BY EZEKIEL MUTUA
At independence 47 years ago, Kenya’s founding fathers pinpointed three national calamities that needed to be tackled by the new nation — ignorance, poverty and disease.
It is often forgotten by the younger generations that Kenya was just emerging from a decade of liberation war and the country of only eight million had suffered a huge national trauma and pathology.
The education system devised for Africans by the colonialists was designed to impart only basic artisanal skills. Ignorance was therefore rife throughout the land, with only a tiny elite that had been educated overseas having any real education and world class skills.
Poverty was all-pervasive among Kenyans under the 70-year-long colonial project, culminating in the imposition of the State of Emergency in October 1952, when the war for independence began in earnest.
Disease, the handmaiden of both ignorance and poverty, was widespread throughout the land, with only rudimentary medical services available to the Africans.
When the 32 million or so Kenyans who have been born since Independence look back on that era, we wonder how our forbears survived to produce such beautiful, hopeful, forward-looking and progressive people like us! However, the going has not been easy and much remains to be done. The journey to the New Kenya of today under an enlightened constitutional dispensation has been long, arduous, torturous, sometimes treacherous and often bloodstained. What’s more, to the Death’s Head list of national calamities identified by the Founding Fathers at Uhuru, we have ourselves added two truly terrible categories — the two-headed scourge of corruption and impunity and the problem of organised crime, particularly the depradations of drug dealing.
Poverty and disease remain particularly persistent problems. The population explosion has contributed to poverty and two varieties of disease in particular have seized many Kenyans by the throat in recent decades — HIV/Aids and all manner of cancers. The Kenyan countryside is still very largely without electricity.
But there have been great milestones, too. The first generation of primary school pupils educated in a fees-free environment has graduated to secondary school. The M-Pesa mobile money experiment which used Kenya as a laboratory has set a precedent and templates for the whole world. David Rudisha’s athletics superstardom has done us proud. Vision 2030 is one of the most ambitious yet most viable socio-economic blueprints ever devised anywhere and is well underway. The ongoing vast infrastructural building projects are unprecedented in our history and quite simply breathtaking.
One more field of human endeavour, which is at the centre of all other strivings, in which Kenya has done well and is all poised to do much, better is my own field of specialisation and chosen career — news media and public communications. This fact hit home with special impact recently when I was invited to officiate over the launch of two landmark publications — The Media We Want, subtitled The Kenya Media Vulnerabilities Study, by Peter Oriare Mbeke, Wilson Ugangu and Rosemary Okello-Orlale, and African Media Barometer, sub-titled The First Homegrown Analysis of the Media Landscape in Africa, published by Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in Kenya.
FES commissioned the African Woman and Child Feature Service (AWC) and the Media Diversity Centre (MDC) to investigate the factors underlying media behaviour and make recommendations on how the sector could be reformed in a manner that would approximate the population’s expectations. Among other things, the study, The Media We Want, found that Kenyan media have for decades operated in a fluid and unpredictable as well as swiftly changing political, cultural, social, economic and technological environment.
The study also confirmed what the Government has been acutely aware of for years — the liberalisation of the broadcast sector was fundamentally unsophisticated and unstructured, and has resulted in haphazard growth and lack of a clear regulatory framework in the sector in Kenya. But it also acknowledged the fact that under the new constitution all this is about to be radically rectified with the rollout of media legislation over the next three years.
Kenya’s democratic space has expanded in direct proportion to advancements in the media in the fields of diversity, professionalism and access to information. In other words, the adage that a well informed citizenry is an empowered populace is to be increasingly seen in action in Kenya 47 years into independence.
The more the media have focused on developmental, poverty reduction and wealth creation issues, the more that Kenyans have become self-aware regarding their rights, obligations, duties, challenges and opportunities.
Today there is a plurality of publications and radio and TV channels, both local and international, covering every conceivable subject.
Thinking Kenyans are today as well informed as any other people on the planet, a fact that has rolled back ignorance and enhanced access to education, knowledge and skills. The convergence of ICTs on the global platform of the Internet has completely transformed the outreach and impact of the media. In Kenya, as elsewhere, the media are finally becoming the door to prosperity and the window on the world for millions.
Jamhuri salutes the fact that we are free men and women in the community of nations and that we have made contributions both to the nation and humanity and have excelled in a number of fields. And the media are inextricably intertwined in the Jamhuri story, chronicling, showcasing, analysing and commenting in ways that capture history as it happens, making knowledge truly empowering for millions of Kenyans into the second half-century of Independence.
(The writer is the Director of Information and Public Communications of the Republic of Kenya.