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Graduate receives top journalism award for documentary on terrorism at the Kenyan border

One of our graduates has received a top African journalism award for her investigative documentary into terrorism and security on the Kenya-Somalia border.

Asha Ahmed Mwilu, who studied MA Documentary Practices at UCA Farnham, received the 2016 Overall Award at the CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards for Terror Crossing, a documentary focusing on Al Shabaab and the notorious Mandera county in the north east of Kenya.

Asha says: “When I travelled to the Kenya-Somalia border, Al Shabaab militants had perpetrated dozens of attacks in mainland Kenya and killed more than 1,000 people. The aim of the film was to investigate the factors allowing terrorists to so easily cross into Kenya undetected.

“My strategy was to tell the story in very simple words. Kenyans had often interacted with heavy investigative reports about terrorism which often painted a complicated picture about the state of security. I think the audience appreciated that our investigations opened up a backstory to all the terror attacks we had suffered in such a coherent way.”

Following months of research and piecing together information from major events, Asha travelled to Mandera county with a video journalist and spent almost two weeks there.

“In 2011, the Kenyan military launched an excursion into Somalia to flush out the Al Shabaab following a series of pirate attacks and high-profile abductions along the Coastal line,” Asha says. “After such an important decision, Kenyans expected that our borders with Somalia would be heavily guarded to cushion the retaliatory attacks that were expected. Our investigations, however, revealed shocking details of a border manned by a handful of ill-equipped police officers during the day and left completely unguarded at night.

“We also unearthed the border county to be a major corruption zone with officers admitting on camera that they would often take bribes even from suspected terrorists to allow them to ferry goods into Kenya.

“One other important intrigue we learnt during our production in Mandera was the clan dynamic among the community harbouring the region. Different clans from the larger Somali tribe occupy Northern Kenya, making it easy for Al Shabaab recruits to hide among the civilians and to use family ties in both Kenya and Somalia to remain undetected.”

The CNN MultiChoice African Journalist Awards are the most prestigious and respected accolades for journalists across the African continent. On being named the joint winner of the Overall Award, Asha says: “It’s always a bitter-sweet moment to win an award in journalism because we are fuelled by so many selfless moments when we do our work. This award, however, is so different as it raises the credibility to my name as an African journalist and more importantly reignites debate on a subject I am most passionate about. It really is a great honour to be recognised on the continent.”