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#GES2015KE Post-mortem: I defend the Press

The media is oft an easy scapegoat. In the aftermath of the GES, hordes of ‘media analysts’, have gone ham on the Press over its handling of the just concluded GES 2015, yet another example of how media is easily made a scapegoat.

These analysts’ reading of media reportage is damning – coverage was not only dismal, it was focused on the wrong things. According to this reading, the Kenyan press focused on “minor distractions” at this very important conference – POTUS, his family and lifestyle, his toys, namely The Beast, Air Force One and Marine One. That the media glossed over big picture issues – entrepreneurship, investment and bilateral talks between Uhuru Kenyatta and Barack Obama. Analysts on social media and talking heads on television told anyone who cared to listen that the meaty media abandoned the boulders and went for the pebbles.

Of course this is not the first time that the media, which is scorned and praised in equal measure, has been designated a carry all flak taker. From politicians claiming that they were misquoted, and individuals caught in scandals accusing them of invading privacy, to government officials terming them unpatriotic and focusing on negativity that paint countries in bad light internationally, the media is always on the receiving end.

The reality though is that, like leaders, we get the media coverage that we deserve. The media, like art, is a mirror held up for society to gaze at itself. The media is also in business, and misreading its audience is costly. If media focused on matters that we, the audience, did not care about, they would be out of business. The Kenyan media is not only in business; and viewed as a sector, it is also doing very well. It is because the media outlets are giving us what we want as readers, listeners and viewers.

One of the basic lessons at journalism school is that the role of media is to inform, educate and entertain. On its coverage of the GES 2015, the media did very well on these three counts. Indeed, had the media focused on what our media analysts call the big picture issues, they would be drifting from their audience.

The average Kenyan media consumer does not think much about business news, which is where most of the coverage on the summit would have been. This is the reason why business news is given a small proportion of the news in dailies and bulletins. Such news is tucked deep past page three in print media, and after the main news in broadcast media.

But it is also the ‘news value’ of events that matters. This includes proximity of the news, its ‘unusualness’, timeliness, prominence and the emotions involved. Between the price of potatoes that has increased by 3% and a politician caught with his assistant’s wife in a compromising situation, the latter wins on news value any day.

President Obama is a media phenomenon, in Kenya and elsewhere. He makes news.  Kenya is not just anywhere, but the land of his father’s birth. He was visiting for the first time since he ascended to the position that makes him the most powerful man on the planet. The least anyone would expect is that he would hog the space and time in media long before he lands, and after he leaves. Any editor who misses this point is not worth the title.

My verdict is that the disappointment with the coverage has nothing to do with its focus or quality. Rather, most of these events were beamed live, in their wake, arousing furious banter on social media. By the time the events of the day appeared in in news bulletins and newspaper pages, they were already old news. We had already seen President Obama land, the famous ride in The Beast with his sister and everything else he did before the newspapers went to print.

The challenge for the Fourth Estate is not about its focus; rather, it is in adapting and keeping abreast of rapidly unfolding events, and to determine what is news within what times spans. We live in a world where social media and live coverage of events have made the work of a journalist a lot more complicated. It is incumbent upon the modern day journalist to report knowing that his audience already have full view of the happenings via social media and live broadcasts (depending on how big the issue is). In such a case, the journalist is obliged to give informative and fresh analysis to be relevant.

A business leader who attended the State banquet held in honour of President Obama recently made a statement that illustrates the point. He says that when everyone rose to take pictures and videos of Potus getting down to Lipala, he did not bother since he knew it would be on Twitter in a few seconds – and sure enough it was. How then, as a journalist covering this event, would you expect to present this to us as ‘news’?

Kenya has journalist that are at par with the best in the world. They might just lag in innovation.  It is not that Kenyan media did not see news value in the summit and the throngs of entrepreneurs from across the world in attendance. The issue is that that they gave us ‘news’ that was rather late to be news.

This article was first published in The Standard newspaper on August 4, 2015 and Standard Digital on http://www.standardmedia.co.ke/article/2000171514/in-defence-of-kenya-s-fourth-estate-after-obama-s-visit.

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Posted by on March 24, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Open Letter to Africa: #ListenToSouthSudan

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Fellow Africans,

Under different circumstances, I would have relished such an opportunity to address the continent. However, the issue at hand is so disturbing that there is absolutely nothing enjoyable about making the statements that I am about to.

It is about South Sudan – the continent’s newest nation that we welcomed in 2011 with pomp and celebration.

Only a few years later, we’ve abandoned South Sudan at a time when they need us most. We have chosen to stand by and watch in silence as innocent people of South Sudan are butchered in a conflict that they are mere pawns.

Whatever happened to Ubuntu — the African humanness! The Ubuntu philosophy stresses humanity towards others, which is at the core of being African. As a people, we have abdicated this responsibility. Apart from the gallant social media citizens, we have remained silent to the cries of the people of South Sudan.

It is time we rose up and took action. In our own little ways, we have a contribution to make in addressing the suffering of the great people of South Sudan. Let us show the rest of the world that indeed ‘it is time for Africa’ — and that this is not just a line from a song. Which better opportunity is there to demonstrate that we can develop African solutions to African problems?

And when all is said and done, the buck stops with our leaders — nationally, regionally and continentally. This is the time for the AU, EAC, COMESA and other blocs to step to the plate. Surely, we can come together for a good cause that benefits us all; and not wait to rally together for selfish initiatives such as withdrawal from the ICC. A stable and peaceful South Sudan is in the interest of us all.

The world is watching keenly. Don’t we harp on and on about our sovereignity as a people? Why are we still waiting for others us to deal with issues in our neighbourhood? How many more people are waiting to die before we take action? Let us speak out, declare sanctions against the protagonists, convene peace talks, and do everything else in our power. The time is now.

In conclusion, I leave you with the wise words of Irish statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke, who famously noted that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. Let us listen to South Sudan, and do something.

Yours,

Proud Son of Africa

 

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Open Letter to African Youth: You can feed the continent

African youth can feed the continent. Photo/ sciencedaily.com

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is with a lot of concern that I pen this letter to you.  Concerned that we are sitting by and watching our people starve to death. And indeed very concerned that we are not doing what is within our power to change the situation.

You must have followed the stream of very disturbing images of people starving in the Horn of Africa due to the famine that struck the region. Latest reports indicate that it could get worse.

I am sure, as young Africans, we could do something about this. And this is not just making contributions to mitigate the humanitarian crisis. We can contribute a long term solution as well.

Let me show you how. We like griping about being referred to as the leaders of tomorrow and not being given a chance to lead today. How about taking over leadership as far as feeding our continent is concerned?

Perhaps, a good starting point would be decolonizing our minds. Popular opinion has it that agriculture is not just a poor man’s activity but also one for retirees and everyone else who has nothing better to do with themselves.

Politics too, in many parts of Africa, has been made to look like an old people’s job, anyway. But this has not made it any less appealing to us. Infact there has always been constant jostling by young people to be given a chance to make a go at political leadership.

Often, young people say they want a chance in leadership ostensibly to deliver change. Nowhere needs change as much as African food security. Agricultural production needs new energy and the boundless energy of youth to turn it around.

It is time agriculture became the real backbone of not just our national, but also personal economies. We need to change this perception that agriculture is a poor man’s job and make it pay. We need to think outside the box. Agri-business is definitely the way to go.

Brothers and sisters, it is a reality that unemployment has hit very high levels across the continent. Perhaps, embracing agriculture could help change this. This would be literally killing two birds with one stone: providing jobs for ourselves and other young people while feeding the nation.

In conclusion, I leave you with the very famous words of John F Kennedy: Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.

Yours

Fellow African

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Open Letter to the IMF Board: It will no longer be business as usual

 

Dear Sir/ Madam,

Probably, this will be the last letter you read before heading into the conclave to choose who becomes the next head of the International Monetary Fund. I really hope it is indeed the last correspondence, and that you will pay attention to my thoughts on this issue that has, deservedly, drawn huge global interest.

From the look of things, and if media reports are anything to go by, the die seems as good as cast over who will be the next head of this very important institution on which you sit. Word on the street is that, in line with what I hear being called ‘tradition’, this position has to be held by a European. As if to lend credence to this line of thoughts, a name has been floated, ostensibly with huge support, allegedly, amongst your ranks.

As an African and one who believes in the capability of the people of this continent, this is a very disturbing move. It is unfair, to say the least.

That one’s suitability for the task is being judged by where they come from, and not the content of their skills and abilities, to paraphrase the famous words of Martin Luther King Junior, is very disturbing.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I do not mean to engage you in an economic lecture because I am well aware that this is your forte but allow me to remind you a basic fact that the emerging market, of which Africa is part, today plays a significant role in the global economy and can no longer be treated as insignificant.

What better way is there to demonstrate your belief in the emerging markets and their abilities, which is often talked about, than to give opportunity to an illustrious son or daughter from these regions, and who are not in short supply, a chance to steer IMF?

The International Monetary Fund (Photo/ abc.net.au)

As we await ‘white smoke’ from the IMF conclave, my prayer is that the interests of the entire globe will be considered as you execute this important task. Whichever way you decide, I submit to you that it will no longer be business as usual in future engagements with the emerging market.

In conclusion, I leave you with a common adage, ‘Actions speak louder than words’. Let your actions vindicate you.
Yours faithfully,
Son of Africa

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Open Letter to Thabo Mbeki, former president of South Africa

Former president of South Africa Photo/ newzimbabwe.com

Dear Sir,

It gives me great pleasure to address you in this note. I know that this might strike you as unusual since, I guess, it is not every day that you get engaged in conversations by ‘ordinary’ folk like me.

Sir, I admire the passion you have for Africa’s development and prosperity, and I share the faith in this continent – that is why I am writing this to you.

I am responding to a suggestion you made at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town a few days ago  over the establishment of an African school of public policy.

Much as I think that an institution that helps African governments develop and implement homegrown policies would be a great idea, I am afraid it might not amount to much. I am not a policy expert, and neither am I a pessimist, but I am convinced that the bigger problem lies in our lack of discipline.

Our governments are known for lopsided priorities, usually based on whether or not it makes political sense. This is one of the reasons why most of the well-crafted visions and ideas rarely take off and the potential of Africa remains just that – potential.

Not that we have incapable individuals as our leaders; far from it. I guess these are just nice gentlemen and a lady who are victims of circumstance. Sir, you have been in the top seat and I am sure this sounds like a familiar scenario.

Therefore, I submit to you that in itself, an African school of policy might not translate into much for the continent’s development.

However, it is a step in the right direction. It is for this reason that I leave you with the wise words of Lao-Tzu, a Chinese philosopher: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

Yours faithfully,

Proud African

Do

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Can’t science make news headlines?

Researchers at work in a laboratory

Today Kenya woke up to some brilliant news; very brilliant, in my view, though tucked deep inside the pages of one of the dailies. I actually stumbled upon it well into the e-paper.

A six month old baby born of a Hiv positive woman had defied expectations and turned out negative for the virus, even though the mother was not on anti-retroviral drugs, or any other medical intervention, as is usually the case. The baby was also not exclusively on breastmilk, as is recommended by studies http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Babys%20negative%20HIV%20test%20results%20shock%20doctors%20/-/1056/1105402/-/iq1o5hz/-/index.html.

The six month old baby's mother did not take the anti-retroviral drugs

Thought provoking research findings for the scientists, astounding results for an observer like you and me, and invaluable addition to the body of knowledge that is Hiv research. In the newspaper article, the writer, Arthur Okwemba, says this will influence design of a vaccine against the virus . How important!

This is the kind of stuff that newspaper headlines are made of! A Eureka moment! However, the decision makers in the newsrooms did not think so. The article did not deserve space anywhere near the headlines: this is space exclusively for political machinations and gossip. Who is courting who, politically speaking? Who has fallen out with who, inter alia.

Such big news on the scientific front deserves better. Maybe not the main headline story, but somewhere on the front page would definitely be deserving.

Newspaper headlines

With the huge concern that Hiv/Aids is to Africa, the enormous social and economic implications that it has occasioned, this is definitely a BIG story.

Doesn’t science sell papers? Isn’t such information important to our publics, the newspaper reading fraternity, the decision makers in politics and the corporate world?

Many companies for instance, have Hiv/Aids programmes being rolled out as part of human resource management initiatives. This would be crucial information.

Anyway, it is not all gloom. That the news has made it into the paper is good enough. Only that it can be better. Science news can make newspaper headlines.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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No sex please, it’s the ‘No sex month

An anti-Aids message spotted somewhere in Kenya

Coming soon, a presidential decree banning sex for one solid month.

For 30 days, every single one of us will be consigned to forced celibacy, all in the name of fighting Hiv/Aids.

Granted, this killer disease is devastating families across the world, and especially sub-Saharan Africa, but is a sex ban workable?

But trust scientists to literally scour the most unlikely places and develop somewhat wild and radical suggestions. Thank God, there are no known scientists who have ascended to become presidents! (Or are there any?) The world would be treated to all sorts of crazy decrees.

For instance, the one on sex ban, would have been long done. But that remains a dream – a wish at best. Nonetheless, the scientific community is daring countries to take the bold step and impose a moratorium on this activity is rumoured to make the world go round- falling just a step below basic human needs.

Sounds cool on paper, when all the models show how this would translate into a cut in the number of Hiv/Aids infections; but would undoubtedly be accompanied by probability of a huge risk and cost.

For starters, we might have to put together a rag-tag force to enforce the decree, detailed to conduct night raids and arrest any couples behaving in a manner likely to suggests that they have been intimate. Getting individuals for this should not be a problem, we have all these specialist forces, with crazy names to boot, and mundane descriptions.

Then there is the risk that human rights groups will mobilise us to take to the streets to protest against this crime against humanity.

Maybe we might just convince ICC prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo to take this up as well. who knows, we could just haul the group of lab-coat clad, bespectacled, jargon-speaking scientists to the Hague to answer to charges.

Perhaps the only drawback that this otherwise strong case would face is the fact that a section of the activists at some point came up with what would be famously known as a ‘sex boycott’, there was hue and cry. Up in arms, sounds more like it.

Sex is such a big deal this side of the globe. For the call girls, it is more than just pleasure, it is business. A source of livelihood.  Thus, a ban for such a substantial period would be tricky.

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

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