Starkey and Flying Ninjas


By Sonia Uwimana

Jerome Starkey sounds like the name of a fictional detective in an unpublished novel, but apparently he actually exists in the form of a correspondent for the Times of London based in Nairobi. I don’t follow his career especially closely, but his byline pops up from time to time in stories making wild, unsubstantiated allegations against the Government of Rwanda.

He has done so again today with a piece implying that Kigali’s infamous (if non-existent) flying ninja death squads are responsible for the disappearance of a guy called Innocent Kalisa in Kampala.  I am not linking to the story because it’s hidden behind a paywall.

This Kalisa character is a member of the RNC, the group led by one exiled general in South Africa. The RNC is well known to be working closely with the FDLR to foment instability within Rwanda in order, one can only assume, to create the preconditions for a coup.  Their latest effort was a grenade attack in Nyabugogo which killed three and injured thirty.

Starkey is an easy mark for the RNC’s propaganda machine, but not because he is naive or stupid (or at least not only because he is naive and stupid).  Starkey desperately wants to believe these outlandish stories are true.  His career depends on it.

Here is the five-step modus operandi of reporters like Starkey who need to sensationalise stories in order to get them published.

  • Write one baseless story to establish a narrative, i.e. flying ninja death squads.
  • Write another, citing the first to add credence.
  • Write a third piece, this time using (1) and (2) to establish beyond doubt that the flying ninja death squads are real.
  • Write an editorial condemning the existence of flying ninja death squads.
  • And so on.

Kalisa is tied up with a bunch of thugs hell-bent on the violent overthrow of the Rwandan government. He is suspected, along with his FDLR cohorts, of involvement in the recent grenade attack. Members of that same group have invented the story to serve their transparently obvious political agenda and asked themselves, “who can we get to run this for us?”.

Starkey, they said in union

This is how absurd this is:

According to today’s article, witnesses told Starkey they saw Kalisa getting bundled into a car by people dressed as police officers.

The police told Starkey they have no record of bundling Kalisa into a car.

There are two conclusions you can draw from this:

  • The government of Rwanda dressed their flying ninjas as Ugandan police officers and sent them to Kampala to bundle Kalisa into a car; or
  • The witnesses made it up.

It requires the complete suspension of disbelief to opt for the first option.

It is hard to blame the Times readership for believing that flying ninja death squads stories might have a ring of truth; after all, they have been raised on a diet of stories about Africa that would lead them to believe that those of us who are not flyblown and famished are unspeakably brutal.  It might take a few generations to flush these racist stereotypes out of their system.

That doesn’t absolve Starkey, though, who should know better.  And the Times of London need to stop making it impossible for guys like Starkey to get things published without making them up.

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