The cat and mouse game that recently characterized relations between the County Government and the local media ended amicably last Friday after tense moments that forced Governor Mruttu to call for a truce.

Governor Mruttu, accompanied only by the County Director of Communications Mr Samuel Mutie and County Information Officer Mr. Taman Mwambela , heard a litany of grievances from the local journalists who included Renson Mnyamwezi of the Standard, Julius Joho of Radio Jambo, Daniel Mwangi of Kenya News Agency, David Moto and Grace Shali both of Anguo FM and Rajab Kafuta of Pili Pili FM, among others.

Having patiently listened to the press complaints ranging from unfriendly County staff, inadequate notices of important meetings and lack of a well structured communications policy, Governor Mruttu promised to not only arrange for a meeting between them and the County Press Unit staff, but also to improve on the County’s working relations with the local media whose sulking and consequent selective reporting had threatened to plunge the County into a media black-out. According to reliable sources, the two-hour closed-door meeting was held at the old Voi Municipal Hall.

It all started with the local press grumbling about maltreatment in the hands of haughty County officials who exhibited lack of concern for the journalists’ welfare after attending an East African meeting held at Taveta’s Green Park Hotel earlier this year to deliberate on harnessing the shared Lake Challa waters. For lack of better transport facilities from the venue, the journalists had to squeeze in a single vehicle over the bumpy 110 Kilometer Taveta-Mwatate road on their return trip to Voi and Wundanyi. Their plea for better transport arrangements appeared to have fallen on deaf ears.

Subsequently, the official launch of the WW1 Celebrations website held at Voi City’s Dan Mwazo Hall at the beginning of August attended by Kenya Tourism Board Managing Director Ndegwa Miriithi and James Wilson, author of ‘Guerrillas of Tsavo’, were marked by a low turn-out.

During the ensuing World War Centenary Celebrations held across Taita Taveta County later that month, various Media Organizations based in Mombasa and Nairobi, including the BBC, were however represented. Joel Mburia, the affable Royal Media Service TV point man in the County, joined his Nairobi colleagues on the grueling live coverage from Salaita in Taveta Sub County that marked the climax of the festivities on 29 August. The riveting live Citizen TV broadcast singularly marketed Taita Taveta County and placed it squarely on the World map. Most of the local press however gave the event a wide berth.

Although the two-day Education Conference opened by Governor Mruttu two weeks ago was attended by hundreds of County Primary and Secondary School heads, teachers, supervisors, Early Childhood Education (ECD) officials , Boards of Education Management officials and other stake-holders, the event was marred however by a poor press turn-out, reportedly due to a boycott.

A short message service, SMS sent out to individual journalists the night before the Education Conference by County Information Officer Christine Nafula inviting the local media to the event made matters worse by misdirecting them on the event venue. Several journalists who were interviewd complained that the notice had directed the guests to the non-existent ‘Danson Mwanyumba Hall’ , instead of Voi City’s Dan Mwazo Hall where the event was to take place. The popular ‘Dawson Mwanyumba Stadium’ frequently used for political rallies and large public gatherings is in Wundanyi.

The County’s fledgling Communications Unit is currently led by Samuel Mutie, a former Kenyatta High School teacher. Former Taveta Member of Parliament, Hon Jackson Mwalulu is believed to have been initially preferred for the post which he however declined to accept. Mwambeo Mwang’ombe , popularly known as Apa Mwambeo, briefly joined the Unit last February after unsuccessfully vying for the Mbololo Ward Rep post, but left abruptly however in July to pursue greener pastures as a Parliamentary Hansard reporter in Nairobi.He was replaced by Mr. Mutie.

However, in contrast to the County’s vexing press wars, Miss World Taita Taveta beauty pageant dubbed as a ‘ Rescue Package’ by Taita Taveta County Women Representative Hon Joyce Wanjala Lay and held at the Voi Wildlife Lodge two weeks later was witnessed by a battery of journalists who brandished state-of-the art cameras and other press kits in a massive show of press solidarity in search of the proverbial Beauty and the Beast. Although the County Executive Officer for Tourism, Hon Stephen Masamo was present at the cat-walk, Governor Mruttu was however conspicuously absent.

Although the County Government has been vilified in public over the over-sized 30 million-plus WW1 Centenary Budget drawn up by the event’s Secretariat led by Marley Dingiria, the bone of contention in the little storm would however appear to be a paltry 50, 000 shillings item ostensibly meant for facilitation of the local journalists but which unfortunately did not materialize to the chagrin of the intended beneficiaries.

Voi City, Tuesday, September 30, 2014

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