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ELECTION 2022

Memories of media coverage amid neglected memory of fallen soldiers as centenary celebrations goes into battlefield

COUNTIES
By Michael Chepkwony | Dec 3rd 2018 | 4 min read
Walter Awino, a vendor of Standard newspaper for the past fifty years makes his remarks as Standard Media Group celebrated 100 years. [Edward Kiplimo/Standard]

"When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today," reads parts of an imagined posthumous plea from African soldiers who were killed during World War One.

There are no graves or names of the Africans who perished during the 1914-1918 intense fighting between British and German soldiers, a tragic experience that East Africa's oldest newspaper The Standard reported.

Hundred years after the war, centenaries led by the Standard Group, Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and Sarova Hotels alongside other partners visited the area to reconnect with the history as the media company marked its centenary.

Coincidentally, the end of World War one was on November 1918, a time that The Standard was incorporated and its bold coverage played out during the train journey in Taita Taveta County and at the event of the celebrations.

The visit comes ahead of an expected visit of visitors from Australia on December 12, where they will pay homage to the site in memories of the soldiers and especially the Australian Lieutenant William Dartnell who was killed alongside African soldiers.

"During the fight, he was badly injured and when British soldiers arrived to rescue, they wanted him alone. He refused and said he could not leave Africans alone. When German soldiers arrived they were all killed," narrated Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge manager Willie Mwadilo.

Top honour

He was posthumously awarded Victoria Cross, a top honour for his sacrifice. His remains lie in Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery in Voi.

The partners vowed to ensure that such stories are narrated to ensure that all current and future generations are accurately informed of Kenya's complete history.

It was as symbolic homage to the fallen heroes crying for recognition in telling their stories after the British colonial government ignored their contribution despite fighting on their side.

At the start of the journey at Sarova Taita Hills Game Lodge, there was a general excitement as history of World War One was retold with vigour by lodge manager Willie Mwadilo at the site in Taita Taveta's Tsavo ecosystem.

The delight marked with laughter was heightened by presence of wild animals including elephants, antelopes and buffaloes seen at a close distance at the conservancy.

But the exhilaration melted away when it dawned on the visitors including Standard Group, Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and Sarova hotels officials among other partners that the role of Africans during the fighting was buried into forgetfulness.

 

A tombstone erected by the Tsavo heritage Foundation and Sarova Wildlife Sanctuary evoked bitter emotions as Siddharth Chatterjee, the United Nations Resident Coordinator read the message aloud.

Around the tombstone were shallowing trenches-perhaps to illustrate the distancing nature of the memories of the soldiers-where soldiers shielded themselves from the German attacks while the two adversaries faced off.

Sacks stuffed with sand that illustrated machine gun points that British soldiers used as they exchanged fire with Germans who were poised in the Taita Hills.

The history-rich trenches are almost getting covered by soil and the grass that have since grown as nature reclaims itself while consuming the history of the soldiers whose memories were dispossessed.

But the culture of silence and deprivation of a slice of history is fading and hope is rising as a partnership between stakeholders join hands in preserving the heritage and ensuring the stories are told.

Speaking after the visit to the site, KRC Acting Managing Director Philip Mainga congratulated The Standard Group for its bold reporting of such experiences and challenged the media house to push towards transformative journalism.

"Going forward, you should ensure you move with technological advancement and tell stories which you evaluate based on the lives you have touched," said Mainga.

Standard Group CEO Orlando Lyomu said the media has to change its approach from focusing on political reporting to impact-based content outside the domain.

"There will always be politics and current affairs, but I feel we need to think of impact which is using what you have to transform lives," he said.?

And as the visitors shouted "We will not break faith with you," the response as instructed in the writings on the tombstone, the words echoed pity for soldiers who died fighting a war that had no value for them.

But for The Standard Group, what Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie said during one of her popular talks drives point home: "Stories can break the dignity of a people. But stories can also repair that broken dignity."

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