From 1993 to around 2005, a print newspaper called the Kakuma News Bulletin was circulated within Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya. It was initially funded by UNHCR through the supervision of an implementing partner NGO, the Windle Trust of Kenya. The print newspaper was not distributed outside Kakuma and was meant to serve as an internal means of information-sharing. Around 2005, the original KANEBU publication gradually disappeared as its editors were resettled in third countries, refugees repatriated to Sudan, and resources were exhausted.
KANEBU disappeared, but the spirit of journalism did not. Refugees continued to participate in small journalism clubs operating out of camp schools. The clubs taught lessons for students periodically, and journalists met among themselves to discuss news reports and reflect on happenings in Kakuma camp and surroundings. Many of these journalist club members had previously contributed to KANEBU.
In October 2008, these journalists approached a Fulbright researcher to propose collaboration. The researcher was reporting on human rights in a refugee camp; the journalists were reporting on their daily realities. They began working together to develop a free refugee press.
The new paper was christened the Kakuma News Reflector, or KANERE. The journalists chose not to revive the previous publication, KANEBU, in order to clearly establish the independence and autonomy of the new endeavour. KANERE was to be a refugee free press, allowing refugees to speak directly to the world without oversight by humanitarian organisations. In order to reach the international community, a web blog was created at www.kakuma.wordpress.com.
CHALLENGES TO DEVELOPMENT
The acting editor, Bethany Ojalehto, met with the UNHCR head of sub-office, Dr Mohamed Qassim, and the UNHCR mass media officer, Caroline Opile, on 9 January 2009. At that time, Dr Qassim said the project was ‘positive’ and that UNHCR ‘welcomed the initiative’.
Since then, the position of UNHCR Sub-Office Kakuma regarding KANERE has changed markedly.
On 20 January 2009, a refugee journalist was informed by Ms Opile that he should ‘keep his distance’ from KANERE. She warned that his involvement in ‘things that UNHCR does not like’ would ‘jeopardise’ his job with UNHCR. Another refugee journalist met with protection staff Peter Muriuki to discuss his protection case around 13 January 2009. Mr Muriuki asked him about his involvement in KANERE in a way that the journalist perceived as intimidating: ‘What is this bad news about KANERE? I saw your name in it.’ On 23 January 2009, another journalist met with protection staff Stephen Choka to discuss his protection case. Immediately upon entry to the office, he was asked whether ‘he was writing anything online’. The journalist asked Mr Choka to clarify what he meant, at which point he demanded to know whether our journalist was ‘writing for a Kakuma press’. Our journalist perceived this exchange as intimidating and says Mr Choka seemed angry at his involvement.
On 21 January 2009, Ms Ojalehto attempted to speak to the community services officer, Menbere Dawit, and the protection officer, Malar Smith. Both officers declined to speak to Ms Ojalehto and referred her to Dr Qassim, citing ‘concerns over the publication’.
Dr Qassim was busy and could not schedule an appointment with the editors of KANERE for two weeks. Ms Ojalehto and her co-editors visited his office on five occasions to attempt a meeting.
Ms Ojalehto finally reached Dr Qassim by phone on 23 January 2009. When asked what the position of UNHCR was on KANERE, Dr Qassim replied that ‘we are compiling a report of concerns’ and that UNHCR ‘would not become involved at this time’ with KANERE. He refused to share the concerns and said that he would call Ms Ojalehto for a meeting when the report was completed.
On 2 February 2009, Dr Qassim contacted Ms. Ojalehto to schedule an appointment to discuss UNHCR’s concerns over the publication. The meeting is set for 12 February 2009.
On 26 January 2009, Ms Ojalehto was called to a meeting with the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) project coordinator, William Tembu. Mr Tembu asked Ms Ojalehto about her involvement in KANERE and said he was unaware that her research would lead her to ‘get involved with refugees on this level’. He said he had received a phone call from UNHCR mass media officer, Ms Opile, regarding Ms Ojalehto’s housing at LWF (Ms Ojalehto is hosted by LWF and pays monthly rent). He was concerned about her housing, but said he would not take action until a joint meeting was held between LWF, UNHCR, and Ms Ojalehto.
KANERE seeks to register with the Kenyan Government as a community-based organisation (CBO). This registration will allow the group to be recognised as an association under Kenyan law. On 23 January 2009, the district officer, Eric Wanyonyi, met with KANERE editors and signed the registration form. Only the local chief remained to sign the form.
The local chief refused to sign the form on 25 January 2009. The district officer now refuses to move forward on KANERE’s application for registration. After signing the form on 23 January, Mr Wanyonyi confiscated the registration form on 27 January 2009 and will not ‘release’ it to KANERE’s editors.
In a meeting with KANERE’s editors on 30 January 2009, the District Officer Mr Wanyonyi informed KANERE that he could not sign the registration form ‘because UNHCR has raised objections’ to the project. He refuses to move forward on KANERE’s registration until UNHCR has ‘approved’ the project and he has cleared the matter with the District Commissioner. Mr Wanyonyi also informed KANERE’s editors that he had been called to a meeting at UNHCR along with the camp manager and divisional chief on 27 January 2009. Issues including KANERE and Ms Ojalehto’s research were discussed at this meeting.
In a meeting with KANERE editors on 27 January 2009, the camp manager, William Lenaremo, expressed his support for KANERE. He shared his concern that information on vulnerable cases should be reported anonymously in order to protect individuals’ identities. He had no other concerns, and stated that the publication will provide ‘good information-sharing’ for the refugees. A journalist visited Mr Lenaremo on 3 February to discuss a news story and Mr Lenaremo again affirmed his support for KANERE activities and objectives in this meting.
Currently there is no funding source for KANERE. All journalists are working on a voluntary basis without access to computers, free internet, or basic office supplies. The group has approached USAID and the US Embassy in Nairobi for funding support, but the process is pending.
The group has requested internet access from UNHCR Sub-Office Kakuma. The request remains pending.
Update to Story: On 5 February 2009, UNHCR Head of Sub-Office Kakuma
Dr. Qassim contacted the acting editor, Ms. Ojalehto, by phone. He
said that he found the second issue of KANERE to be "very balanced and
constructive." He also extended his invitation to the co-editors of
KANERE to attend a meeting on Thursday, Febuary 12. The editors look
forward to this meeting as a positive step forward in relations with
* KANERE’S online news blog can be found at www.kakuma.wordpress.com.
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