BEST FEATURES 2020

Weird and wonderful tales in year of changing fortunes

Dying nurse touched readers as virginity testing divided opinion and Trump’s America drew protest

In Summary

• That readers love human interest stories was evidenced by the way features trended

• Annual review shortlists the top 10 stories with a nod to six more worth mentioning

Collage of feature stories that shocked, touched and inspired readers in 2020
Collage of feature stories that shocked, touched and inspired readers in 2020

From a terror victim’s slow and painful death to a prodigal man’s fall from grace, the Star carried captivating insights into humanity in 2020.

While human interest stories are not limited to the feature pages, this review covers stories that ran in their conventional spaces on Big Read and Sasa

These stories “present people and their problems, concerns or achievements in a way that brings about interest, sympathy or motivation in the reader”, to quote Wikipedia.

Compiling and publishing the best is an annual tradition by this editor since 2019 in appreciation of the writers and promotion of outstanding content.

This year, categories are ditched for an overall list, ranked from 10 to 1 based on how well they were written and how much they were read and commented on.

The late Noel Amudavi
The late Noel Amudavi
Image: COURTESY

10. ‘My husband, you have tried’: Dusit nurse's long farewell

By Patrick Vidija

Noel Amudavi, the only nurse stationed at the dusitD2 hotel, was trying to save other victims when she was shot five times by terrorists. A year of surgeries followed, including the removal of part of her intestines. But there was to be no happy ending.

Excerpt: “She opened her eyes, looked at me and grabbed my hand. She held me tight and told me ‘My husband, you have tried’. She wanted to utter more but she couldn’t. She closed her eyes and that is how she went to be with the Lord,” Kisanya said.

9. Why job-seekers flock to Middle East despite horror stories

By Emojong Osere

Torture. Rape. Detention. Such is the abuse of many Kenyans trafficked to the Middle East mostly as domestic workers. Yet, faced with more graduates than jobs, the government ramped up exportation of labour to this region, while promising to ‘streamline’ migration. Hence this risk and benefit analysis, which overshadowed the writer’s main story on two Mind Shift Kenya activists cycling to Burundi and back to create awareness on modern-day slavery.

Excerpt: According to the report, 14.7 million Kenyans, representing 29 per cent of the country’s total population, are extremely poor as they earn less than Sh200 per day. It compels people to move out of their countries to search for better economic opportunities.

Friends and relatives of Ansila Charo, one of two domestic workers who died in Saudi Arabia, mourn after viewing her body at Jocham funeral home, Mombasa
Friends and relatives of Ansila Charo, one of two domestic workers who died in Saudi Arabia, mourn after viewing her body at Jocham funeral home, Mombasa
Image: ANDREW KASUKU

8. Do foreign tourists get treated better?

By Nabila Hatimy

You are going on a honeymoon and have booked the best hotels, venues, activities. What could possibly go wrong? This anecdote found when surrounded by fellow blacks instead of whites, staff are less dedicate.

Excerpt: I had last visited the resort in March, right before the country went into lockdown. It was packed with foreign tourists enjoying the best of sun, sand and services. However, this time around, I was forced to play the “I want to speak to the manager” card.

A waiter serves diners at a hotel in Coast
A waiter serves diners at a hotel in Coast
Image: ALPHONCE GARI

7. Five years of saving propels women to property dreams

By Aura Ruth

What can you do with Sh150? With discipline and team spirit, it turns out it can change your life. In one of the most uplifting stories of the year, Rachael Masiga’s Dominion Daughters showed how it is helping even poor women own houses.

Excerpt: “I do door-to-door business of selling omena, which is my main source of income. Sometimes, it is hard to get that Sh100, although I always try to ensure I get something to save because owning a house has always been my dream,” Anyango said.

Dominion Daughters group members, under the leadership of group CEO Rachael Masiga (seated left, in boots), during a function at Deliverance church, Mikindani, Mombasa county
Dominion Daughters group members, under the leadership of group CEO Rachael Masiga (seated left, in boots), during a function at Deliverance church, Mikindani, Mombasa county
Image: AURA RUTH

6. White sheet culture tests brides’ virginity

By Pili Chimerah

This is a dying but still practised wedding day ritual in coastal areas. A ‘kungwi’ (bride trainer) explained how it is carried out and how virginity is faked if need be, while some locals who have gone through it opened up about their pride and misgivings.

Excerpt: “It was hard to handle the whole situation as my wife was really in pain, but I had to force myself through so we could go forward with good results,” Musa said.

A Coastal bride
A Coastal bride
Image: JOHN CHESOLI

5. How people get conned at Luthuli Avenue

By Godfrey Kimega

Fancy new cabro pavements welcome shoppers to this renovated electronics hub, but unscrupulous traders remain. If greed has a face, it is the dealers who use shady tactics to make an extra buck.

Excerpt: “We argued and I told them they were being dishonest. They refused to refund my money,” says Lucy. In the end, she was forced to pay for things she did not need in order to leave with the TV.

It's business as usual on Luthuli Avenue
It's business as usual on Luthuli Avenue
Image: CHARLENE MALWA
Rodrick Oware, 55, recounts his rise
Rodrick Oware, 55, recounts his rise
Image: MARTIN OMBIMA

4. Poor man in the city becomes a millionaire in the village

By Martin Ombima

If you thought money doesn’t grow on trees, this story will make you think twice. While thousands of Kenyans flock to the capital city in search of greener pastures, Rodrick Oware only knew poverty in Nairobi. He gave up and went back to his rural home in Vihiga, where many deemed him a loser. However, he latched onto one business idea after another, saved and reinvested, ending up with so much success after eight years that he wonders why people go to Nairobi in the first place. 

Excerpt: “That resort on the Kisumu-Busia highway just came from these seedlings, though most people cannot believe that,” he told the Star.  

3. Inside panya routes used from Nairobi to Mombasa and back

By Andrew Kasuku

Lockdowns were an alien and surreal concept until Kenyans found themselves cooped up in the capital and coastal cities. Cue a conspiracy by boda boda riders and police to circumvent roadblocks, making a mockery of efforts to contain the spread of the virus.

Excerpt: “I haven’t seen them but if you find them, you’ll part with the usual Sh200, so don’t worry,” the other rider assures us.

A rider and passenger navigate through a valley at Lukenya Hills plains on June 29
A rider and passenger navigate through a valley at Lukenya Hills plains on June 29
Image: ANDREW KASUKU
Screenshot from clip of Bishop Ngash at the demonstration in Seattle, Washington
Screenshot from clip of Bishop Ngash at the demonstration in Seattle, Washington
Image: COURTESY

2. Kenyan who led ‘Haki Yetu’ anti-racism demo in the US

By Elizabeth Mwarage

When Seattle-based Uber driver Joseph Ng’ang’a, better known as Bishop Ngash, watched George Floyd’s life being snuffed out by a white cop’s knee, he thought, “This could have been me.” Having experienced racism himself and witnessed police brutality back in Kenya, he switched off his Uber app, went to the frontline and made protesters chant, “Haki yetu!”

Excerpt: It is unusual to find the likes of Ng’ang’a in the US. Many Kenyans prefer to stay out of politics and out of trouble. “We have to do this for our children,” he says. “If we don’t join the fight, they could be tomorrow’s victims.”

Honourable mentions

The scene where two administrators were murdered
The scene where two administrators were murdered
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES

a) Curse of the chieftaincy in Lamu: Tale of drugs, horror and murder

By Cheti Praxides

Forget al Shabaab, administrators here only know the terror of panga gangs protecting the drug trade at all costs. At least five chiefs and a Nyumba Kumi official have been killed since 2016.

Wajir South MP Mohamud Sheikh
Wajir South MP Mohamud Sheikh
Image: EZEKIEL AMING'A

b) Endless plea of constituency with not even inch of tarmac

By Moses Odhiambo

Amid massive infrastructure developments elsewhere, there is a corner of the country seemingly forgotten 60 years after Independence, as colourfully summed up by the MP thus: “If Adam and Eve came back to life today, the only place they could identify with is Wajir South constituency.”

Kilifi county communications officer James Mulei
Kilifi county communications officer James Mulei
Image: ALPHONCE GARI

c) Why Kilifi official blew the whistle on Saburi

By Alphonce Gari

The roving deputy governor Uhuru wished would be jailed for 10 years might have escaped scrutiny for failing to self-isolate after a trip abroad, were it not for James Mulei and his ‘sixth sense’. The county official called for him to be tested, and the result shocked the nation.   

South African-born Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
South African-born Mark Suzman, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Image: COURTESY

d) Gates Foundation eyeing fastest vaccine search in history

By John Muchangi

With Bill Gates being the ‘voodoo doll’ of Covid conspiracies, his foundation’s CEO steered focus to efforts to ensure poor countries are not left out of the rollout of vaccines, though the race to produce one in record time served as a lightning rod for sceptics.

An out-of-school girl does child labour / COURTESY
An out-of-school girl does child labour / COURTESY

e) Students forget lessons after spending months out of school

By Akello Odenyo

What became of students after schools closed was the subject of great features, with one uncovering teenage parties and another venturing into juvenile gangs. But this one explored the tragedy of students slowly but surely forgetting what they had learned, and the horror of parents and teachers of the lot who reopened in October.

Girl, 14, holds her baby in Kwale / SHABAN OMAR
Girl, 14, holds her baby in Kwale / SHABAN OMAR

f) Incest wreaks havoc in Kwale girls’ lives

By Shaban Omar

Using the lyrics of the song ‘Daddy’ as a backdrop, this story walked us through one girl’s nightmare that many more are facing in silence. Hard to read yet hard to ignore, it unmasked the monsters in our homes through the actions of a serial paedophile. With teenage pregnancies making headlines, it also gave a different perspective of culprits.

And the feature story of the year is

1. Once opulent, now destitute, sleeping in a toilet

By Ndichu Wainaina

In the days of Jomo Kenyatta, a businessman from Nyandarua boasted of nine cars and would amuse himself with using beer to refuel. John Muiruri was doing so well that Asians and Europeans nicknamed him ‘John Big’. But a mysterious loss of wealth wiped the smile off his face, and now the 92-year-old is homeless and spending his last days trading claims of abandonment with his family. Not surprisingly, this story intrigued readers the most in 2020.

Excerpt: “Now that he is old and weak, he has come back to his family, but they are persecuting him. As far as we know, he has only two children, who are desperate, hence cannot help,” Ndung’u says.

Mzee John Muiruri shows the Simba B ECD toilet where he spends the night
Mzee John Muiruri shows the Simba B ECD toilet where he spends the night
Image: NDICHU WAINAINA

Did you miss any of the stories? Take this opportunity to read them and see why they made the cut.

As the editor, I smelled a good story from the prodigal businessman’s downfall because of the catchy title. I felt immersed in the ‘Haki yetu’ demo thanks to the descriptive writing. And I liked how the lockdown breaches were exposed through investigative journalism. Creativity and initiative make for great features.

Be sure to catch more interesting narratives in the Big Read and Sasa pages of the Star this year. Suggestions on topics you would like covered are welcome.

Compiled by the features editor, whose own works in 2020 included Tarmacking blues of jobless Kenyans and How Kenya creates pregnant Kadogos

A snapshot of the #JalioTales collection
A snapshot of the #JalioTales collection
Image: TOM JALIO