Media still rules

Media still rules



It is hard running a newspaper, radio or TV channel today.

It is even harder during the electioneering season. What with omniscient keyboard warriors itching for 140 characters of fame, to pontificate on what media should be tackling, how and when.

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Strangely though, it does not take long before these same all-knowing media police often turn around and dismiss any influence in the hands of the institution of the press. Media has lost credibility with the canoodling with political class, they type away. And moral authority too, they tweet. Digital is bae, they coo.

Apparently, according to this school of thought, the furious penetration of the internet,  making social media disciples of all of men and women has contributed to this state of affairs. That Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and the rest of them are as good a source of news.

Which is which? Is media this powerful institution that we depend on to inform and educate us, hence the many instructions we keep howling from the touchline? Or is it this busy body, clanging cymbal and noisy gong that no one no longer listens to?

Media has always been considered a pawn. One that does not have a mind of its own. An instrument in the hands of the powers that be. A marionette whose strings are perpetually hostage to the whims of some shadowy but powerful forces.

No wonder media often shoulders blame for misquoting individuals, being compromised to fight them and taking sides on issues and contests. Media is the ultimate scapegoat-in-chief. Is there any institution as criticized and ostracized?

Strangely, it is not just your average Joe and Wanjiku that holds this view. It cuts across demographics and intellect. It is the subject of tonnes of research and journal articles; and a number of theories.

Actually, media critiquing is an entire thriving media ecosystem globally. Of course with scholars such as Douglas Kellner, Noam Chomsky and the rest of them sit at the top of the food chain. The rest of you talking heads trying to sound intelligent on Twitter and WhatsApp occupy the other end of the spectrum.

Interestingly, alongside this seemingly widely-held disdain, everyone seems to have their expectations and wish-list for the media. Cover women issues more. Focus less on politicians. Talk more about development. Give inciters a blackout. Why don’t we have women on your live panels? Get us more news away from urban centres.

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Isn’t this recognition of the immense power and influence that media wields? If media did not have power, would we still be inundating channels with requests and prayers? Wouldn’t we just ignore the media completely and let it drone on as we live our lives, half chuckling in glee?

Just because top politicians fail to honour invitations to a pre-election debate put together by media is not an indication of floundering trust and influence. Just because we have the alternative of getting news off our timelines as it breaks does not mean good old legacy media is irrelevant. Just because I have the power to begin one of those #ForwardedAsReceived on WhatsApp neither makes me a broadcaster nor media owner. And just because a sitting Head of State dismisses newspapers as ‘meat-wrappers’

Media still rules.

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Posted by on July 26, 2017 in Uncategorized


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Issues and inspiration trump rallies

A fortnight ago, service at my church was interrupted for a few minutes as an official of IEBC, Kenya’s polls body, took to the pulpit to make an impassioned pitch for voter registration.

The plea by the elections official stood out conspicuously, amongst upcoming events and other ‘ministry announcements’, for its secularity.

For a place of worship that has a deliberate policy of zero-tolerance to the staple politicians’ ‘greetings’ from the pulpit, this was quite unusual. Its peculiarity however serves to illustrate the palpable crisis of voter apathy that the country is staring at.

Little wonder that the Head of State, his Deputy, and opposition chiefs have accumulated significant local miles since the beginning of the year, as they crisscrossed the Republic to encourage as many people as possible to register to vote. In what has often degenerated into a name-calling spectacle, show of political might and defection soirees, no effort was spared in spreading this gospel to the all the ends of the Kenyan earth. There were threats of denial of conjugal rights and service at public offices; as well as reports of youth barricading roads and only letting through registered voters to the chagrin of IEBC.

However, the big question is whether the tours, rallies and insults ultimately made a difference in the drive to mobilize eligible voters to register. Statistics from IEBC indicate that in the final evaluation, the numbers fell 37% shy of the target.

Not to begrudge the ladies and gentlemen of credit for their efforts in whipping up public support. Of course, they have had an impact. They have drawn the nation’s attention to the registration of voters, and that it would be the final one before the next elections. It is safe to say that this is common knowledge, and there were even been jokes circulating on WhatsApp groups linking it to Valentines (the initial deadline was February 14th before it was extended by the courts).

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Nonetheless, such efforts by politicians are not enough. A lot more needs to be done to increase awareness amongst the public of their sacrosanct duty and right to participate in the electoral process by voting and to incentivise them to take the initiative to register and vote.

As my lecturer puts it, there is a huge difference between creating awareness and effecting behavior change. Communications research has demonstrated that there has to be motivation for behavior change to occur in any given society. In this case, going round the country asking people to register to vote is not enough – unless all we want to achieve is just awareness.

In fact, even if Kenyans had come out in droves to register, and even surpassed targets, this would not be an end in itself. We would still need these registered voters to come out and vote on August 8, 2017. Would we then go on a mobilization blitz again prior to voting day?

A sure way that we can turn voter apathy into sustained interest is through issue driven communications. If we adequately motivated Kenyans to be genuinely interested in this agenda, we would not have to follow them up to register and vote. We could leverage strategic communication to deliver a compelling narrative that can effectively rally Kenyans to register, and then vote. Depending on what part of the divide that one is, it is either by inspiring the voters to reward the current regime another term in office by compellingly demonstrating the great work done so far; or making them sufficiently angry as to kick out the sitting government by exposing the rot and ills perpetrated under its watch.

Nation Media Group has gallantly led the way down this road through a series of prominently placed thought-provoking pieces of public service journalism dubbed ‘The Nation Agenda’. They have sought to focus the upcoming poll on an agenda for the country in the run-up to the elections — issues that matter to the so-called ordinary Kenyan.

The media has an important role to play in building and sustaining Kenyans’ interest in the electioneering process. As a watchdog, media needs to recast issues for the public because as a respected institution it carries more believability and can guide the conversation towards the real issues.

So far, the politicians’ message has been, “Register so that you can vote for me”. The ‘so-what’ and ‘then-what’ has been glaringly missing from this discourse; and this could be a possible explanation for the underwhelming response to the politicians-led campaigns. An open conversation on the issues we will be taking a stand on as we vote is critical.

Often times, the refrain has been the profound words of George Jean Nathan, who famously said that ‘Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote’. Let us make it more compelling this time. Let us put up the issues for the voter to judge.


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Posted by on February 22, 2017 in Uncategorized


Development needs healthy population

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The World Cancer Day shoved in our faces the reality of a broken health system. Previously considered a non-epidemic, cancer in recent years has proven to be a more ravaging risk than even AIDS and Malaria, erstwhile the tier one killers.

Against cancer, we are sitting ducks. We have limited facilities. We lack the equipment to deliver treatment. We have almost zero epidemiological data. There are few oncologists in the country. We have not dedicated the same kind of resources that we dedicated in the fight against AIDS and Malaria. To dampen everything, Cancer hardly has the same appeal, however twisted, that AIDS and Malaria have had, to previous donors. Simply, we are on our own here.

This is unacceptable, considering that for over half a century, we have been chorusing how disease is a major impediment to development. Disease ranked among top-most enemies that our Founding Fathers set out to confront, together with poverty and illiteracy. Why has the goal of tackling disease by ensuring that quality healthcare is accessible – physically and economically — to all Kenyans, eluded us this long?

Granted, we have made steps in increasing physical accessibility by reducing the long distances that some Kenyans have to cover to get to a health facility – but this is not all. A lot more still remains to be done. Stories are told of Kenyans losing their lives, not because they did not get to health facilities in time, but for lack of money for them to be admitted, no bed to place them on, drugs being out of stock or no health personnel to attend to them.

Never mind that a healthy population is a key ingredient towards delivering a prosperous nation as envisioned in our long term national development goals. If we are not going to fix the healthcare system, then we could as well forget about the Promised Land of sustained economic development in the next one and a half decades that we constantly dream of.

Kenya (and indeed, many countries in Africa and the rest of the developing world) has to rethink our approach towards delivering quality healthcare. Of what use is a government (national or county) that cannot effectively take care of its people’s most basic needs, such as healthcare, ability to earn a living and security? Access to quality healthcare for all is one of the avenues through which we could tackle inequality that still remains high in this country.

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Statistics indicate that health-related expenses take up a significant portion of an average households’ expenditure. The more important problem is the vulnerability to poverty that sickness of a household head poses. When people are sick, they don’t work and do not earn a living for their families. Imagine the economic impact that would accompany a functional public healthcare system that ensures families do not spend that much on healthcare and do not worry about skipping work because they are sick and cannot afford medication. Basic economics indicates that when households are able to save money, they increase their purchasing power as well as ability to invest in business or other productive activities.

How then, do we fix Kenya’s public healthcare system? Some of our neighbouring countries have delivered much more impressive health outcomes, while we continue chest-thumping about being the regional economic powerhouse. Even with the facilities and equipment that we have, it is possible to generate much better outcomes than we already are. Is our strategy hamstringing efficiency of the healthcare system?

A haphazardly designed and executed decentralization has contributed to the chaos by splitting responsibility and accountability for health – that county governments are responsible for implementation but national government retain substantial policy power. Maybe we devolved health too soon, or devolved too much or we have to go through the teething problems to refine and reinvigorate it.

One of our weakest links is following through on all the excellent plans that have been formulated over time to transform the public health system. Legend has it that some of the brilliant development plans in this country have gained much more traction elsewhere in the world, while ours continue to gather dust in technocrats’ magnificent shelves and computer hard drives. If there is a leaf we were to borrow from the success stories such as Singapore, then it should be disciplined execution of plans. Apparently, it is usually said in these countries that: ‘Policy is implementation and implementation is policy’. Unfortunately, we have not made execution a core competence for our healthcare system.

It all boils down to leadership. In our circumstances it is not even clear where we should look for leadership. The constitution mandates county governments but they are still strong-armed by national government that nonetheless absolves itself from blame for the turmoil in the sector. Not that the counties themselves do not have a leadership crisis, anyway!

What Kenya needs is persons who will get things done to ensure systems function properly all the time. Then cases of health systems being paralysed by medics’ strikes will be a thing of the past. Kenyan families will no longer have to organize many fundraisers to take their kin to India for treatment because some equipment and procedures are not available locally.

Therefore, the challenge for the managers of the country’s healthcare system in whatever jurisdiction is to consider the strategy statements – the vision, mission, objectives, scope and competitive advantage — and work towards achieving them. How comes, for instance, that we still have acute shortages of certain specialist skills, and have one doctor for a huge population, way beyond acceptable levels. That some health facilities suffer shortages of drugs and other key consumables from time to time – are our priorities right?

Even as we rethink our strategy for the public healthcare system, we should also cascade it to the entire healthcare workforce of different cadres. This will ultimately transform the mindset of medics working in these facilities. Ask anyone who has been to a public health facility about their experiences and they will regale you with tales of terror at the hands of the nurses and other health workers. It gets worse in the maternity wards.

The public healthcare system will only be effective if it is treated as a service and a right, and not a work of charity – even if the service is for free. Our taxes run it, anyway!

At the end of the day, this country needs a healthy population to create wealth and livelihoods — and ultimately achieve its national development goals. The public health system serves the vast majority of the Kenyan population and fixing it would translate into huge economic benefits. It would be able to effectively play the role of not only treating but also preventing some diseases through education measures such as good nutrition and clean environment to avoid small but expensive ailments like diarrhea, malaria, typhoid and others that overload the health system.

After all, labour (and a healthy one at that) is a key factor of production. There is a case for a transformed, functional and equipped healthcare system.

This artice was first published in Business Daily onFebruary 25, 2016 and online at



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Posted by on July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


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How infrastructure can change lives of poor

In the eyes of my kinsmen, our hometown of Butere has joined the league of developed parts of the country.

For the first time since God created the Earth, there is a tarmac road linking up our hamlet to the rest of the world. Add this to the fact that the little hamlet is connected to the national electricity grid and most schools have cemented walls and floors. We are ‘developing’!

In the wisdom of my people, development is not having to endure slippery muddy roads during the rainy season. It is having lit up shopping centers where we can take our phones for charging and grind our maize into flour. It is granting our school-going children the luxury of not having to carry cow dung to school every morning for smearing the classroom floors and walls.

Roads, and infrastructural development in general, remain a big deal – and not just for my village. A promise of any of these is a seductive ruse by many an aspirant for political office. The parliamentary hopefuls are wont to promise to tarmac our main roads while the aspiring councilors (now MCAs) would regale us with their grand plans to murram the footpaths in the village.

For many people, smooth tarmacked roads and electricity, on their own, should be a potent charm against poverty. This is the basis that those who dismiss mega projects as not pro-poor base their arguments on, like Dr Patrick Mbataru did in the Sunday Nation (August 9, 2015) asserting that ‘Mega projects have little impact on the poor’.

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Infrastructure is actually a foundation, a catalyst and a critical enabler of development. It is a facilitator of enterprise that eventually translates into wealth for the entrepreneurs and lift communities out of poverty.

Smooth roads should enable the poultry farmer in the hinterland to ferry their eggs much more efficiently to the market. It will make the investor, who every county is busy wooing through conferences and forums and trips abroad, to select a well-served area to set up a factory that will create jobs and a market.

Nonetheless, infrastructure is not a panacea for all or developmental shortcomings. Rather, it should be viewed as a basis, which if harnessed well and backed by favourable incentives and pro-enterprise measures, is bound to transform lives.

Fixing our infrastructure is in itself a step forward on our path towards the promised land of development. Perhaps, the only challenge we face in our rush to upgrade infrastructure is efficiency in the allocation of resource. We sometimes allocate too much to infrastructure that ends up eating into what we would have invested in the social infrastructure which deal with immediate needs of the poor.

Nonetheless, with more and more parts of the country ‘developing’, it is incumbent upon county governments to rise up to the challenge and fashion policies that will encourage enterprise in their respective areas of jurisdiction. Contrary to popular opinion, we do not have to court foreigners to come and invest in our villages and create jobs. We can also create jobs by encouraging local homegrown businesses to thrive while leveraging off the superior infrastructure that we are fortunate to have. Creating the right circumstances for enterprise to thrive is critical. It empowers citizens to build wealth, and of their own power, to reach out for their full aspirations, and development.

If anything, it is in the interest of the devolved governments that each county has a strong enterprise base. These governments have to generate revenue to supplement funds received from the central government.

Alongside putting up the brick and mortar of infrastructure and supporting enterprise to thrive, we need to increase our investments in social infrastructure and services– through targeted development programmes in education and health. At the end of the day, this is the true measure of development. It makes people’s lives easier and more meaningful. These are the tangible benefits to the ordinary citizen that will complete the picture of development in the minds of Kenyans.

Devolution creates an excellent opportunity to deliver this. Unfortunately, the charm of roads, infrastructure and cement has clouded politicians’ minds, as they are keen to ‘show’ development. This ends up playing into the mindsets of kawaida people, who are fixated with a constricted view of development.

Granted, huge strides have been made in operationalizing devolution, as it is imagined through the historic constitutional development. It is now upon the devolved units to re-imagine development from the stand-point and circumstances of the poor villager. It is not only what the villager perceives as development, but also importantly, how development, however conceived, actually changes the lot of their lives. This is through ease of access and affordability of their daily bread.

If the villager is happier, healthier, more educated, well-fed, is empowered and can easily access and meet their needs, then the addition of smooth roads, flowing water cemented classrooms, really brings development home.

This was first published in Daily Nation on August 26, 2015; and online at 




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Posted by on July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized


#GES2015KE Post-mortem: I defend the Press

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The media is oft an easy scapegoat. In the aftermath of the GES, hordes of ‘media analysts’, have gone ham on the Press over its handling of the just concluded GES 2015, yet another example of how media is easily made a scapegoat.

These analysts’ reading of media reportage is damning – coverage was not only dismal, it was focused on the wrong things. According to this reading, the Kenyan press focused on “minor distractions” at this very important conference – POTUS, his family and lifestyle, his toys, namely The Beast, Air Force One and Marine One. That the media glossed over big picture issues – entrepreneurship, investment and bilateral talks between Uhuru Kenyatta and Barack Obama. Analysts on social media and talking heads on television told anyone who cared to listen that the meaty media abandoned the boulders and went for the pebbles.

Of course this is not the first time that the media, which is scorned and praised in equal measure, has been designated a carry all flak taker. From politicians claiming that they were misquoted, and individuals caught in scandals accusing them of invading privacy, to government officials terming them unpatriotic and focusing on negativity that paint countries in bad light internationally, the media is always on the receiving end.

The reality though is that, like leaders, we get the media coverage that we deserve. The media, like art, is a mirror held up for society to gaze at itself. The media is also in business, and misreading its audience is costly. If media focused on matters that we, the audience, did not care about, they would be out of business. The Kenyan media is not only in business; and viewed as a sector, it is also doing very well. It is because the media outlets are giving us what we want as readers, listeners and viewers.

One of the basic lessons at journalism school is that the role of media is to inform, educate and entertain. On its coverage of the GES 2015, the media did very well on these three counts. Indeed, had the media focused on what our media analysts call the big picture issues, they would be drifting from their audience.

The average Kenyan media consumer does not think much about business news, which is where most of the coverage on the summit would have been. This is the reason why business news is given a small proportion of the news in dailies and bulletins. Such news is tucked deep past page three in print media, and after the main news in broadcast media.

But it is also the ‘news value’ of events that matters. This includes proximity of the news, its ‘unusualness’, timeliness, prominence and the emotions involved. Between the price of potatoes that has increased by 3% and a politician caught with his assistant’s wife in a compromising situation, the latter wins on news value any day.

President Obama is a media phenomenon, in Kenya and elsewhere. He makes news.  Kenya is not just anywhere, but the land of his father’s birth. He was visiting for the first time since he ascended to the position that makes him the most powerful man on the planet. The least anyone would expect is that he would hog the space and time in media long before he lands, and after he leaves. Any editor who misses this point is not worth the title.

My verdict is that the disappointment with the coverage has nothing to do with its focus or quality. Rather, most of these events were beamed live, in their wake, arousing furious banter on social media. By the time the events of the day appeared in in news bulletins and newspaper pages, they were already old news. We had already seen President Obama land, the famous ride in The Beast with his sister and everything else he did before the newspapers went to print.

The challenge for the Fourth Estate is not about its focus; rather, it is in adapting and keeping abreast of rapidly unfolding events, and to determine what is news within what times spans. We live in a world where social media and live coverage of events have made the work of a journalist a lot more complicated. It is incumbent upon the modern day journalist to report knowing that his audience already have full view of the happenings via social media and live broadcasts (depending on how big the issue is). In such a case, the journalist is obliged to give informative and fresh analysis to be relevant.

A business leader who attended the State banquet held in honour of President Obama recently made a statement that illustrates the point. He says that when everyone rose to take pictures and videos of Potus getting down to Lipala, he did not bother since he knew it would be on Twitter in a few seconds – and sure enough it was. How then, as a journalist covering this event, would you expect to present this to us as ‘news’?

Kenya has journalist that are at par with the best in the world. They might just lag in innovation.  It is not that Kenyan media did not see news value in the summit and the throngs of entrepreneurs from across the world in attendance. The issue is that that they gave us ‘news’ that was rather late to be news.

This article was first published in The Standard newspaper on August 4, 2015 and Standard Digital on

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Posted by on March 24, 2016 in Uncategorized


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Dear #Kenyans, #POTUS does not have answers to all our problems

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my turn to ‘Face the Nation’. Our popular and powerful cousin is coming to town and we are justifiably excited. This is our time to address, pontificate, analyse and discuss everything about #POTUS. I therefore take liberty to make my address to the Nation of Kenya.

President Barack Obama in the Oval Office Photo Credits:

However, and which is also my reason for writing this note, I fear that we may be expecting too much from this homecoming of sorts, which journalists have billed ‘the first ever visit by a sitting US President to Kenya’.

It is no little wonder that in the last few days, we have had all manners of wish lists calling out for Obama’s attention. This ranges from the Kogelo chap asking for US-made shoes, to the Siaya Governor who wants a university, paediatric hospital and power plant. Add in the President, who is asking for help in fighting terrorism and enhancing trade between Kenya and the US. Then there are the opposition leaders who want to enlist his help in tackling graft and entrenching good governance. It is hard being Obama!

Fellow Kenyans,

Truth of the matter is that it is not #POTUS or any other outsider, with the solutions to these many problems that afflict us. Remember the maxim ‘African solutions to African problems’? That is what I am talking about.

Granted, Obama is the President of the world’s largest economy and Leader of the Free World, and even has family ties to the Great Land of Kenya. However, this is not ground enough to inundate him with our problems to the very minutiae.

I am convinced that if we were to look carefully within us, we would find solutions to these many problems that we think it requires #POTUS to solve. For instance, do we really need him to get us shoes for individuals, or even build a hospital in the county of his father’s birth? We will never become the globally competitive and prosperous nation with a high quality of life we envision by the year 2030, with this kind of mindset. It is time to decolonize our minds.

We have incredible examples of great work that is already being done by Kenyans for Kenyans. Take Nailab for instance, the startup incubator that is helping tech enterprises unlock their potential. All we need to be asking of ourselves and our leadership is how to scale these kinds of initiatives to increase impact.

Brothers and Sisters,

As the clock ticks towards the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, which is the main reason for #POTUS’ trip, let us make the most out of it; but not to expect freebies or magic from him or the entrepreneurs and other attendees who will be in town at the weekend. IN this regard, a huge shout out to the enterprising Kenyans who are taking advantage of the hype to sell merchandise and make money.

Go ye and conquer the world when it comes to town at the weekend!

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Posted by on July 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


Open Letter to Africa: #ListenToSouthSudan

Fellow Africans,

Under different circumstances, I would have relished such an opportunity to address the continent. However, the issue at hand is so disturbing that there is absolutely nothing enjoyable about making the statements that I am about to.

It is about South Sudan – the continent’s newest nation that we welcomed in 2011 with pomp and celebration.

Only a few years later, we’ve abandoned South Sudan at a time when they need us most. We have chosen to stand by and watch in silence as innocent people of South Sudan are butchered in a conflict that they are mere pawns.

Whatever happened to Ubuntu — the African humanness! The Ubuntu philosophy stresses humanity towards others, which is at the core of being African. As a people, we have abdicated this responsibility. Apart from the gallant social media citizens, we have remained silent to the cries of the people of South Sudan.

It is time we rose up and took action. In our own little ways, we have a contribution to make in addressing the suffering of the great people of South Sudan. Let us show the rest of the world that indeed ‘it is time for Africa’ — and that this is not just a line from a song. Which better opportunity is there to demonstrate that we can develop African solutions to African problems?

And when all is said and done, the buck stops with our leaders — nationally, regionally and continentally. This is the time for the AU, EAC, COMESA and other blocs to step to the plate. Surely, we can come together for a good cause that benefits us all; and not wait to rally together for selfish initiatives such as withdrawal from the ICC. A stable and peaceful South Sudan is in the interest of us all.

The world is watching keenly. Don’t we harp on and on about our sovereignity as a people? Why are we still waiting for others us to deal with issues in our neighbourhood? How many more people are waiting to die before we take action? Let us speak out, declare sanctions against the protagonists, convene peace talks, and do everything else in our power. The time is now.

In conclusion, I leave you with the wise words of Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, who famously noted that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Let us listen to South Sudan, and do something.


Proud Son of Africa


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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Uncategorized


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