play Kenyan music

20. Best COMMENTARY Feature

Kenya’s potential undone by barons, cartels — envoy

By Star Reporter

Excerpt: “This country is heaven. This is heaven on earth. You are blessed with great weather. A vibrant private sector and well-skilled youthful workforce. But the government has been taken over by barons and cartels. Nothing moves unless the barons are part of it.”

Runner-up: How graft, high cost of living could spark social implosion

***

Congratulations to the writers for delivering such memorable pieces, and thank you to the readers who took time to comment on them. If you missed any, feel free to check it out now. The beauty of a good feature story is that it is timeless.

Compiled by the Features Editor, whose works include ‘‘Handshake’ and Brexit through the prism of a wedding’ and ‘Chess coach Githinji Hinga’s endgame