Jeff Koinange’s book “Through My African Eyes”, simply put is a fun read and involuntarily makes one utter! Oh my! Wamae! It is a contemporary African adventure that tells the story of Africa from an informed back end. The book is a fast paced modern narrative cleaned out of jaundiced prose and divisive allegiances. It highlights his life behind the camera and precious moments with his son Jamal Mbiyu.
We also get a peek into the complex individual experientially compelled to be neutral for the sake of telling the African story. If getting fired for telling the story too accurately was the price, Jeff has paid for it over and over again.
In my day when our sheng was limited to “ old man and old lady” we would have nicknamed him, “the comeback kid! “Through My African Eyes” is a gentle tale of sheer gut nourished early in settings most Kenyan’s can relate to.
Jeff highlight’s the “agony of being Jeff”. An enigma until this book, his alleged story popularized by pedestrian press is comically public property. Folkloric narrations detail with uninformed precision of how he worked as an airline steward and while announcing on board a passenger hired him to work for CNN because of his American accent.
Other tales extol virtuously of how he is a prodigal son of Kenya’s first family yet we never wondered how come a whole street bears his family name.
Within inner circles, old St. Mary’s boys remember him as a team player, their deputy head boy and captain of any team that involved brawn and brains. A high school pal, Eric Wokabi Mungai recalls Jeff still had time to write an award winning play he starred in that won the 1984 National Drama Title… and all this back in high school.
Then came CNN and we fell hook line and sinker to gossip and actually perpetuated the nonsense gleefully and in journalistic circles no one bothered to fact check yet admittedly or not most of us stopped watching K24 TV after he exited. Jeff’s reportage during the clashes gave us an insight into our cloaked savagery. Most importantly for the first time we understood what Live News 24 hours on our turf meant.I now realize how despite my honorariums as a celebrated researcher and editor, I too had fallen victim to the undermining attitude of today’s Kenya.
I apologize as a Kenyan to Jeff Koinange for not ever bothering to apply my celebrated skills in further understanding his supposed notoriety and standing to his defense responsibly in view of what I have now read.
Before I delve into the contents of the book this is what I found out.
Jeff is the first African to ever win the Emmy award for his team’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
Jeff is yet again the first ever African to win a George Foster Peabody, among other awards he has also bagged the Vernon Jarrett Award as well as the prestigious! Prix Bayeux for War Coverage. If you thought Lupita was a big deal! Think again…this is one guy who can on aplomb literally get away with “a but do I say!
An Emmy is the most prestigious award in Television Journalism as Oscar is for Films…he merited this feat in 2005.
A Peabody is awarded to outstanding journalists who excel in their profession… he was conferred one in 2005.
A Vernon Jarrett is awarded to journalists of African or African American descent who defy the odds to tell a story that impacts globally. He was awarded one in 2005.
All these accolades based on activities in one year before the age of 40.
I cringe at my dogmatic inability to focus the spotlight on one of our own. When Dodi Fayed was dating Princess Di and the natives of the isles were spouting venom, one of his countrymen wrote a caption in his defense that stated, “you may spit at us in the alleyways…but on the high seas we are squiring your princesses!”. I implore those endowed with sensibility to reflect upon these words and start standing proud for those among us who have merited recognition on global platforms.
We may dismiss Jeff at home but out there he is a respected Hero. Thabo Mbeki’s tribute to this son of Kenya needs contemplation because he insightfully steers us from placing blame on all things African gone wrong on Jeff. Thabo expressly reminds us of the limited and sometimes awkward positions Jeff was subjected to as an African reporter for international networks.
To his credit only a personality endowed with insightful grace such as Mbeki validates that level of empathy. I learnt that we are quick to crucify our own. On the totem pole of those let go by CNN in 2007 Jeff does not even warrant the bottom rung. A basic search will reveal that was the year CNN changed formats. Meanwhile, Jeff was stuck on assignment raising awareness of international proportion that sparked a diplomatic row and subsequent snafu that implicated the broadcaster. Celebrated CNN personalities such as Eason Jordan, Jeff’s hiring boss, were let go that same year. All in the news business know that content must be approved before broadcast and it is illogical that we always blame the journalists. They are simply sent to fetch news. His boss was prominent in highlighting awareness of the number of journalists systemically reduced to collateral damage. A dedicated search on CNN’s restructuring activities within that period will point out to changes at the time.
“Through My African Eyes” is unique as the familiarity allows the reader to be a voyeur into the life of a celebrated journalist. For example in pursuit of answers to the dilemma facing women being raped and brutalized en-masse in Bukavu, Congo, Jeff walks you through the geographic vastness of the Congo. It is for this exploit that he was awarded the Vernon Jarrett award, an award that celebrates journalists whose reportage is able to abate global crises.
It is a marvel the convivial relationships he cultivated with supposed African dictators. Through his eyes we see Laurent Kabila as a young man sworn to duty with foresight enabling him to cherish resumption as a civilian when duty is accomplished. For those who have never been in disaster zones where ultimate will is tested …”civilization” simply means a hot shower in a place not being bombed and devoid of carcasses or cadavers awaiting evacuation.
“Through My African Eyes”, is a microscopic peek into a world we always wonder about, as few have merited the tier. Oddly from the front seat, seems there is actual harmony within all the perceived chaos that is Africa.
Jeff walks us through the morbid with grace as he describes how on the day his colleagues insist on that last footage and he has to walk unescorted alone against regulation for over six miles through piles of rotting corpses. He describes retching until his lungs give out… Jeff scathingly survives by making the decision to walk away and later gets news his pals were all shot. It is somber insight into the perils of chasing a story. When he says no story is worth dying for …you get it.
“Through My African Eyes”, employs visual sentencing interwoven with liberal usage of punctuation marks to precisely deploy the essence of the experience. The sentencing is fast paced and efficient with elements of the texting style popularized in social media. It makes for a good quick read allowing for each region of Africa to hear its story being told by yet again, a product of Kenya.
“Through My African Eyes”, defies generalized categorization and will transcend generations…. each chapter opens up a separate parallel of the world as only can be seen through his experiences.
You be the judge.
Saraswati Tara, is an American celebrity ghostwriter and editor of Kenyan origin based anywhere with Wi-Fi.