BY TAZMIN JAMAL
Summary: When we asked Nairobi’s Tazmin Jamal to write a short piece about the Nation Media, which was founded in the late 1950’s by His Highness the Aga Khan, she went the extra step to interview a key staff member at the newspaper’s head offices in Nairobi as well as approached numerous Nation readers to give their views on their favourite newspaper. We sincerely thank Tazmin for her great effort and enthusiasm. Her informative piece appears below under 3 sub-titles. — Ed.
“When I think back to the founding of the Nation, and when I reflect on how much has changed and how far we have come, I think especially about the hopes and dreams with which we launched this company. Our goal then was to create a news medium that belonged to the whole of the nation of Kenya — and that of course is why we chose our company name. That dream moved ahead in a big way when we took the company to the public shareholding market, so that today a majority of Nation shares are owned by the general public of Kenya” — His Highness the Aga Khan, March 17, 2016.
1. The Aga Khan and the Nation: A brief history
His Highness the Aga Khan, Their Excellencies President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, President Kagame of Rwanda and Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga touring an exhibition commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Nation Media Group (NMG) with Editorial Director of NMG Joseph Odindo. AKDN/Gary Otte.
“A newspaper’s primary office is the gathering of news. At peril of its soul, it must see that the supply is not taunted. Comment is free but facts are sacred” — C. P. Scott, Editor, Manchester Guardian, 1926.
The Aga Khan’s foresight
Michael Curtis, at 34, was Fleet Street’s youngest editor when he took over Charles Dickens’ old chair at the News Chronicle in London, 1954. At a crucial time at the Chronicle, he was introduced to the newly enthroned 49th Ismaili Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, Mawlana Hazar Imam, who asked Curtis to accompany him on his enthronement ceremonies in East Africa and South Asia as his publicity organiser.
Curtis later would recall in an interview:
“The Aga Khan was obviously interested in newspapers during that tour. I said to him: ‘Look, I better go, I don’t think this PR stuff is really my métier and I want to get back to journalism’.
“The Aga Khan then said, ‘Well, how about starting a newspaper in Kenya’?”
“I made it very clear that I could not be involved if he wanted a newspaper for the Ismaili community and he said immediately, ‘No, no, that’s the last thing I want. I want a completely independent paper’.”
“He wanted a newspaper to give a voice to Kenya’s nationalists, who were not being heard in the political debate.”
Seen above is an image of the Number 1 issue of The Nation, dated March 20, 1960. Price 50 cts. Initially the paper started off as a weekend Sunday paper. The daily weekday edition was introduced later in the year on October 3. Image: Mohib Ebrahim Archives, Vancouver.
With that began a long engagement between Michael Curtis and the Aga Khan spanning several decades. First, he was at the Nation Group for several years, and when he stepped down in 1977 at the culmination of the process of Africanising the Nation Group, Curtis had also pioneered the introduction of the first web-offset presses installed outside the United States. He also increased the Nation’s daily circulation to a healthy 165,000 with a readership reputed to touch three million. Curtis then moved to the Aga Khan’s Headquarters in Aiglemont, France, where he oversaw the Ismaili Imamat’s rapidly expanding non-denominational health and educational activities throughout South Asia and East Africa, until his retirement in 1994. He died from cancer in 2004 at the age 84.
Kenya’s population in 1959 was 6.4 million when the Nation group first got rolling on 28th April, 1959 with the acquisition for £10,000 of a tiny Kiswahili weekly Taifa (meaning ‘Nation’). Nairobi at that time was the prime city between South Africa and Egypt.
A few months later, in June 1959, Michael Curtis would report:
“There is every prospect that the company will be earning a respectable profit within two, or at the most three years. It was never in doubt that the Aga Khan wanted to extend his reach beyond the borders of Kenya.”
The Ismaili Imam had a vision to have an influence on the social health of Kenya and the under developing world. Taifa was swiftly curved into a daily, an English-language Sunday paper was inaugurated in March 1960 and the Daily Nation appeared in the stands in October 1960. By early 1961, the Sunday Nation was being distributed in British-ruled Aden, and the Aga Khan suggested majestically:
“At some future date, we might move south into Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland and west into Rwanda, Burundi and the ex-Belgian Congo. I hope EAN [East African Newspapers] will one day have its own company, flying newspapers over half the continent.”
Bringing of Journalism Education in Kenya
Top: Jomo Kenyatta signs the instruments of Independence; at left how the Nation carried the story of Kenya’s independence celebrations of Friday December 13, 1963. The paper cost 30 cents. Photo: 50 Golden Years, Nation Media Group Souvenir Issue, via AKDN.
In 1962 the Aga Khan asked the International Press Institute (IPI) to organise a three-month training course for African sub-editors. By June 1963, Nation journalists were attending IPI classes. The Switzerland-based IPI ran a training establishment in Nairobi and in Lagos. Specialist trainer Frank Barton managed the Nairobi centre, which became the School of Journalism at the University of Nairobi. Barton reflected in an interview:
“I got to Kenya in 1963 and we trained a helluva lot of Nation people, four or five on every course. Our job was to put black faces behind desks. I remember Michael Curtis saying, ‘We want to get as many Africans in as early as possible, how long will that take?’
“I said, ‘You’re talking five-ten years if you start now’.”
Barton continued: “And they started right away. There were very few black journalists at the time and you had to hand it to Michael, it must have been hell in the early days.”
By 1964, Curtis was able to state that the reporting staff had been more or less Africanised.
Staff of the “Daily Nation” and “Taifa Leo” in a jovial mood as the Mayor of Mombasa (white cap) visits their Nairobi office in 1964. The Mayor is seen talking to Harry Sambo of Taifa, while Joe Rodrigues of the Nation watches from across. Bill Fairbairn is seen next to the Mayor looking straight ahead. Photo: Bill Fairbairn Archives, Ottawa.
The late Kenyan President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, addressing hundreds of thousands of supporters at a political rally in Kenya. The photo appeared in the “Daily Nation” around the 20th of October, 1965. The photo was shared with the editor of this blog by Nation reporter, Bill Fairbairn, who was present at the rally. Photo: Bill Fairbairn Archives, Ottawa.
The Nation goes public
After investing more than £1 million in His Highness’s first project (at least £ 12 million at today’s rates), the group moved into profit in 1968.
By 1971, the newspaper company was bringing in revenue of £250,000 per annum. Kenya’s 10th year of independence was one of its finest, with export earnings from agriculture up, foreign investment flooding in and a balance of payments surplus of £ 96 million. In the month of the stock-market listing, the NPP (Nations Printers and Publishers Ltd.) Board was told that forecast profit –- before tax for March 1974 was £361,000 and the Aga Khan loans of £1.3 million had been squared in full.
The Aga Khan had always projected that the Group should go public, with more than 8,000, mostly Kenyan shareholders; once it accomplished financial security. In March 1973, it was decided that the Nation should go public in September. The Aga Khan availed 40% of his holding, 1.2 million shares at 5/= each, and this offer was more than twice over-subscribed among 3,200 different individuals and institutions. This reduced the Aga Khan shareholding to 60%, which was later lowered to 44.73% ownership. Another issue in 1988 was almost three times oversubscribed, reducing the Aga Khan’s shareholding to 45%, while 10,000 individual Kenyans bought a stake in their own newspapers. The Aga Khan became the principal rather than majority shareholder. Two stock offers made it a Kenyan majority-owned and managed company, with transparent, indigenous command and control. In 2003 the Aga Khan transferred His 23.9 million personal shares to the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development [AKFED], which worked to bring jobs and services to poor countries.
On 1st September, 1978, during the funeral of President Jomo Kenyatta, Nation readers were presented with a view of soldiers in bright red uniforms marching by the gun carriage that carried Kenyatta’s coffin, shielded by the green, red and black national flag. Overhead was the signal word ‘Farewell’. When the paper was opened out, the photograph doubled in scope and the complete headline read ‘The final farewell.’ The colour was rare through those days. Photo: 50 Golden Years, Nation Media Group Souvenir Issue, via AKDN.
The Aga Khan’s response to UNESCO’S new world information order
During the time of President Moi there were controversial proposals by UNESCO for a new world information order. The developed nations strongly opposed a proposal to license journalists, arguing that this was a way towards government control while the developing countries protested against the imbalance in the flow of new and superficial, sensationalist and belittling reporting of their affairs. The Aga Khan suggested another option to the new order:
“Why not turn newspaper companies and news organisations between the developed world and developing world? These could provide mutually beneficial exchanges of managerial, technological and editorial experience and news?”
The Aga Khan himself encouraged long exchange visits with journalistic and management counterparts at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida; under a twinning planning initiated by him in 1981.
Simultaneously, the Aga Khan advised the Nation Group to explore the postgraduate level for more steady candidates. Over the years, the Nation broadened its training policies from in-house and School of Journalism courses to include postgraduate study at the University of Wales where many senior editors accomplished a one year MA course; attachments to universities in Europe and the U.S.A.
Over the years, journalistic standards improved immeasurably. This happened because the suggestion by the Aga Khan was widely welcomed by delegates. As the Aga Khan’s idea was spontaneously implemented by the Nation, a rapport was observed of numerous Nation managers cross the Atlantic in succeeding years.
The Nation and the digital age
His Highness the Aga Khan speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Nation Media Group to recognise long serving staff, distributors and directors.
The trend throughout the world since the advent of the worldwide web is producing and distributing newspapers on the Internet. Hard copy sales of newspapers have declined considerably. However the Daily Nation and its sister paper Sunday Nation had a market share of 53% in 2011, which increased to 74% in 2013 with their main competitor being The Standard, published by the Standard Group. The Nation is the most sold daily in Kenya, with a circulation of around 1,700,000 copies.
Its digital editions are accessible free of charge, and the site’s daily hit rate is more than three million.
In March 2016, Nation Media Group commissioned a new state-of-the-art printing press in Nairobi. This facility has capacity to print 86,000 newspapers per hour. Today, the Nation media includes the Daily Nation, the Saturday Nation, the Sunday Nation, Business Daily Africa, the Swahili Taifa Leo, Daily Monitor in Uganda and The Citizen in Tanzania)
The Nation’s first editorial cartoon in 1960. It reads: “He’s is a cute little fellow, but will he behave?” Photo: 50 Golden Years, Nation Media Group Souvenir Issue, via AKDN.
Over the years The Nation has enabled the voiceless to speak; it spoke out for the conscientious, fortified the toothless, accused the remorseful, and derided the larcenist. Nation asked the obdurate questions, investigated, compelled, persevered, exhumed and caused distress to those who lacked integrity. Nation had to bare, over many years, severe authoritarianism and unrelenting aggression and to do so it needed resolute valour from the journalistic worth and an assiduous, risk taking idealism from the ownership. One of its prized mottos that used to hang on the newspaper wall was:
‘Aim for accuracy,
Check your facts
Then check again.’
The Nation Media Group was founded by the Aga Khan at the time of intense economic uncertainty in the crepuscular light, of empire; which has grown to be the largest publishing organisation in East and Central Africa.
The Nation Building with the red telecommunications tower stands on Nairobi’s Kimathi Street. Photo: By Arthurbuliva at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21877253
If we reflect on the past sixty years, we can observe the targets the Aga Khan has met, innovative technology he has embraced and a courageous reaffirmation of the commitment to the truth in journalism.
Finally, we can celebrate that Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, with all his efforts, from the time he became the Imam has brought out the awareness, that, the democratic concept of Press independence is most desirable and by far the most effective method of national and international communication globally!
2. Readers on their favourite newspaper
His Highness the Aga Khan admires the first print copy of the Daily Nation off the new printing press with, from right to left: Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, Mr. Joe Mucheru; Head of Production, Gideon Aswani; NMG Group CEO, Joe Muganda; the Governor of Machakos County, Dr. Alfred Mutua; and Chairman of NMG Board, Mr. Wilfred Kiboro. Photo: AKDN/Aly Ramji.
As I was preparing this brief piece about the Nation, I felt that I should find out what the Nation’s readers felt about the newspaper. The following are edited transcripts of my interviews with Kitui Mukhepi and Denis Simiyu, both day guards at an estate, Tony Kimani, a barber, and Michael Onsarigo, a mechanical engineer. All the interviews were conducted between noon and 7 pm on May 9, 2017 in Nairobi. The responses to my question as to why the Nation was their newspaper of preference were as follows:
Kitui Mukhep: I read Sunday Nation because I like the story of Mwalimu Andrew. He informs a lot about Western Kenya, which is my part of the world. Mwalimu talks about people, culture, problems of the teachers, etc.
The paper reflects news on ‘heated politics’ –- where a tremendous amount of information is described about politics, what is happening now; as we are in the midst of the elections. Nation Media is truthful in politics.
The world page is very comprehensive with the international news, and I even enjoy Nation’s articles on sports.
Denis Simiyu: I thoroughly enjoy reading the Daily Nation regularly. The writers know how to make the stories interesting. The format is excellent. The writers know how to attract the readers, as the story flows smoothly. It is fun reading these stories and one gets educated with the use of different vocabulary, which improves the proficiency of English. Nation informs us what is happening in the country and in our environment. I think that the Nation is the best newspaper among the others! It has brilliant colouring effects, which makes it appealing for the visual people.
I enjoy reading articles written by Yusuf K. Dawood. He talks about real experiences of the patients and the operations which take place. He narrates the procedures carried out. This gives an enlightenment if one would have to go through a surgery. As he is writing about the topics, Mr. Dawood is also creating humour, which livens the scenario and makes it more alluring to the readers.
Tony Kimani: I enjoy reading the Daily Nation, because of the sports section. Over the weekend there is an article about agriculture, where there are fantastic tips on farming. These are my favourites. The agriculture aspect has influenced my life, as I use some of those methods at home, which Nation describes and I find it a very productive advice.
I find Nation open-minded, transparent; even when it comes to politics. Nation Media has a positive impact on the Kenyans. It informs the people in all the sectors, it is very holistic and has very interesting articles.
The NTV has the same principles of being transparent. It even has cool cartoons for the Children. Another awesome feature about NTV is the channel on National Geography, which makes it very valuable in terms of information.
Michael Onsarigo: I read online as a preference. I like reading the articles on sports, the sport activities in England. The Nation elaborates the news to make it interesting.
In terms of politics of our country, the writer goes deeply and the journalists investigate intensely.
I read the Nation online all the time, in the morning and after work. The Nation news is very broad, gives a lot of information and important information.
The discussion of politics is there every day on the front pages now, but before it was less on the front page.
I like reading about cars on weekly news.
The pieces on opinion are very enlightening, they broaden our minds on different perspectives.
There is health professionalism coverage from many places, it is a universal topic.
3. A corporate insight
His Highness the Aga Khan delivering the Founder’s Address at the Pan Africa Media conference, celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Nation Media Group. AKDN/Gary Otte.
I also met Mr. Clifford Machoka, the Head of Corporate and Regulatory Affairs Department at the Nation Place in Nairobi, to get his insight into the newspaper. He began by handing me a copy of the book ‘Birth of a Nation’ which he said would answer all the questions I had. He also presented me with a Nation notepad as a gift. He admitted that because he had been at the Nation for only 1 year, he might not be the best person to answer all the questions, but here is his comprehensive response to my question on how he felt the Nation and its founder, the Aga Khan, had made an impact in Kenya:
Mr. Clifford Machoka: Starting the Nation newspaper and the other annexed media has brought ‘voice to the voiceless.’ The Nation gave a claim for democracy, i.e. it allowed ‘Freedom of Speech’. Nation was at the forefront for the Multi-Party Democracy.
In 2010, Nation promulgated the constitution. Nation made people widely aware about the new constitution. Democratic values, social values and economic values were expanded through the Nation Media. Nation moved spontaneously without fear or favour. The reputation of Nation Media is ‘fearless’. The Nation Media has a mantra of a promise of TRUTH!
The Aga Khan’s vision is to have the media change the society for the better. Whenever the Aga Khan interacts with the Group, he always reminds the Group to give voice to the voiceless.
The Nation Media according to the Aga Khan’s aspiration is for Africa, for the Africans. The Aga Khan took public for the public owned shares for the Kenyans. He gave the Kenyans an opportunity to own shares. The Nation Media is the only media which has gone public.
His Highness the Aga Khan with Mr. Michael Curtis (1920 – 2004) of the Nation Media Group. Photo: Azhar Chaudhry. Sultan Jessa Collection.
As a young man of 24 years, the Nation Media was the Aga Khan’s first company, his first ‘baby’. The Nation Media expanded in Kenya and became a regional force in Eastern Africa.
The Nation Media is a company that takes a cause of which you can see the results because the company gained the credibility of saying the TRUTH.
Through the flaws, the Nation Media strived to ensure to be objective, fair, factual, transparent and at all particular points of time the journalists stick to the policies.
Throughout its interactions, the Media uses ‘critical thinking’. The sense of integrity at the Nation Media is noshy.
The Nation Media is the only media which has the Office of Public editor, it has the only independent Public Editor who takes care if there are any complaints from the public and the people who operate the Nation Media are not shy to accept that they have gone wrong.
Nation Media has boosted Kenya’s way of thinking, it has increased the public opinion of the Kenyans. It has contributed to knowledge, which has the power to push for democracy, constitution and the economy.
The Nation Media has a wider scope and increases the public knowledge. It aims to educate, it gives a form of information for the public, entertainment for social values and education; which in turn pushes the nation forward.
The Nation Media has a civic duty for various reasons. The Nation Media gave awareness to the people about their constitutional rights during the multi-party period and brought out the awareness about ‘what we are not’.
The mission of the Nation Media is to inform, entertain and educate; to promote literacy -– open to everything and all the benefits. The Nation Media is an Anchor Institute for Tusome Program, for the Early Grade Reading Activity, for between the classes of 1 -– 3 grades. More than 12 million books have been launched. The Anchor Institute has printed complimentary story books to give to all the public schools in Kenya.
Being a signature initiative and having a focus, the Nation Media needs to take a frontline, promoting literacy in Kenya and move to East Africa.
The target of the company is to empower East Africa through literacy to the society.
Tazmin: Thank you so much Mr. Clifford, your answers have been ‘eye opener’. You are so passionate and proud of your leadership and the institution. I am very impressed with your sense of commitment and diligence, which reflects tremendous amount of zest!
Date posted: May 5, 2017.
Tazmin Jamal is a freelance writer. She is a qualified teacher by profession and has written articles in the past for education and health related issues.
Tazmin obtained her teaching qualification, a Bachelors of Philosophy in International Teacher Education, from Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. She has taught at international schools in Nairobi, and has added qualification and experience in the fields of Multiple Intelligences, Very Able Children and the Early Childhood Development Program.
In the recent past, she has been awarded with a certificate from the Sustainable Developmental Goals Academy for Early Childhood Development.
She is passionately looking forward to writing more about His Highness the Aga Khan Hazar Imam in her future endeavours.
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For links to all the posts in this special project on His Highness the Aga Khan, please see the drop down menu bar at top of this page or click on Table of Contents. Also join/like Barakah’s faceboook page http://www.facebook.com/1000fold.
- Digital newspaper, http://epaper.nationmedia.com/;
- Press opening in 2016, http://www.ismaili.net/heritage/node/32138;
- Family Safari, H. H. The Aga Khan on Kenya Tour, Pictures – Azhar Chaudhry;
- Birth of a Nation, The Story of a Newspaper in Kenya, by Gerard Loughran; and
- Newsletter, Souvenir issue, Vol. 6, No. 4, December 1986.
Please also watch video entitled “A milestone in media technology: Opening of the Nation Media Group printing plant” by clicking https://youtu.be/A-2TI-334wU.