During the awarding of the overall winner at the 2016 CNN Africa Journalist of the Year Awards in Johannesburg, South Africa, Debo Adesina, at the time editor-in-chief of the Guardian newspaper in Nigeria, described the winning journalist as having ‘‘a courage that borders on recklessness’’ because of the manner in which she had reported in Terror Crossing, the winning feature on terrorism at the Kenya-Somalia border.
It therefore came as no surprise that it was with this same level of half-courage and half-recklessness that in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, that same journalist quit her job as special projects editor in Kenya’s leading TV station at the time, setting forth on a mission to set something up; something bold and different, something debunk-esque.
That journalist is Asha Ahmed Mwilu, Debunk’s founder.
Starting out with an idea and a logo – the original desire was to do explainers and use video, graphics and illustrations to make news more palpable to the 18-35 demographic – Asha sold the dream to the Aga Khan University Innovation Center in Nairobi, who bought into it and took her in as a mentee, incubating Debunk for a year with an office space and $20,000.
It so happened that nominated alongside Asha for the 2016 CNN awards was a pretty obscure writer (his words) who liked to keep to himself whenever he wasn’t hanging out with literary types at a certain wood-paneled Nairobi pub with a history. Having never considered himself a journalist, he wrote for a living and to save his life, until he was nominated for the journalism prize and decided that from then onwards, he’d consider himself a journalist.
And so six months into founding Debunk, one Sunday afternoon, Asha invited this pretty obscure writer, Isaac Otidi Amuke, to the Aga Khan Innovation Center in Nairobi, where sitting around the kitchen table sharing a black coffee, the two revisited the many conversations they’d had about journalism back in 2016 on bus rides across Johannesburg. Maybe now they had a chance to make a mark on journalism; one a writer, the other a TV editor and filmmaker.
And so began the journey of Debunk 2.0.
Dreaming new dreams and strengthening old ones, Debunk speedily transformed into a multimedia platform, mashing text, audio and video, and stretching its coverage to People, Politics and Pop-Culture (its infamous 3Ps), while retaining the explainer and fact-checking bit under Debunked, thus ‘The 3Ps and a D’.
Publishing digitally and opening up space for anyone and everyone who had/has a story from any fissure of Kenya (and progressively Eastern Africa), three years into its existence, Debunk has developed offshoots such as Debunk Women, Debunk Live, Debunk Quarterly and Public Square (an op-ed beat); with a couple more beats up Debunk’s sleeves.
With the support of a core team and tens of stringers, funders, consultants, contributors and collaborators, Debunk remained and remains dreamy, with one foot firmly planted into the ground; to keep making its mark in journalism while still staying true to its true north, the story.