Who is behind AFRICANEWS?
A community and a strange priest


Andrea Awour - (Koinonia Community member and editor of AFRICANEWS)

Visitors to Nairobi always marvel at the telephone wires hanging everywhere, often from poles and trees, forming some kind of festoons all over the town. Certainly these wires are folkloric, but do not offer the best standards in reliability. Yet it is on one of these wires that information is distributed to the whole world by a new editorial initiative.

It is the telephone line No. 560385, Nairobi, Kenya. The wire starts at Jamuhuri telephone exchange, along Ngong Road, about 6 km from Nairobi City centre. It is a green area, with high quality houses and offices. A few metres from the exchange lies the provincial residence of the Comboni Missionaries, a meeting point for the missionaries in East Africa. From there the wire runs parallel to the road and passes in front of an institution for training science teachers for secondary schools. It then crosses the lawn of the Kenya Meteorological Institute, and plunges into an estate with rows and rows of residential houses. Here live employees of middle level income, university teachers and heads of mechanical workshops; people with an income of about 400 or 500 dollars per month.

On the road side, just under our telephone wire, there is an improvised market, with women selling vegetables, bread and milk, and others roasting fish, meat and maize on open charcoal fires. Most of these women come from poor areas.

The 560385 wire has not yet reached its destination. It has to go down a slope, then, hanging high between two trees, crosses a stream where street children like bathing. It then rises up a hill where houses and people appear again. Here the dwellings are nothing more than shacks made of wood and corrugated iron sheets. The residents are low income earners - house servants, cooks, gardeners, watchmen. A lot of them do not even have regular incomes. All too often, they have to foot to their various destinations in town and the industrial area every morning, in the hope of getting something to do for the day, maybe unloading a lorry of its cargo or stepping in for a cleaner who did not turn up for work. In the evening they return home tired. Some go to forget their frustrations and pains in a glass or two of the traditional beer, much cheaper than the factory manufactured brands.

Our wire has almost reached its destination. There is a bus terminus and a cluster of 50 houses made of stones and tiles. This is Riruta Satellite. In the yard of one of the houses there are some street children playing with two young men. The wire enters this house from one of the windows, and here, in the middle of this typical African estate, inserts itself into a system where it can connect a phone set, a fax or a computer set up for e-mail. The wire has reached Koinonia and it can rest.

Koinonia is a community of young lay Kenyans, who have committed themselves to a Christian way of life. They are out to use their talents to give a service to the wider human community. In their house they receive and care for the street children and they also run Africanews- a monthly news features publication.

To understand why they have chosen to start Africanews, one needs only to know their professions. Albert, 28, is a journalists; Michael, 26, is a librarian and documentalist working in a documentation centre on social problems; another Michael, 26, works at People for Peace where he is in charge of a peace education programme for the youth; Clement, 26, has a post-graduate diploma in Social Development and Management and is in charge of the street children project; George, 23, works as computer operator and accountant; Richard, 25, is about to complete his BA degree in Business Administration; Mark, 27, and the author, 26, are first year BA in Social Sciences students.

With these diverse careers, fortunately, is the commonness of our personal inclinations and interests. It is not surprising that we came up with the idea of a press service on justice, peace, reconciliation and human rights in Africa. Some friends of the Italian association Peacelink have assisted us with their know-how, and, even more precious, their friendship, so that since its first issue, Africanews is present in internet and the World Wide Web with a home-page.

With Africanews, we hope to add a Christian and authentically African voice to the world of the media. We believe that all Africans aspire to justice and peace. The Rwanda tragedy that exploded in 1994 when we were starting to dream about Africanews (incidentally many of our neighbours at Riruta Satellite are Rwandan refugees) has highlighted the negative power the mass media can have: Locally they were used to foster hatred and to incite killings. Internationally the media reinforced all worst prejudices against Africans, paying little or no attention to the background and with no attempt to a serious analysis of the facts. We of Africanews want to prove that the media can be used to promote peace and solidarity, and that even a small project like ours can promote the growth of people.

We will do everything in our power to give an information from the perspective of the grassroots, the poor, their daily fight for survival, for freedom, dignity and justice. To use a standard sentence, we could say that we have done a preferential option for the poor.

Obviously we could not be able to give news and views from all over Africa without a good network of correspondents who share our ideals. Luckily, we have them. They are young African journalists we have known because they passed through Nairobi or because Albert took part with them in the meetings of the UCAP (African Catholic Union of the Press). We hope not to exaggerate when we say that we want to represent an Africa that is young and wants to change, without renouncing our roots.

The soul of all this is Fr. Renata Kizito. Fr Kizito is a unique person, not only because of his appearance, with the thick beard and the mass of long and ruffled hair. He is a priest, but for some mysterious reasons, here in Africa where proper respect for the elders and the leaders of the church is still so important, very few address him as "Father". Even the latest arrival in our street children group, simply refer to him as Kizito.

Kizito's gift is his ability to enter into tune with people. At least with Africans, even though he is an Italian. He has few words. You speak, and he listens. He looks at you and you feel that he understands. At the end he tells you something, and you wish you could work with him, let him guide you. Later you might regret, because when it comes to work Kizito is terribly demanding!

I knew him almost five years ago. I had completed secondary school and was unable to find any work. I had done two years of tarmacking (slang, from "tarmac", meaning walking from road to road, looking for a job), when Kizito asked my aunt to find for him a young man who could manage a stand for the New People, a bi-monthly magazine of which he was the editor, during the imminent Nairobi International Show. I was available and he gave me the necessary instructions.

When the show was over I brought back all the material to New People office. He told me to sit down and tell him how things went at the Show. I did so and then went on to tell him about all the dreams and frustrations I had in my mind. He waited for me to finish and then told me: "Well, tomorrow we'll start working together, be here at eight o'clock sharp."

I did not even ask him if he was going to give me a salary or not. Since that day I work with him. At the beginning I was in charge of distributing the magazine to the parishes and vendors in Nairobi, then Kizito taught me how to operate an off-set machine and to print pamphlets, then he put me to work with a computer and doing Desktop Publishing. Now I am a member of Koinonia. I am finishing my first year of studies in Social Sciences at the Catholic University and most of my free time - often also some sleeping time - goes into Africanews and the street children activities.

I would like to share with you more on our life, but how is it possible? I can only invite you to read Africanews so that you can stay in touch with us and with Africa. It would be nice if the wire 560385 could bring to you also the sweet smell of the roasted maize, the laughter of the children, the chanting and the rhythm of the drumbeats just outside our house when our neighoburs, members of an African Independent Church, meet.

As we wait for new technological breakthroughs you have to contend with words on your computer screen.

Andrea Awour


PeaceLink 1997