By Muriuki Mukurima
My grandfather was an avid writer. He was fluent and lyrical in Gikuyu language. His English-spoken and written- was flowery. His Swahili was tolerable. Socrates would say that “kana ka ngari gakunyaga o ta ngari” meaning that an apple does not fall far from the tree. This is exemplified by his 3 sons-my uncles-whose wizardly with the pen gives me goosebumps.His daughter-my mom-would go on to be the best English teacher I know of!
In the 90’s my uncle Waiyaki was a regular contributor to the ‘opinion column’, and ‘letter to the editor’ section, in the local dailies. His writing would at times get the whole family in trepidation because of his anti-Moi sentiment and blatant support for the opposition. That’s the first time I realized that being family does not necessarily mean supporting one political outfit. On the one hand, my grandfather was Moi damu-His position was that the opposition was nothing but a conglomeration of individuals out to satisfy their egos as opposed to working for the mwananchi. He used the inability of the opposition to unite against Moi to hammer his point home. On the other hand, uncle Waiyaki was Matiba damu. I could tell there was a frustration he felt about Moi’s leadership. I did not know who was right or wrong, but in spite of the divergent political affiliation, they were united by their ability to express-in writing-their sentiments and share the same in the local dailies. Deep inside me, a passion to one day be a journalist begun to fathom.
My childhood ambition did live to see the light of day in my adult years as other experiences would lead me in a different path. But I had been infected with that desire to commentate on social ills and other political pantomimes of the day, in local newspaper. I would look up to people like Captn Collins Wanderi, Joseph Mutua, Kariuki Muiri, Fwamba Nc Fwamba, Oulu GPO, Lumiti Cedric Khabuchi, Silas Gisiora Nyanchwani among others whose opinion in “Letters to the editor” section demonstrated that there were Kenyans in their little villages who had ideas on how to, and the willpower to, alter the course of the nation for the better.
Above all, I will never forget the People Daily Newspaper. Kalamka. Union Towers. I remember one day I wanted to do some research and I thought to myself, ‘let me try and get help here-People Daily.” I took the step of faith and I found myself at Union Towers. I was welcomed by the most kind, sweet, and hospitable receptionist. I explained to her my mission and with a bold smile asked if I could give a few minutes to go consult with someone about it. A minute later, she returned, not with the feedback, but with a cup of tea. Kwanza with tangawizi! She then excused herself.
While waiting and crossing my fingers, a be-spectacled lady , about 5’6 with a brown skin tone and long hair complimented by well-manicured nails was about to dash into an office directly opposite where I was sitting. It must have occurred to her I needed help and since there was no one at the reception desk, she came over, said hello and inquired if someone was helping me. She then introduced herself as “Ivy Matiba Chege.” I explained to her my intentions and to my utter surprise, she told me I was welcome to use the library as much I wanted! Kumbe she was the boss! Very humble woman.
I would be introduced to Ann Mbugua. The bedrock of People Daily: Resourceful, diligent, and unassuming. She really helped me and made sure I accessed all the material I needed. For many months Kalamka became a place I would go to research, read, and write. While at the library I got a chance to interact with other journalists. I watched them go beyond the call of duty to be members of, what Edmurd Burke would call, “Fourth Estate” (after Louis XIV had designated the Clergy, Nobility and Commoners as the first three estates.)
I learned a lot from People Daily. Above all, the humility of the journalists was out of this world. They would assist me where I got stuck, even if I was not one of them. Many at times we forget that journalists are out to do so much under a tough environment. But they give their best shot. It may not come out that way in the sensational headlines we read, or in their demeanor as expressed in their social medial platforms. But the men and women I interacted with-at People Daily-helped me realize that I was not cut for the kind of work they do for among other things, it requires patience and perseverance-two qualities that don’t define me!
Today I salute the alumni of People Daily: Murithi Mutiga. John Mûchangi. Paul Muhoho. Eric Oduor, Dennis Itumbi, Hudson Gumbihi. Peter Leftie. Mugo Theuri, Bedan Kamau. Kiruri Kamau.Odindo Ayieko, Alloys Muganda, Fred Maingi, Chris Musumba. Rachel Musyoka, Lucianne Chebotibin Limo, Ayumba Ayodi, Chris Ojow, Wanjohi Githae, Elizabeth Muthoni, Kenfrey Kiberenge and many others……