I’ve just completed the book ‘Through My African Eyes’ by Jeff Koinange. A rich, yet easy read that engrosses the reader from the word go. Like with many great books, completing this one has left me feeling bereft – torn between acknowledging that it is a wholesome well rounded read, and wishing that there was more. Published by Footprints Press Kenya, this book is worth taking the time to read and would make for a great gift to friends, family, and fellow literary enthusiasts.
Jeff Koinange dedicates quite a large chunk of the book to his journalistic journeys throughout the world and more-so in Africa. If not in words and pages then in intensity. In several chapters, the perils that journalists go through to bring the story to our televisions are brought to light in gripping detail. Koinange writes of days spent in god forsaken situations in foreign countries among blood thirsty rebels and in the overwhelming presence of death.
The book deeply immersed me into the dark world of the savagery that Africans have, and continue to visit upon one another. I was heartbroken about a lot of atrocities against women, and more so the mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and grateful for the health personnel who sacrificed to nurse these broken women back to health even with painfully meager resources. I was flabbergasted that anything, anything at all can drive a child as young as 8 to pick weapons and kill with abandon. I was touched to the core at how staring death in the face and actually losing colleagues on the job would make one want to be a better human being – in this case the writer. Above all, these accounts left me utterly respectful of the bravery of journalists. Men and women who tread into wars, killing fields and rebel infested countries to beam these stories to the world.
Chapter 13 could not have come sooner. It starts with the simple words ‘not all my stories were painful and tragic’. Powerful words that made me feel like I’d just been lifted from a pit. At this point I was angry at Africa. Still am. Angry at the brutality. Angry that we can just rise and massacre neighbors and whole villages. That we can rob our children of their childhoods and raise them to be ruthless killing machines. Sample these words that are just a few pages before the redeeming chapter 13. “Ivory Coast was caught up in the middle of a civil war, Guinea’s slow burning civil war was simmering, Sierra Leone was sitting on a shaky truce, and Liberia was fast reaching a dangerous boiling point”. What is all this? Why? Diamonds?
Amid all the tragedy, there is hope and triumph in the sheer tenacity of the human spirit. Nothing brought this home than the inspiring account of amputees – survivors of the horrific long sleeve / short sleeve barbarity during Sierra Leone’s civil war, where rebels chopped off their victims’ arms either at the elbow (short sleeves) or at the wrists (long sleeves). Others had their legs amputated. Koinange describes in a touching account how he came across these victims much later, hobbling about on clutches as best they could as they played soccer on the beach.
I’ve watched a lot of brutality on TV and read about it on news sites but I’ve never quite got the story from the other side of the lense. Jeff Koinange’s memories that come so alive throughout the book brought this picture home hard. Identifying with the story has mostly been easy because in the book, he builds up his life story from his childhood, growing up, education, and work progression leading upto his ultimate career. He also touches on tender family moments with his wife and son, personal tragedies and in all of about 5 words, he touches on some long running rumour. By the time he delves into the more intense parts of the book, the reader feels that they know him already.
Koinange gives snippets of African politics and the circus that they sometimes tend to be. He paints a picture of the working of African States and gives glimpses into the psyches of great leaders of Africa whose stories and lives have always been fuzzy in my mind. He tells of the events and historical backgrounds that led to some of the most savage wars in the continent. All these in short and precise chapters, perfect for those who are not exactly at home with the winding nature of history education.
All of what Koinange did in Africa and other parts of the world, he did for someone else’s war. And then the barbarity came upon Kenya in 2007. He dedicates a chapter to this sad state of affairs towards the end of the book.