A young Kenyan radio journalist tackles local taboos

Wangari Migwi, a presenter and journalist at Coro FM, a local language radio station in Kenya, tackles difficult issues in her local community – women’s ownership of land, HIV and stigma, female genital mutilation, and access to medical care by people with disabilities. 

Wangari Migwi, presenter and journalist at Coro FM.

Wangari Migwi, presenter and journalist at Coro FM.

Wangari believes that her stories have changed many of her listeners’ attitudes and sometimes, their lives.

In March 2010, Wangari participated in a human rights issues reporting training conducted by Internews in Kenya. Increasingly, since then, she has started to focus many of her radio stories on human rights issues affecting women.

Coro FM is owned by Kenya’s national broadcaster, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC). The station broadcasts in Kikuyu and targets regions of Kenya, where tradition determines the pace of life. Wangari presents an early morning inspirational show on weekdays, children’s programs on Saturdays and religious programs on Sundays.

Wangari was interviewed recently by Internews about her stories:

Tell us about the stories have you produced?

I have focused on stories about women’s right to own property. I did case studies of women who lost their land and property after their husbands died. I have followed their cases with the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA Kenya), a Kenyan woman’s legal rights NGO. I aired the interview of the CEO of FIDA, who talked about how the women could get their rights back.

I have also worked on stories about the rights of children who are mentally disabled. After analyzing the case, I took this angle: all children, whether they are mentally handicapped or not, have a right to medical care like anybody else. The best thing is to accept handicapped people in society, to fight stigma. I also focused on the need to have medical professionals who can deal with them, because when they go to hospital now, they are dealt with as if they are able to talk or explain their case, which is not possible for them. Another angle I followed was accessibility to hospitals. A single mother had two children. Both her children were ill at the same time. How could she carry them both to the hospital? So if they could have medical care closer to them, it would help improve their lives.

Whom did you interview for the story?

I interviewed the mother – of course, the children could not talk for themselves. I interviewed a doctor. Also, because she cannot reach the hospital, the mother goes to a traditional doctor, and so I also talked to the traditional doctor. The traditional doctor is not an expert in the physically handicapped, so she would just take the temperature and give whatever medicine. I talked to the Director of Mental Health in the Ministry of Medical Services. I also talked to a doctor at Kenyatta Hospital, where they have a special unit for such children. She said they were working out a way to take their services to district hospitals.

How has your story changed the mother’s life?

I did the story in two different ways, live and recorded. In the live show in the studio, the mother explained what she was going through, what kind of service she got. We interviewed her, and afterwards people called in expressing sympathy and giving advice. You could see that many people felt for this woman. They also appreciated the story because many people who have handicapped children hide them in the house, they don’t want to come out and share their stories. They hide, fearing discrimination in the family and society. So they appreciated the story about the woman who was willing to be open.

In the interview, the mother had said if she had a wheelchair she would push the children to school. Right now, they don’t even go to school.  After that, a church in Kenya’s Central Province, called me and we met and said they had decided they would supply the woman and others like her with wheelchairs. We now have a list of 25 people who are to receive wheelchairs, since I did the story.

Some human rights are also controversial, because of culture. Have you had to work on rights that are controversial here?

For a Kikuyu it is very hard to tell a man that a woman has a right to property. For a Kikuyu, property belongs to a man. So when it comes to doing a program on woman’s rights to property, not everyone will take it positively. Maybe they have gotten the property together, but even the woman will just want the man to be in control. So to bring them to understand takes time. That is where you find that you cannot do a story as one episode; you may need two, or even a third explaining from different angles to make the point. Most of the stories that I do are not just one episode. I do a story, and a follow-up, and another follow-up, so by the end I will have covered much.

Have you had any negative responses?

There is a story I did on World Aids Day. It was about men who have sex with men. I was looking at the angle of - whatever their actions are, they have a right to medical care just like everyone else. But you see, for a Kikuyu to understand – or for an African to understand that this person should be treated in the same way was very hard, even for some of my colleagues. They said, “How can they be treated like a human being?”

It took me some time to explain to them, but I felt I had to. I told them, “The person is sick – are you going to let this person die because he is a homosexual? Or are you going to take him to hospital to be treated? People understood that you could focus on the person as someone who can fall sick, who needs to eat, just like you do.”

Did you have callers?

Some would say: ‘It is true you have to treat them like humans, but we still have questions.” The point we were making was: the person needs medical attention because he is sick. In the end the callers were agreeing that people should be treated like human beings, even though they did not like their way of life.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is also controversial. Tell us about the program you did on FGM.

I went to Meru where they still practice FGM. Some do it forcefully to their girls and some girls do it willingly because of pressure from their parents. They believe, This is a way of life, this is our culture and we can’t do away with it.

The Global Human Rights Program was funded by USAID through the RIGHTS Consortium. The consortium partners were Freedom House, Global Rights, The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative, and Internews.


Banner photo: Women of Orongo, part of East Africa’s Luo ethnic group, had to fight for their right to inherit land after their husbands died. (credit: Darren Taylor)