When boda boda man led media ‘down garden path’

Friday June 18 2021
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Author, Odoobo C. Bichachi is the Nation Media Group-Uganda public editor. PHOTO/FILE.

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

In the last two or so weeks, the media – in Uganda and outside – has been led down the garden path (to use the figurative expression) on two big stories; the shooting at Gen Katumba Wamala and the “birth” of 10 children by a woman in South Africa.

We start home. On the morning of June 1, gunmen riding on boda boda shot at Gen Katumaba Wamala’s vehicle, injuring him and killing his driver and daughter instantly. The heroes of the incident, as media would soon splash out, were undoubtedly his bodyguard Sargeant Khalid Koboyoit and the boda boda rider that evacuated the General to a nearby clinic. The latter is the subject of this column.

Was it Hakim Kasibante or was it William Kawuki that rode Gen Katumba from the attack scene? 
Shortly after the incident, media stories feted Kasibante – who rides motorcycle reg. no. UEN 596B – and his colourful narrative of his heroic act. A day later, it turned out that there was another claimant, Kawuki who rides motorcycle reg. no UEL 693D. He said it was him that rode the General and his bodyguard to the clinic. He sought no glory and was happy to remain anonymous. He however could not stand someone masquerading as a “Good Samaritan” when he was not!

From the accounts of the two and looking at the number plates of the two bikes, helmet and jacket, it is clear the media and the police were duped by the first claimant for whatever reason. Unfortunately, the real hero Kawuki’s story has been drowned out. Only small online media have attempted to tell his version, with convincing evidence and logical narrative. 

As for the woman that reportedly gave birth to10 children at once breaking the Guinness Book of Records that stood at nine children, South Africa’s the Pretoria News originated the story. Like all out-of-the-ordinary stories, and it was picked up by the world’s media including our local media. 

It turns out, at least from a statement published by the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), that the story was fake and “the entire episode ranks as one of the lowest points in the history of South African journalism”. Apparently, there is no record of such birth in the Gauteng province of South Africa (as confirmed by authorities there) and no doctor or hospital in known to have handled such a birth!

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Both stories are instructive and show two things: one, that there are people out there that are smart at weaving stories to gain fame, earn money of simply satisfy their ego, and two; that journalists will from time to time fall for such stories and unknowingly spread them. 

In the Hakim story, journalists I have spoken to say they got his name from the boda boda stage and when they followed him up to interview him, he was found at the washing bay – supposedly cleaning blood off his bike. It is not only journalists that were duped, Police fell for it too and even shared his number with Gen Katumba who called him and thanked him. 

Whatever the case, a  sixth sense and reviewing the video could have showed that the registration number of the bike at the washing bay was different from that of the bike in the video that rode away Katumba. The colour of their helmets was also different – one white another reddish.

Well, this is easier said than done as in the race to break news stories, speed and accuracy are always pulling in different directions and once in a while there will be a slip. 

In the case of the South African decuplates story, the writer of the story (its editor-in-chief) did not actually see the babies before filing his story, says the professional media body that has been following it up. He relied on Whatsapp chats of the couple and only had photo of a heavily pregnant Sithole and her partner Tsotetsi as proof that there were 10 children in her stomach later given birth to at an unnamed hospital by an unknown doctor.

In the end, what is done when the slip is discovered is most important; an update of the story makes sure fake falls and facts stand.

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