By Isaac Sagala, Internews in Kenya.
Purity Akoth’s petite frame belies her courage, she would easily pass for a front cover magazine model. She easily mingles with the crowd as she traverses Kisumu town and surrounding areas, looking for stories. Recently she made worked on a story about unmasking the Baghdad Boys mystery.
In October 2010, the Government of Kenya gazzetted 33 illegal organized gangs. Baghdad Boys, with historical derivation from Kisumu Town, was among the listed groups.
The group was feared, and has been associated with acts of election violence in Kisumu, especially around the Kondele area.
The name ‘ Baghdad’ was first coined in the 90’s when the group was formed, as it coincided with the Gulf War; when the United States and Allied Forces staged a raid against Sadam Hussein in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
The Baghdad boys, a formerly dreaded youth gang has been described as political hirelings or goons, who usually come in handy during elections. They have been associated with violent acts that in the past led to death and injury, especially during the countdown and peak of multi party politics in Kenya.
Now, they have apparently regrouped as the Baghdad Boys for Peace. Kisumu residents, however are doubtful of this transformation, calling it a mere camouflage. Factual media reporting has been wanting in the past.
‘ Though the Baghdad boys have been associated with a lot of things, it would sometimes appear that the media has an agenda in the way they report, let us seek the facts. I don’t know sometimes it is political …but you need to know that the media has a role to play in providing correct information.’ Chris Owala of the Community Initiative Action Group in Kisumu tells Purity.
Purity manuevres her way along the Kakamega- Kisumu highway to a wooden shack where remnants of the outfit sometimes meet to collect money from vehicles on the route.
They are the ‘route managers ‘which is illegal, but they argue that they cater for the welfare of public service vehicles. When asked to elaborate, they are hesitant. She then mingles with the young men who are initially ill at ease, but gain composure.
‘We really are interested in peace now and opportunities for a better life. ‘We are done with the violence.’ Says a member, on condition of anonymity.
It takes courage especially for a female journalist to do what can be a considered a ‘risky’ story, dealing with a feared, outlawed group. But purity is emphatic.
‘Courage comes from within, if we are talking about peaceful co-existence in Kisumu during elections, we must talk about the Baghdad boys. That is why I chose the story.’
Purity was mentored by Internews trainers to produce the story after a Conflict Sensitive Journalism (CSJ) Workshop. She reports for Radio Lake Victoria, Osienala in Kisumu