Of Naivasha’s charm and our inspiring start to The African Story Challenge.

Intensive is the word. Its the word that, in my “rebellious” days after high school got me rethinking my plans to join the army. Then, when the recruitment officer said “this is no typical career, it’s tough and intensive,” I abandoned the queue and ran into my late mother’s arms, confessing my failed mission….along with the cowardice.

So as I jubilated on making the finals of the Agricultural theme in The African Story Challenge this July, the guidelines were issued in the next email. We would all participate in “Intensive Sessions” to sharpen our project ideas. And there it was again, the word “Intensive.”

It didn’t necessarily connote military proportions of training but I am a man who appreciates my phobias. I still imagined a routine where “weaklings” would be dismissed. Where I would have to literally wear body armour and get ready to ramble. For a moment, I pitied people like Habeeb Pandiga, Dayo Aiyetan, Mabvuto Banda, Comfort Moussa, Billy Muiruri and other fellow finalists who would have to cross me in such a state. Its not that I fall short in self-esteem, I just didn’t know what to expect but the worst. I was intimidated.

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What a surprise. As soon as we settled in from our journeys and got to introducing ourselves and our ideas, it was a moment of strength as opposed to intimidation, for; we were a group of budding Journalists united in an imperative cause to tell stories of a continent we all cherish, Africa.

The camp even got better at its most intensive. By day two, I had long shrugged off my fears and settled for the thrill, the skills, the intensity, the passion, the intellect, the engagement, the networking and above all, the inspiration and strength the camp had to offer.

If I can speak for all, we were at ease (you would have to be an alien not to ease-up at Enashipai (Masai for State of Happiness) Resort and Spa), and soon nicknames started popping. South Sudan’s Anthony Kamba grew popular as Janjaweed aka Salva Kiir, Nigeria’s Dayo Aiyetan and Habeeb Pandiga were soon to be known as Babalawo and Igwe respectively; Ivory Coast’s Kouassi Selay Marius had to be Laurent Gbagbo and Senegal’s Wade Adama as Abdoulaye Wade.

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With the familiarity of the infamous Malian Captain, Burkina Faso’s Bruno Sanogo took came to be Captain Sanogo, while Ethiopia’s Elias Gebreselassie obviously became Emperor Selassie. I got to be my notorious namesake and rebel countryman, Joseph Kony; while whispers were made of Kenya’s Alex Chamwada as Daniel Arap Moi, of South Africa’s Diana Neille as Pistorius and her “countryman” Milly Moabi as Zinzi Mandela.

Nigerian trainer Declan Okpalaeke was whispered as Gen. Babangida. Sometimes I also found myself referring to Nigeria’s Alawode Oluyinka as Wole Soyinka. The nickname of the moment was Uncle Bob, fresh from a landslide election victory. It was carried by no other than Zimbabwe’s Wisdom Mdzungairi.

The nicknames were fun, but in reality they told part of the Africa story, the story of our generation, the story of our lives. At least, according to the news agenda.

But there-in lay TASC’s aspirations. Aspirations to empower African Journalists to tell developmental, insightful and impactful stories with African perspectives on fundamental issues. A feat I think is being successfully implemented and awaiting a climax in just about two weeks when our stories are published and broadcast.

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So as I boarded the bus to leave Enashipai, the breezy expansive and charming resort on the shores of the mighty Lake Naivasha, I was full of ideas along with skills to implement them. I knew the story I would write would help put Joseph Kony off the news agenda. To be replaced with leads that will hopefully see Africa attain a prosperous Agricultural sector, it currently being the largest employer on the continent.

Applause! Applause! To the TASC team led by my namesake whose CV reads like my dream – Joseph Warungu, Maimouna Jallow, Irene Wangui ; the trainers – Joachim Buwembo, Declan Okpalaeke, Rob Finighan, Dominic Nahr, Eva Constantaras, Dorothy Ochieno. Also, to our comrade Kenya’s Irene Choge for sharing that inspiring African story about the correlation between latrines and girl child education.

I commend the African Media Initiative, along with its funding partners for lighting this fire. It’s a great job and a great service to Africa. Thank you.

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