Title: God’s Child on the Run: Delivered from the Dark Jaws of Kenya’s Deadly Politics
Author: Omwa Ombara
Publisher: Christian Faith Publishing, Inc., 2018
Reviewer: DOROTHY KWEYU
If it were to be summed up, the eclectic nature of God’s Child on the Run is an aspect that makes it impossible to pigeonhole it. ‘Riveting’ could aptly describe the book that deftly mirrors its title. Given the constrained space available for this review, and having read the book from cover to cover, I choose to dwell on its title: God’s Child on the Run: Delivered from the Dark Jaws of Kenya’s Deadly Politics.
This is not to say that there are no other compelling angles to address. The author’s hard-line stance on corruption in Kenya’s mainstream media is certainly important. Indeed, it would constitute compelling reading if only the author had not made her erstwhile employer the main focus, with other media houses mentioned only in passing.
Corruption is a subject that investigative desks of media houses, led by the regulatory Media Council of Kenya (MCK) should take up, if only to justify the moral high ground media houses take when they devote acres of space to issues corruption, day in, day out.
Systematic treatment of corruption would not only help confirm or debunk claims of rampant bribery of journalists; it would also lay foundations on which the media industry can build if it is committed to walking the talk of slaying the monster. Journalists have arrogated themselves a moral high ground from which they inundate newspapers with exposés of grand larceny.
The MCK and journalists can help further Omwa Ombara’s corruption theme by systematically investigating other media houses to salvage the author from claims of bias against her former employer. After all, fairness and balance are the essence of good journalist.
Suffice it to say that Omwa’s reference to corruption is work in progress, which the media cannot wish away, but must tackle head on. As she writes, “PR offices … use the (brown) envelope to place a little money to distribute to journalists for their ‘lunch’ or ‘transport.’ From the government side, it is meant to be a gesture of goodwill or appreciation to journalists for taking their time to cover the event.
“However, media ethics does not allow journalists to accept any form of gifts, whether freebies or cash, as they are simply doing their job and they are paid a salary or wage for it.” Omwa adds that the “brown envelope has often been abused by some journalists who make specific demands for what gift they should be given and even blackmail individuals and organisations to pay them for coverage.”
Omwa adds: “Some politicians also use the brown envelope to bribe reporters and editors to have their stories run on page one of the newspaper.”
Be that as it may, the central theme of the 11-chapter book is Omwa’s inexplicable mix-up as a potential witness in The Hague trials. The prosecutors saw Mr Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr William Ruto (now Kenya’s President and Deputy President) as bearing the greatest responsibility for the 2008 post-election violence. Political analysts have opined that the two rode on the crest of The Hague trials to win sympathy votes that catapulted them to high office in the 2013 General Election.
Omwa succeeds in sustaining the shadowy character, Donata (not her real name), throughout the book, which ends with her relocation to the United States for asylum. Donata appears in the introductory chapter of the book in which she introduces herself as a Hague investigator. Omwa is regarded as a potential witness in the impending trials.
The journalist’s identification as a potential witness because of her social media activism through tweets, blogs and Facebook puts her in harm’s way, and underlies the thriller that is God’s Child on the Run. Two quotes in the book are of the essence: “Can a journalist become a witness and quote her sources? Can a journalist exchange roles, stop covering a story and become the story? The shoe is on the other foot. Omwa becomes the story.”
The irony of Omwa’s book is that her prolonged run from her shadowy pursuers arises from her desire to be an authentic journalist. She tries — as any credible journalist would do — to confirm Donata’s credentials, with near fatal consequences. The drama starts after an aborted appointment with Donata.
Then she realises that her e-mail has been hacked. Real fear grips her when she realises shadowy characters trailing her everywhere she goes.
Escape is almost impossible as she runs from Nairobi to Mombasa and from Mombasa to Kisumu and back to the capital, eventually ending up in a safe house. This is understandable. Forces of the underworld that Omwa seems to have mixed herself up with have been known to be both ruthless and relentless, explaining some of Kenya’s high-profile assassinations.
Inasmuch as I have no expertise in film production, there is a sense in which the happenings in Omwa’s book could be converted into a high-octane movie that starts in Kenya and ends in the US where she finally finds asylum.
The happenings in safe houses are another subject worth investigating. The shelters are used ostensibly to protect fugitives from their persecutors, including witnesses threatened by those they testify against. However, Omwa’s experience is of dehumanising places. Further investigation is in order, if only to hold those running them to account.
All in all, however, one of the most charming aspects of the book is the author’s fascinating and heart-warming account of her childhood in Kisumu. With spellbinding artistry, Omwa tackles issues of family relations in a manner that is hilarious and even mythical.
Her nutty aunt’s brazen claim of cows weeping before they are slaughtered just blow one off. The simplicity, and childlike innocence with which Omwa relates such claims is an aspect that makes the book highly entertaining.
Another example of high drama is when the author and school choir went dumb — yes, dumb on stage — during a choir festival, inviting the wrath of their schoolmates when they went back.
Journalists are so caught up in day-to-day deadlines that penning books is the exception rather than the rule. God’s Child on the Run should inspire other journalists to join the few, like Business Daily Editor Ng’ang’a Mbugua, to write more frequently.
Ms Kweyu is a consultant revise editor with the Daily Nation. [email protected]; @KweyuZita