John Allan Namu: What Keeps me going
| Jul 20th 2013 | 5 min read
By Gardy Chacha
How did you find yourself in the world of journalism?
It was by choice. It is what I felt I needed to do because I realised that I loved telling stories. Originally though I wanted to be a lawyer; partly because of some injustices I witnessed growing up and I wanted to participate in making them right. The decision to go the journalism way was inspired in a similar manner because I could do stories to bring out the truth to the public. I am a better story-teller than a lawyer.
Why particularly investigative arm of journalism?
As a new entrant in this field, I did news features. The good thing about news features is that they humanise topics. I felt I could delve deeper with my skills and at that time my colleague Moha (Jicho Pevu’s Mohamed Ali) catalysed my transformation into being an investigative journalist. His projects were already underway and we partnered to make well -researched and factual stories. My objective was (and still is) to tell Kenyans what goes on behind their backs. I felt it was important that they know.
What was the reality check after you began investigative journalism?
When I began I was aware of the challenges I would encounter. However, it turned out that there was much more difficulty involved to complete a story. As a journalist, sometimes you get the urge of romanticising a story but it becomes a whole new thing with investigative pieces: you have to track on facts. Let them guide you in telling the story.
Saitoti’s Death in ten minutes, do you actually believe in the facts stated in the story?
Facts are empirical. They are facts and they can’t change. While compiling that story all that I did was to double-check the facts. I am given directions on how to tell a story by facts. In essence, I choose to interrogate facts and as far as Saitoti’s story goes everything was factual.
Your life has been threatened so many times because of the exposes you do. Do you ever fear for your life?
Fear is natural. As long as you are human and your life is threatened by powerful people, to some extent you have to fear. However, like the good book says, there is a season for everything. Truth is, there is a day I will die – whether it’s in the hands of these people or through natural causes. I choose not to think about it. But I do take the threats directed at me seriously especially now that I have a family that I have to protect and nurture.
Can you think of any close-shave with these threats while on an assignment?
Indeed: when we went tracking the Al-Shabaab. We went undercover but some of them had discovered who we were. When a directive came that we go to an unidentified place to meet with one of their big men, we realised we were being lured into death by shooting and quickly excused ourselves as we took off. Had we stayed there for five more minutes we wouldn’t have made it.
Then there was an expose we were doing at the port of Mombasa. I remember seeing people around us chatting suspiciously and asking questions. Those two incidences were pretty close.
At what point did you ever feel at the top of your career?
I feel nice and happy when I compile a good and factual story and when it’s aired it impacts the society in one way or another. Winning CNN journalist of the year award was also a good time but there is no good feeling than when Kenyans appreciate the efforts I put in investigating the stories that air. I feel bad when the opposite happens.
Had you not been a journalist, what would you be today?
In another life I would be a writer. I love writing though at times words stop reeling in. I love communicating through writing. Something else I would do is probably be a rugby player.
Yes…rugby! Rumour has it that even at your wedding it was rugby invites only.
Not at all (chuckles), I invited friends, family and colleagues some who didn’t even know what rugby is. It is true though that I have rugby friends. In High school I used to play rugby. It is the game I love because of the interesting metaphor it has to life. It’s a game that requires fast running, coordination with teammates and mental work to make a score. It is hard to think when you get a hard tackle yet rugby players master the art of thinking even when tackled down on the ground, both to survive and make a score at the end of the game.
I love playing the game but nowadays I choose to watch because I am not exactly in shape to play.
Tell us about your wife and marriage
My wife and I were very good friends even before I fell in love with her. She wouldn’t judge me even with a high-flying career. She took the time to understand my flaws, weaknesses and strengths. She is also a very good cook and has a very good instinct. She means what she says and doesn’t mince words. I am very happy with her.
How do you deal with all the female attention: the nice physique, a cool reputation and a smoothness that only females can describe?
That ‘female attention’ thing has been over hyped. It’s not true. I have never been attracted only by the outward beauty of a woman. I am a man and I know there are uncountable beauties around the world…they are everywhere. If a lady makes a suggestive move on me I don’t spend time thinking about it. When someone comes with an agenda, I just say thank you and move on. Since I got married though people have become more respectful of my space, privacy and status.
If you were to time-travel backwards, is there anything you would want to change in your life?
The experiences you have as a person shape the person you are. If it weren’t for those experiences I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I am happy for the negative and positive things in my life. I wouldn’t change anything.
Anything you regret doing or not doing though?
Like I said, I wouldn’t change anything. In high school though I shouldn’t have played more rugby; I should’ve instead studied harder. I would probably be better at Maths today.
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