What looks like a front page of the Southern Times newspaper is circulating on Facebook and WhatsApp in Kenya. The headline reads: “Avoid Kenyans at all costs.”
Text below the headline refers to the Covid-19 outbreak in Kenya: “Wit rising COVID-19 cases and individuals who avoid to self quarantine despite massive travels, Could Kenya become the ‘Italy of Africa’ pretty soon?” The front page photo shows Kenya Airways aircraft.
Italy has long had the highest number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Europe, although Spain now has the most cases on that continent.
The Southern Times is headquartered in Windhoek, Namibia, with an office in Harare, Zimbabwe. It calls itself “the newspaper for southern Africa” and is distributed throughout the region.
The spelling mistakes and casual language in the front page circulating online are signs that it may have been manipulated.
But did the newspaper publish this anxiety-inducing headline? We investigated.
Page from November 2018
Africa Check searched for the headline and subhead online, but could not find it on the Southern Times website or anywhere else.
We then searched for the other headlines on the front page, to see if they were linked to real, published stories.
One of the headlines was “Lesotho lowers SADC flag”. The full headline of the story, which was published in the Southern Times on 26 November 2018, was “Lesotho lowers SADC flag as SAPMIL ends intervention mission”.
This tipped us off that the possibly manipulated front page may have been published around 26 November. A review of all the front pages posted on the Southern Times Facebook page in November 2018 revealed that the original cover of the weekly for 23 to 29 November appeared on 26 November.
Its headline is “Stina Wu, Entrepreneur or Rent-seeker?” – not “Avoid Kenyans at all costs.”
The original front page photo shows Chinese-born entrepreneur Stina Wu, who was the subject of an in-depth profile in the newspaper.
We also found that the photo of the Kenya Airways planes has been regularly used in Kenya and is attributed to Thomas Mukoya, a photojournalist from Reuters.
‘Obviously photoshopped job’
Africa Check emailed the editor of the Southern Times, Innocent Gore, about the fake front page. He was outraged.
“Thank you for bringing this issue to my attention,” he said. “I am actually shocked by this obviously photoshopped job which is malicious and is meant to tarnish our image.”
Gore said the newspaper had nothing against Kenyans. “Obviously someone is trying to tarnish the image of our newspaper by abusing our masthead and publishing malicious content. The Southern Times has nothing against Kenyans and would never publish such content. We were founded on pan-African values, solidarity, unity, and togetherness, and will never deviate from these.”
The newspaper also published a statement on its website, distancing itself from the manipulated front page. – Vincent Ng’ethe