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Dorothy Kweyu: Veteran Kenyan Journalist Whose Son Was Sentenced to Death by the Sword in Saudi Arabia

Dorothy Kweyu is renowned Kenyan journalist with over 40 years of experience serving in some of the best media houses in the country. The Nation Media Group (NMG) journalist boasts an established resume and has been at the forefront, championing for gender equity and equality in society.

She is among the pioneer women journalists in the country and is famed for her role in championing for gender equity and equality in workspaces.

Dorothy now in her 70s is in agony as her son Stephen Munyakho faces a death sentence in Saudi Arabia. He was sentenced to death by sword for accidentally murdering his Yemeni workmate. The two are said to have had an altercation which turned violent and the colleague succumbed to stab wounds.

Collage image of Dorothy Kweyu and her son Stephen Munyakho. |Photo| Courtesy|
Collage image of Dorothy Kweyu and her son Stephen Munyakho. |Photo| Courtesy|

Background & Education

Dorothy Kweyu attended Mukumu Girls High School in Kakamega County. It is at the institution that she developed a passion for journalism after renowned journalist the late Phillip Ochieng’ gave a talk at their school.

“When Phillip Ochieng spoke to us, we were all ears. At the back of mind, I knew this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to pursue a career in journalism and there was no turning back,” she told The Nation.

Dorothy proceeded to the University of Nairobi (UoN) graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature and Linguistics.

Dorothy bagged a job with the Jomo Kenyatta Foundation as a book editor after graduation. She resigned after five months to pursue a USAID staff master’s scholarship at UoN and graduated in 1978.

Career

The veteran journalist got her first job in the media as a trainee writer/reporter in 1978. She had applied to NMG and Standard Media Group but she got regret letters each time.

Dorothy later got a job teaching English at a secretarial college in Nairobi. She earned Ksh3,500 per month. She would then stumble upon a newspaper advert in search of trainee reporters.

“I applied without hesitation even though the name of the potential employer was not indicated. I just yearned to join the media. After several rigorous interviews, I was hired. The employer was a publishing firm that did in-house publications for different clients. I became the founding editor of Women’s Voice, a publication for Maendeleo ya Wanawake,” she narrated.

The veteran journalist was promoted to a news editor then to a revise editor, a role she held until her retirement in 2023. A determined Dorothy Kweyu had achieved her lifelong goal of being in the media.

She recounts a phone call from Nation’s Editor-in-chief asking if she wanted a job.

“He told me to put it in writing. A day after I submitted the letter, I was called for an interview which was successful,” Dorothy recalls, adding that getting a job in the media back then was easier than it is today.

File image of veteran journalist Dorothy Kweyu. |Courtesy| The Nation|
File image of veteran journalist Dorothy Kweyu. |Courtesy| The Nation|

Dorothy notes that when she joined NMG in the 1980s, there was only one woman in the newsroom. The media was dominated by male journalists and climbing the corporate ladder was tough for women.

“A lot has changed in the media industry. The young women joining or those already in the industry have everything going for them. They now have mentors who can hold their hands. It has never been better for women than now. They have gone beyond secretaries as it used to be the case,” she recalls.

She notes though the change has been ‘painfully’ slow, male colleagues during their time respected women in workspaces and there were no cases of harassment.

Dorothy recalls an instance where she was interviewing a senior government official, and as it was getting late, his secretary wanted to go home. She recalls him telling her that she cannot leave him alone with a woman in the office.

Today, she notes, cases of harassment against women in media spaces is a thing of concern.

Dorothy Kweyu founded Interlink Rural Information Service (Iris) in 1992, an organization that wrote feature stories from across the country. The stories were published on mainstream media.

She made a comeback to the newsroom as a revise editor between 2003 and 2014 before proceeding on sabbatical. She would return in 2018 in the same capacity and served until her retirement in October 2023.

Currently, she doubles a consultant editor and mentor to the younger generation of journalists.

Awards

In 1984, Dorothy was the recipient of the Journalist of the year and best woman writer awards by Viva Magazine.

She was given the Lifetime Contribution Award by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) in 2016 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021.

Son’s Impending Death Sentence

Dorothy Kweyu never gave up the hope of saving her son. She has since engaged humanitarian agencies and the government of Kenya, appealing to President William Ruto to intervene and save her son.

In a statement on Monday, May 13, 2024, Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei announced that the government had managed to temporarily delay Munyakho’s execution.

“I am deeply grateful to inform you that authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have kindly granted our request to postpone the  impending execution of Stephen Munyakho (now known as Abdulkareem), to allow for further negotiations between all parties.

“As we devise strategies to bring this matter to a more acceptable conclusion, and thereby giving both families the closure they so urgently need and deserve, we shall continue to lean on the warm and solid friendship that we have with our Saudi partners, as well as on the goodwill of all Kenyans,” the PS said.

Sing’oei assured Kenyans that the government will engage all stakeholders in Nairobi and Riyadh, including representations from our religious leadership in the coming days, to agree on the next urgent steps.

“I wish to extend gratitude to our teams – both at the Ministry Headquarters and our Mission in Riyadh – for their tireless efforts,” he added.

The incident happened in April 2011 but Munyakho could not be executed at the time because a child from the Yemeni family was involved. He had to be 18 years old to make a decision on the fate of his father’s killer since the family sought justice under the Shariah Law.

“There was also the “diya” or “blood money” option – financial compensation under Islamic law – which is paid to the victim or heirs of a victim in the cases of murder, bodily harm or property destruction by mistake,” Dorothy said in a publication by The Nation.

Munyakho is being held at the Shimeisi Prison in the Governorate of Mecca, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.