The Nation – Sixty years down thre road and still going strong in Kenya

Posted: 12 February, 2020 | Category: Book Reviews Category: Features & Analysis

By TREVOR GRUNDY

 

One of Kenya’s best known journalists, Cyprian Fernandes, is putting the finishing touches to a private circulation book that tells part of the story of one of Africa’s great newspapers, The Nation, on the eve of its 60th birthday next month.

The book will contain articles written by some of Kenya’s most famous writers and photographers and is a follow-up to Gerard Loughran’s “The Birth of a Nation – The Story of a Newspaper in Kenya” (I.B Tauris, 2010) which appeared on the 50th anniversary of the Kenyan tabloid.

The Nation is owned by the Aga Khan, head of the Ismaili Community.

The daily was founded in March 1960 and it started small.

But by October that year it went offset, the first daily in the world to that outside of America, and it soon attracted some adventurous and highly competent expatriate journalist and management executives from different parts of the world.

It was not until 1964 – three years after Independence – that The Nation had its first black editor, the legendary Hilary Ng’weno who was followed by George Githi, Boaz Omori and Joe Rodrigues.

Loughran’s book ended in 2010.

The baton is now in the hands of Cyprian Fernandes who long ago left Kenya for Australia where he has made a name for himself as a journalist and author.

He left Kenya fast and for a very good reason.

After publishing a critical article about how rich the Kenyatta family had become since Independence, Cyprian’s wife, Rufina, received an envelope with a bullet in it, a bullet and a small card with her husband’s name on it.

 

The Aga Khan was still a student at Harvard University when he decided that an independent newspaper would be a crucial contribution in East Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy. He turned to a former Fleet Street editor Michael Curtis, to get things moving at a time when colonialism was coming to an end and nationalist movements demanding one person/ one vote were everywhere.

The Nation supported black nationalists at a time when the commanding heights of Kenya’s economy were completely under the control of either settler Europeans or Asians.

But despite all the support it gave to Jomo Kenyatta and his ruling party the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) love between the authorities and The Nation was short-lived.

Over the years, The Nation’s editorial staff came into serious conflict with various Kenyan leaders, especially the man known as the Black Englishman, Attorney – General Charles Njonjo and Kenyatta’s successor, Daniel Arap Moi.

But it survived years of arrests by a series of governments who equated constructive criticism with sinister sabotage.

A decade ago Gerard  Loughran’s book earned a place on the library shelves of colleges specializing in media studies around the world.

Almost every journalist who ever worked in Kenya has a copy of that book on his or her bookshelf.

Cyprian Fernandes hopes for a similar success and details about how to get your hands and eyes on to this new book will be shown on this website in a few weeks from now.