For the love of truth: Why John Allan Namu left mainstream media

Africa Uncensored CEO John-Allan Namu during an interview with The Standard Photo: David Njaaga/Standard


As unexpected as it was for everyone else, leaving his cushy role as a reporter was way overdue for him. He had been intending to start his own business since 2011, but his investigative work at KTN and on NTV with Mohammed 'Moha' Ali often rubbed people the wrong way, and they found themselves faced with threats from all sides.
In 2012, they faced the one threat that was serious enough for him to take his family out of the country. "That was the most direct threat on my family and I had to take them away," he says.
However, threats for him have never been more than a concern.
"I was not afraid. I was more concerned about the way we were being isolated by government. Moha bore the most heat. Kassim Mohammed (the then producer of Jicho Pevu) got direct threats like people walking up to him and pointing guns at him. I was not as concerned for myself as I was for him," he says.
Despite their courage, they found themselves progressively censured.
"I just feel like over these five years, the government has been very thin-skinned on stories that affect it. The responses to some of the stories that we did in 2013 and 2014 were telling. We had a lot of reporting on terrorism and specifically on extra-judicial killings that the government did not like."
They resisted strongly at first, but it began to wear them out. "Consistent pressure on some of the stories that Mohammed and I told made it so that there would be almost pedantic scrutiny on our stories, where we felt that people were being too careful," he says.
"Overall I felt like the work was very thankless. We would stick out our necks, go and do a good story, but the criticism, condemnation, much of it unwarranted, discouraged us. We would be told that we were anti-government, hated Jubilee, hated Kikuyus etc. It became tribal at one point and Moha again took the most heat," he says.
People who sensed they were about to be outed did not always use threats. Sometimes, they tried to entice them.
"One memorable moment was when we were offered $10,000 (Sh 1,000,000) to kill a story. It was one of the first ones that set us on the path to doing what we do now. Just the entire decision not to take that money was very difficult. People think that integrity and just saying 'no' is easy, but when you count $10,000 in your hands, it is very different," he says with a laugh.
Eventually, he set out to pursue a project he had dreamt of pursuing since 2011. "I had always had a dream to work for myself and tell investigative, in-depth stories from across the continent in a very unrestricted fashion," he says. He had conceived the idea of Africa Uncensored with Kassim Mohammed in 2011 together with two other partners.
As the CEO of his new outfit, he works with a team of eleven, one of whom is his wife, Sheena Makena, who is the senior editor. "The beauty about working with my wife is that she understands the threats as much as I do," says Namu. "We are able to discuss them both from the point of view of family but also from a journalistic point of view." Together they have four children, the oldest of whom is 7 while the youngest is 1.
It has not been an easy journey, and he admits to looking back to his days at KTN, the media house he last worked for, with some fondness, and especially misses the days he anchored the news with Yvonne Okwara.
"What I do now is more rewarding though. The aim is to make Africa Uncensored the best investigative outfit in Africa and after only a year of being around, we have launched in neighbouring countries."
He still hopes he can convince Moha to join him at Africa Uncensored, but won't reveal how successful he has been at doing that. "That is a story for another day," he says.

 


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