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Media still rules

Media still rules

 

 

It is hard running a newspaper, radio or TV channel today.

It is even harder during the electioneering season. What with omniscient keyboard warriors itching for 140 characters of fame, to pontificate on what media should be tackling, how and when.

Strangely though, it does not take long before these same all-knowing media police often turn around and dismiss any influence in the hands of the institution of the press. Media has lost credibility with the canoodling with political class, they type away. And moral authority too, they tweet. Digital is bae, they coo.

Apparently, according to this school of thought, the furious penetration of the internet,  making social media disciples of all of men and women has contributed to this state of affairs. That Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat and the rest of them are as good a source of news.

Which is which? Is media this powerful institution that we depend on to inform and educate us, hence the many instructions we keep howling from the touchline? Or is it this busy body, clanging cymbal and noisy gong that no one no longer listens to?

Media has always been considered a pawn. One that does not have a mind of its own. An instrument in the hands of the powers that be. A marionette whose strings are perpetually hostage to the whims of some shadowy but powerful forces.

No wonder media often shoulders blame for misquoting individuals, being compromised to fight them and taking sides on issues and contests. Media is the ultimate scapegoat-in-chief. Is there any institution as criticized and ostracized?

Strangely, it is not just your average Joe and Wanjiku that holds this view. It cuts across demographics and intellect. It is the subject of tonnes of research and journal articles; and a number of theories.

Actually, media critiquing is an entire thriving media ecosystem globally. Of course with scholars such as Douglas Kellner, Noam Chomsky and the rest of them sit at the top of the food chain. The rest of you talking heads trying to sound intelligent on Twitter and WhatsApp occupy the other end of the spectrum.

Interestingly, alongside this seemingly widely-held disdain, everyone seems to have their expectations and wish-list for the media. Cover women issues more. Focus less on politicians. Talk more about development. Give inciters a blackout. Why don’t we have women on your live panels? Get us more news away from urban centres.

Isn’t this recognition of the immense power and influence that media wields? If media did not have power, would we still be inundating channels with requests and prayers? Wouldn’t we just ignore the media completely and let it drone on as we live our lives, half chuckling in glee?

Just because top politicians fail to honour invitations to a pre-election debate put together by media is not an indication of floundering trust and influence. Just because we have the alternative of getting news off our timelines as it breaks does not mean good old legacy media is irrelevant. Just because I have the power to begin one of those #ForwardedAsReceived on WhatsApp neither makes me a broadcaster nor media owner. And just because a sitting Head of State dismisses newspapers as ‘meat-wrappers’

Media still rules.

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Posted by on July 26, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Development needs healthy population

The World Cancer Day shoved in our faces the reality of a broken health system. Previously considered a non-epidemic, cancer in recent years has proven to be a more ravaging risk than even AIDS and Malaria, erstwhile the tier one killers.

Against cancer, we are sitting ducks. We have limited facilities. We lack the equipment to deliver treatment. We have almost zero epidemiological data. There are few oncologists in the country. We have not dedicated the same kind of resources that we dedicated in the fight against AIDS and Malaria. To dampen everything, Cancer hardly has the same appeal, however twisted, that AIDS and Malaria have had, to previous donors. Simply, we are on our own here.

This is unacceptable, considering that for over half a century, we have been chorusing how disease is a major impediment to development. Disease ranked among top-most enemies that our Founding Fathers set out to confront, together with poverty and illiteracy. Why has the goal of tackling disease by ensuring that quality healthcare is accessible – physically and economically — to all Kenyans, eluded us this long?

Granted, we have made steps in increasing physical accessibility by reducing the long distances that some Kenyans have to cover to get to a health facility – but this is not all. A lot more still remains to be done. Stories are told of Kenyans losing their lives, not because they did not get to health facilities in time, but for lack of money for them to be admitted, no bed to place them on, drugs being out of stock or no health personnel to attend to them.

Never mind that a healthy population is a key ingredient towards delivering a prosperous nation as envisioned in our long term national development goals. If we are not going to fix the healthcare system, then we could as well forget about the Promised Land of sustained economic development in the next one and a half decades that we constantly dream of.

Kenya (and indeed, many countries in Africa and the rest of the developing world) has to rethink our approach towards delivering quality healthcare. Of what use is a government (national or county) that cannot effectively take care of its people’s most basic needs, such as healthcare, ability to earn a living and security? Access to quality healthcare for all is one of the avenues through which we could tackle inequality that still remains high in this country.

Statistics indicate that health-related expenses take up a significant portion of an average households’ expenditure. The more important problem is the vulnerability to poverty that sickness of a household head poses. When people are sick, they don’t work and do not earn a living for their families. Imagine the economic impact that would accompany a functional public healthcare system that ensures families do not spend that much on healthcare and do not worry about skipping work because they are sick and cannot afford medication. Basic economics indicates that when households are able to save money, they increase their purchasing power as well as ability to invest in business or other productive activities.

How then, do we fix Kenya’s public healthcare system? Some of our neighbouring countries have delivered much more impressive health outcomes, while we continue chest-thumping about being the regional economic powerhouse. Even with the facilities and equipment that we have, it is possible to generate much better outcomes than we already are. Is our strategy hamstringing efficiency of the healthcare system?

A haphazardly designed and executed decentralization has contributed to the chaos by splitting responsibility and accountability for health – that county governments are responsible for implementation but national government retain substantial policy power. Maybe we devolved health too soon, or devolved too much or we have to go through the teething problems to refine and reinvigorate it.

One of our weakest links is following through on all the excellent plans that have been formulated over time to transform the public health system. Legend has it that some of the brilliant development plans in this country have gained much more traction elsewhere in the world, while ours continue to gather dust in technocrats’ magnificent shelves and computer hard drives. If there is a leaf we were to borrow from the success stories such as Singapore, then it should be disciplined execution of plans. Apparently, it is usually said in these countries that: ‘Policy is implementation and implementation is policy’. Unfortunately, we have not made execution a core competence for our healthcare system.

It all boils down to leadership. In our circumstances it is not even clear where we should look for leadership. The constitution mandates county governments but they are still strong-armed by national government that nonetheless absolves itself from blame for the turmoil in the sector. Not that the counties themselves do not have a leadership crisis, anyway!

What Kenya needs is persons who will get things done to ensure systems function properly all the time. Then cases of health systems being paralysed by medics’ strikes will be a thing of the past. Kenyan families will no longer have to organize many fundraisers to take their kin to India for treatment because some equipment and procedures are not available locally.

Therefore, the challenge for the managers of the country’s healthcare system in whatever jurisdiction is to consider the strategy statements – the vision, mission, objectives, scope and competitive advantage — and work towards achieving them. How comes, for instance, that we still have acute shortages of certain specialist skills, and have one doctor for a huge population, way beyond acceptable levels. That some health facilities suffer shortages of drugs and other key consumables from time to time – are our priorities right?

Even as we rethink our strategy for the public healthcare system, we should also cascade it to the entire healthcare workforce of different cadres. This will ultimately transform the mindset of medics working in these facilities. Ask anyone who has been to a public health facility about their experiences and they will regale you with tales of terror at the hands of the nurses and other health workers. It gets worse in the maternity wards.

The public healthcare system will only be effective if it is treated as a service and a right, and not a work of charity – even if the service is for free. Our taxes run it, anyway!

At the end of the day, this country needs a healthy population to create wealth and livelihoods — and ultimately achieve its national development goals. The public health system serves the vast majority of the Kenyan population and fixing it would translate into huge economic benefits. It would be able to effectively play the role of not only treating but also preventing some diseases through education measures such as good nutrition and clean environment to avoid small but expensive ailments like diarrhea, malaria, typhoid and others that overload the health system.

After all, labour (and a healthy one at that) is a key factor of production. There is a case for a transformed, functional and equipped healthcare system.

This artice was first published in Business Daily onFebruary 25, 2016 and online at http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Opinion-and-Analysis/Transform-the-health-sector-for-meaningful-development/-/539548/3090936/-/1x1o7x/-/index.html.

 

 

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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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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Mr President, Here is my wishlist for your second year

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta

Your Excellency,

How time flies! We are on to the second year of your tenancy at the house on the hill.

Much has been said about your first year in office — by yourself, your crew, critics, columnists, talking heads on telly, bloggers — really everyone with an opinion.

Heading into the second year, I wish to present my wish list for the next 365 years. Think of this as an agenda setting session that normally, our supervisors, in cahoots with the HR types, would subject all of us to at the beginning of the year. This is just me trying to act like your boss (read voter and citizen of Kenya).

For starters, I hope the energy that you have brought forth, together with the First Lady and the Deputy President, does not fizzle out. Let it increase manifold and run over . I am glad that the First Lady has hit the ground running literally — at the London Marathon 2014. Please pass my kind regards to the good lady.

While at it, we hope to see this energy in dealing with the things that matter to the rest of us. You have been praised for being in tune with the rest of us ordinary Kenyans (as many of your ilk are wont to call us). If only you matched this with tangible action. Just in case you are not sure what I am referring to, I will give you my wish list:

  • Please do something about the heavy taxation and make life more affordable for the rest of us. We do not have to wait for 2030 to deliver a high quality of life for us all. Do we?
  • Please assure safety and security for ourselves and our loved ones — let us go back to those days when houses of worship were safe havens and we did not have to endure sessions reminding us of security exits and what to do in case of an emergency like we did at my church last Sunday.
  • Also, while I acknowledge that it is not the job of the government to create jobs, please make it conducive for the private sector to spawn employment opportunities for our relatives — that way, the rest of us will have less dependents. Tax them less.
  • Mr President; it would help to do something about the many promises that you made to the People of Kenya. Of key importance are the laptops for Standard One pupils. Between me and you, this could just be your legacy.

In conclusion, I would suggest that this year you seriously walk the talk with regard to fighting graft. It pains as a taxpayer, to hear that your taxes are lining pockets of an unscrupulous civil servant. Please convince us that your administration is not just paying lip service to fighting this vice.

All the best, Mr President.

Citizen number 2******0

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Excuse me Mr Governor, Devolution was never meant to enrich yourselves

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta poses with governors and other government officials at State House, Nairobi. Source: Coastweek.com

Your Excellencies,

Let me begin by acknowledging your exquisite tastes as demonstrated in your days in office. From big cars and preference for putting up in hotels with fat entertainment perks to boot, you have outdone yourselves! If your dreams as outlined in the county budgets are anything to go by, then we are in for a lesson in the lifestyles of the rich and powerful.

I am informed that in living up to this billing, an audit report of your expenditure between July and September 2013, found that about half of you only lavished yourself in allowances, travel, with no thought of development of your respective counties, which in my humble opinion, would be a key pursuit. And you are not yet done with us – you still want more cash.

While I am disappointed, and deservedly so, it is hardly surprising based on the kind of demands you were making last year. I do not quite remember what became of your ill-conceiveddemand for a large fully furnished and staffed office in Nairobi ostensibly to ‘attract investors’. This is after winning the fight for public buildings in which to set up your bases in respective counties. Boy, don’t you love the fine things in life!

However, and which is the reason am penning this note, I wish to remind you a fact that you seem to be blinded to in your quest for the very best that your good office can get. All that you are enjoying is at my (and other taxpayers’) expense. For this reason, we demand that you keep your eye to the ball – which is development projects that benefit us. The key objective of devolutionis not to attend to your tastes, but to take development closer to the people.

Of course, popular opinion has it that you, the political elite, will continue having your way for as long as you have deep pockets that can buy our support and votes come the next election. However, do not be too sure. The Kenyan voter is evolving.

Kenyan voters queue to cast their vote during the March 2013 general elections. Source: Capitalfm.co.ke

In conclusion, I leave you with the sagely words of our former president Mwai Kibaki: “Some people got devolution wrongly. Let us quote the Constitution as it is. Remember that our ultimate objective is to serve the people of Kenya and to improve their economic and social welfare”.

A Happy and Prosperous 2014, Gentlemen. Hope you focus!

 
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Posted by on January 9, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Open Letter to Former President Moi: Your story is an inspiration

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Dear Sir,

I hope you find some time to read this note.

I was inspired to write this today as we commemorated this day, which was once upon a time a public holiday known as ‘Moi Day’.

This was after I stumbled upon your brief biography on the official State House website, as the rest of the country whined, ranted and raved on social media about the missed opportunity for a day off work.

For the better part of the day, after reading your profile, I have been reflecting on the story of your life, which is a great inspiration to the Kenyan people. Nothing is as inspiring as the story of a man, who rose from a humble background, surmounted all manner of challenges, to become the Second President of the Republic of Kenya.

It has been about a decade since you called it a day, and handed over the reins of power to Mwai Kibaki. Much has been said about your 24 year reign – both good and bad.

However, not much is said about your person and the triumph against all odds and frustrations, right from childhood.

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That you walked many miles to get to school as a little boy, did not hinder you from ascending to the highest office in the land, is indeed great motivation. And that, even after you were denied the chance to join Alliance High School, after being selected, did not stop you from making the most out of the opportunity that you got to join a teachers’ training college, eventually becoming Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces in Kenya.

Such are the virtues that we, the young people of this country need to borrow – determination, persistence, passion, patience, tolerance, and the list goes on.

In conclusion, I wish to make a small request – how about penning the story of your life? I am sure that the lessons and inspiration would be enormous.

Yours,

Fellow Kenyan

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Open Letter to President Mwai Kibaki on the issue of seed shortage

Kenya's President Mwai Kibaki

Dear Mr President,

I approach you on this matter of food with a lot of caution. I am fully aware of what befell fellow citizens who attempted to bring it to your attention during celebrations to mark a past national day. That is why I would rather put it down.

I am writing to register my disappointment with your government for letting down the country on a very important issue: food.

Sir, government agencies are turning out to be the greatest stumbling block in the country’s efforts towards food security. How would there be a seed shortage in Kenya now, of all the times?

It is disheartening to read of cases where farmers, interested in upping their yields, cannot find certified maize seeds to plant on their farms. This has been reported in many parts of the country, including the country’s ugali basket: the Rift Valley. Never mind that the long rains, during which planting is done has arrived!

This leaves the farmers with no choice but to sow the traditional seeds which will undoubtedly give low yields. As you may be aware, a further wait for supply to resume might not help much since by then, the skies might have dried up.

Your government is letting farmers down when they have gone all out to improve agricultural productivity by planting better seed.

Thus, it neither requires an extra brain nor a complicated statistical model, to paint the bleak food situation that awaits the country.

Already, the prices of basic commodities including food and fuel are sky rocketing. This spiral is likely to continue for the rest of the year since the reprieve that the harvest season offers will not be there.

In this case, it would be better to forget the impressive economic growth that you and I have been expecting for the country, and the region as a whole.

This is not the first time that your government is dropping the ball in agricultural production. Last year, a bumper yield went to waste because post-harvest measures flopped.

Perhaps, it is time your government resigned for failing our beloved country on the most important issue of survival!

Yours Fellow Kenyan,

Cosmas Butunyi

 
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Posted by on April 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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