From the Sex Trade to the Albino Trade, a Kenyan Journalist Exposes the Truth
Though she had only been working as a journalist for about a year, in 2012 she was honored as first runner-up for the Media Council of Kenya’s Young Journalist of the Year Awards. In 2013, she won the Gender Reporting Award with her colleague Angel Katusia. Called “Flesh of My Flesh,” the winning story was about the sex trade and included interviews with women who were sex workers and drug dealers in Mombasa, Malindi, Ukunda and Nairobi.
In June 2013, she produced an in-depth story for KTN called “Prisoner of My Skin” on the brutal trade in the body parts of people living with albinism. Particularly in neighboring Tanzania, there is a huge demand for albino body parts because they are believed to contain magical powers. Her version is in Swahili and her colleague Angel Katusia produced an English version.
Swaleh is one of eighteen journalists from 16 countries whom Internews brought to Costa Rica in May for UNESCO’s annual conference for World Press Freedom Day. With the theme, “Safe to Speak: Securing Freedom of Expression in All Media,” the UNESCO conference was a four-day summit focused on digital and physical security for the global media sector. While in Costa Rica, Swaleh spoke with Julie Moore of Internews about her experience as a journalist.
What are the main issues in your country?
Kenya has many poor people and a lot of development issues to take care of. The people we end up electing do not take care of these issues.
What do you gain from participating in World Press Freedom Day events and training?
I have gained so much. I have rubbed shoulders with the very best, the veterans. I have been doing [journalism] for just two years and probably they are looking at me like a kid. But I have talked to a lot of journalists who have had to deal with issues that I take for granted. It has been an amazing opportunity.
Based on what you have learned here, what kind of coverage do you plan to do when you return?
What I have learned will change the way I tell my story. I will always have to look behind my back because I know I am never safe. I’ve learned that you only have yourself to blame, and a good story will only depend on how far you can go for it.
As a journalist, what challenges do you face in digital safety?
I had my Twitter and Gmail accounts hacked and had my sources contacted. Someone sent emails from my account saying that they should not trust me and that I make money off of them. It was really tough to get out of that situation. Some of them don’t even trust me now but now I know better.
With most of these accounts, just let it be for people whom you really know. I don't accept everyone’s friend requests on Facebook and I only use my personal email for very official things.
What are you working on right now?
Right now I am working on a story about the albino trade in Kenya and Tanzania. Kenyan people living with albinism are at great risk because there is a huge demand in Tanzania and a big supply in Kenya. A doctor told us about the uses of albinos on tape.
How did you like working for Internews?
I have worked a lot with Internews Kenya. I love Internews! It speaks to journalists that are really in media houses and follows up on topics they train on. It is a very active office and I am a very proud alum!
What is the single most important thing you want people to understand about journalism?
Journalism is a passion; you either have it or you don’t. We don't get paid enough, we work tirelessly, we put our lives on the line and we are sometimes killed in the line of duty. But we are out there bringing the truth to society.
Internews brought Saida Swaleh and 17 other leading media professionals from 16 countries to San Jose, Costa Rica for the UNESCO World Press Freedom Day 2013 celebrations in May 2013. These fellowships were made possible with the support of the Department of State.
Banner photo: Refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya (credit: Meredith Kohut/Internews)