Trauma of reporting violence

August 22, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 24 – “I saw a 13-year-old girl who had been shot dead by police outside her mother’s house in Kibera.

As I watched the mother and other women crying and shouting, I broke down in tears and cried like a baby,” Boniface Mwangi recounts the violence that characterised the 2008 post election violence.

Boniface is a photojournalist and a winner of the CNN African Journalist of the Year Competition in 2008.

Like other Kenyan journalists, Boniface braved the chaos that rocked the country in a bid to keep the world informed of the unfolding events.

“We saw things that were disturbing and scary; things no one should ever be exposed to,” he recounts. “I saw people who had been shot dead, old women who had been raped, children dying in the IDP camps, police brutality and the hacking to death of innocent people.”

“I covered the violence from the beginning to the end. I saw a glimpse of genocide in Kenya,” says the photojournalist.

He says covering the post election violence was not easy; that it bogged him down emotionally and psychologically but he had to do it.

“It was all too much. It broke me emotionally, seeing someone being kicked or hacked to death while I watched and did nothing, it made me feel angry,” he says.

Boniface felt helpless.

“We could not help them because if we did, we would become the story -we would become the victim. All we did was pray that the victims don’t call out our names or even look at us, as we clicked to take the photo.”

“There were some we tried to help, there were others we just couldn’t,” he discloses.

According to Mucheru Wang’ombe, a psychiatrist, some journalists become emotionally numb after witnessing too many horrific events.

“After seeing the horrors, it gets to a point where you are like…aargh! What can’t I handle?”

“I do not fear anything. I just live my life,” asserts Boniface.

He points out that being exposed to the post election violence made him become impatient and insensitive; but he is not willing to see a psychiatrist.

“We are on different levels. I have to relive my moments again; share what I saw, and it is not easy,” he explains. “I want it to stay where it is. Let me live with my demons,” says Boniface.

“The only people I can share what I saw with, are my fellow photographers. They will understand what I am talking about. A psychiatrist will not,” he says with finality.

Journalists need support while covering such events. They must get pre and post-counseling. They also need friends, family and the entire society’s support during such moments.

Equally important is the need for training on the role of the media in peace building and conflict. This will help reporters cover crisis stories in a way that would restore the situation rather than stoke the fire.

“The violence I saw after the 2007 general election is something I would not want to witness again. The fact that it was in my country broke my heart to bits. It was a daunting period for our country,” concludes Boniface.


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