• 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Kenyans instead of foreigners, staff are less dedicated.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.