On my first day at the Nairobi AFP Bureau, I was met by a medium-sized scruffy-looking man with unkempt hair. He wore a dirty pair of jeans and an untucked collarless red T-shirt with bloodlike stains.
He extended a strong handshake to welcome me to the AFP offices situated in the 17-storey International House on Mama Ngina Street in the Kenyan capital’s central business district.
“My name is BB,” he said while holding my hand firmly.
His smile exposed protruding scissor-like creamy teeth that looked like they had not been brushed in months. Nonetheless his smile was welcoming for a new comer to “Nairobbery” as he called it.
“Do women in Zambia wear petticoats,” he shot a question at me.
Before I could even attempt an answer, the scruffy man handed me a print out of a blog he had just finished writing bemoaning “the demise of petticoats” in Kenya and why this “important garment” had to be brought back.
“It served a purpose,” he said as he lit his cigarette while smiling to himself.
“Edit (Sub) it for me,” he said, as he pointed at of one of the huge desktop computers mounted on tables in an open office-the newsroom of the French news agency’s East Africa Bureau.
Dozens other journalists seated on a circular table, punching away at the computer keyboards waved at me as a welcome gesture while one by one they chorused their names.
They formed the AFP news crew in Nairobi which covered the entire East Africa and I was to be one of them.
“I need to upload my petticoat story on my blog in the next few minutes,” said the man I came to know as Bogonko Bosire, or BB as was the custom in AFP to use initials on copy going out on the wire.
Bogonko, I later learnt, was a popular blogger with a huge following in Kenya especially among the political elites and media. He had a talent for social commentary and his sharp blogging enraged his targets some of whom threatened him with consequences including death but he would not relent.
The very day we met, we clicked like we had known each other for years. We just got along and we both had the hobby of reading books.
“Let’s go fishing….” Bogonko beckoned to me at lunchtime.
Fishing was a term he constantly used for eating fish and ugali in one of those dingy restaurants crammed in arcades between shops in Nairobi’s CBD. His love for untidy and filthy places fitted in well with his appearance and was in contrast to own appearance which was centred on well-pressed shirts and jackets. He called me “Mr. Politician” for it. Reputation was not something that worried him at all.
I had joined the Nairobi news crew to beef up the AFP coverage of Somalia following the escalating war in that failed State. As a foreign correspondent, I was well paid with a weekly stipend for upkeep which was enough disposable income for outings. My usual company became Bogonko – workmate-cum-drink mate.
Lunch breaks were for quaffing.
Tuskers for me and Guinness for Bogonko.
“Shit, we are not going back to the office, we shall file from here,” he would often tell me when he had had a lot with tears oozing from his eyes which he wiped off with his forefingers.
“Am feeling lazy to climb those stairs at the office,” he would make the excuse, fidgeting with his notebook as he pressed a call to the English Desk in Paris.
In his drunken stupor, Bogonko could dictate a story to that desk, with quotes and colour and sometimes on the cellphone while chatting with patrons in a noisy place.
He was a journalist par excellence who loved his job as a local correspondent for the AFP and blogger. He always carried a book to read even in bars.
“I own the news,” he would say in a low tone to assure me not to worry about missing any news story while in the beer hall. Truly, he was well connected to news sources across the region and almost always the first to get tipped of any breaking story.
“Unlike me who owns the news, they report the news,” he said in jest, referring to our competition, Reuters and Associated Press (AP)-the world’s largest news wire service and competed with AFP on who breaks the news first. It used to be cutthroat.
The days that followed were crazy.
The Somali war escalated. Bogonko and I handled the overnight feeds from our stringers in Mogadishu. It meant sleeping in the office, updating the developing story every few minutes to give the world real time news.
It was Bulletins, Urgent, Updates, Recasts, and Overnighters – stories on mortar attacks, bombs and grenade attacks with swirling figures of the injured and death that I have ever covered in my life. The coverage was exhausting. We monitored our stories being picked up by CNN, BBC and others at a big television set perched in the newsroom.
“My brother Somalis are not serious people. So why should we take their story serious,” was the usual line from my new workmate.
Such a discourse from Bogonko had a hidden agenda. It was a hint for me and him to temporarily abandon work and crossover the Mama Ngina Street to Potterhouse, a pub right opposite our offices where the Kenyan elites hanged out after hours.
“And Paris?” I asked in reference to our headquarters in France from where we were bombarded with notes, texts and telephone calls for more updates and pictures from Mogadishu.
“The French are equally not serious. Where is our Bureau Chief?” He asked in reference to our French boss who had gone on vacation to Mombasa in the midst of a big story.
“We are not slaves, so we also will go on vacation to the Potterhouse for Guinness ,” Bogonko said before doing a jig in the office facing a CCTV camera and then burst into a loud laugh.
The rest of the journalists in the newsroom would not pay attention to him. They had had enough of his “madness!”
At Potterhouse, he talked ceaselessly on how he owns the news. The who’s who of Kenya, in suits and neckties, competed for his attention. Clearly he was the man to know- a celebrity of sorts.
Bogonko was not shy to express his views even unpleasant ones to the patrons. It is no wonder that years after I left Kenya, he setup a popular blog called the Jackal News whose motto resonated his unorthodox belief that – “Because we own the news and gossip, you are a source or target”. And he became a thorn in many people’s lives with his Jackal news whose following swelled as he continued to expose scams, corruption and even bribery among his media colleagues.
Bogonko was also a gifted writer and analyst with unmatched flair and prose for stories. He rightly predicted to me that Uhuru Kenyatta would end up as president of Kenya and it came to pass with Bogonko playing a major role in endorsing and supporting Kenyatta during the campaigns.
He was a real jackal.
On September 20th, 2013, a day before the Westgate Mall terrorist attack, Bogonko went missing without any trace and was never to be seen again. Next month will mark two years since the “man who owns the news” disappeared just like that. This piece is part of my tribute to Bogonko Bosire, whom I ironically shared the first name of Dickson although he never used it opting for his African names. I therefore join the rest of Bogonko fans and friends in spreading the hash tag WhereisBogonkoBosire?
Dickson Jere is a Zambian Lawyer and Journalist.