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The East African : Nov 10th 2014
NOVEMBER 8-14, 2014 OF UNDERSTANDING THE REGION we have to change what we did for each country? We entertained the idea of doing editions but then we thought that would destroy the regional nature of the paper. How to navigate the political terrain in these countries still remains a big challenge for The EastAfrican. One of the biggest risk areas for media in Africa is the political climate and you have to manage that because it defines the freedom you enjoy and generates much of the news you cover. How did you manage it in Uganda where a military regime under President Yoweri Museveni had just taken over? How did you manage it in Tanzania, which on paper was a democracy, but was and still is a one-party state? Then there was Rwanda with its problems. How did you navigate these difficulties? The EastAfrican prides itself in selling credibility. How did you manage objectivity in your reporting? One of the things I found myself doing was travelling to either Uganda or Tanzania every two weeks. I realised quite early that I needed to understand their politics, the people and their culture. I needed a deeper understanding of who were the newsmakers and what were the biggest stories. It was also about making friends and partnerships and that is how I got to meet Charles Onyango-Obbo and began that long association with him. The Monitor in Uganda, for instance, became a great ally rather than a competitor. They were on the ground and they realised very quickly that we were not a threat and that we could in fact become very useful allies. We built partnerships and that helped us whenever we were pursuing a story. They were reliable and well informed people and they would tell you whether a story was factual or not. We also went for journalists who would come close to the standards we aspired to have. There was a perception that you went for journalists not trained in the Daily Nation way. The Daily Nation is so dominant that some even think unless journalism is done the Daily Nation way, it is not journalism. And having been in and out of the Nation, I had a chance to evaluate what was done from outside. I realised that unless you are tough on people, any journalist you ask to write a story would do it the Nation way because that was the standard. If you wanted your product to be different, then you had to make sure you don’t do it the Nation way. At The EastAfrican, we realised that if we had a majority of writers from the Daily Nation, we would not be able to differentiate the two. We had to get the identity of that paper right and make sure it was not confused with Daily Nation. Even the marketing people had warned us about that. Did you upset the powers that be? A newspaper without conflict with the government is a newspaper that is not doing something right. There were many instances, but in Kenya, the one that I remember most was the story we broke on the construction of the bullet factory in Eldoret. You know in the Moi era everything was regarded with suspicion, even things that were legitimate. At the time, it was seen as a wasteful project and some felt there were ulterior motives on the part of the government. The suspicion was that Kenya was planning to export bullets to conflict areas where the West had imposed arms embargoes. The other angle was that it was probably going to benefit a few people in the government. We had so much detail that the authorities reached out to us to know our sources. We had many sources including the sponsor of that factory, Belgium, where there was also a lot of opposition to the factory. What story was the biggest you ever covered? We broke many stories. I think one of the things that set The EastAfrican apart was our ability to scoop other newspapers. I remember the scoop in Burundi, when the East African leaders met Pierre Buyoya, and the meeting got so tense that the heads of state were banging the tables. Tanzanian president Ali Hassan Mwinyi gave him an ultimatum, that if he did not abide by their conditions they were going to invade Burundi in two days. Now, we had a source, whom I still have to protect because he is still high up in government, who gave us a blow-by-blow account of what happened at that meeting. When we ran the story, there was concern from the Kenyan and Ugandan foreign ministries and the heads of state were complaining but nobody challenged the accuracy of the story. What do you think of the direction regional integration is taking? Well, you all know that integration has been modified at every step. There were a lot of expectations at the beginning. Many of us thought this thing would be up and running in five or six years. People like (first EAC secretary general and former secretary to the Kenya Cabinet Francis) Muthaura were very realistic — a very patient man, he told us whenever we visited him in Arusha that he is only there to sow the seeds; other people will create this community. He was at the helm for nearly 10 years. We had a lot of assumptions about other members of the community which have been disabused over time. Kenyans now understand their neighbours better and vice versa. There were also expectations that people had learnt the lessons of the 1977 break-up and would do things differently. We all now know these assumptions were wrong. For instance, we just did not realise how deep the mistrust Tanzanians have for Kenyans go. This is still at the heart of the problems facing the community now. We have to give credit to the governments of East Africa, the EAC has survived change in governments and has not died. It is in many ways what was envisaged. With these realities, is a political federation feasible? No. Not in the next 10-15 years and if it happens it will be the undoing of the Community. I have always been very apprehensive about a political federation. I think the Common Market is necessary and it should stop there. We know the realities of political systems in these countries. You cannot even unite Kenya to have an efficient political system. You are multiplying that problem by uniting the five countries, not to mention South Sudan. However, integration in terms of economics and other non-political levels we need it like yesterday. A monetary union can work but it will be problematic. It will require some serious nurturing because you cannot separate economics from politics. Which leader in the region left a big impression on you from your interactions? I’m not sure whether it is as a result of the experience I had then or from what we see now, but I see the greatest hope in Rwanda President Paul Kagame. He struck me as a hands-on manager, deeply immersed in the things that drove the government’s agenda. I felt like he was not just a political leader, he was a man who went into the office in the morning, had a tray which was full and tried to clear it by five o’clock. What disappointed me was the impression that he is reluctant to open up the political space but I’m willing to allow for the fact that we do not understand Rwanda. You need to have lived through the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. Any highlights of your tenure? I’ll leave that for the readers to judge. I know we started with an idea and ended up with a paper that is selling 30,000 copies, a paper that at least even (former US president) Bill Clinton was proud to announce that he read regularly. | READER’S TAKE | MIIRO STEPHEN | VII Miiro Stephen, 52, a businessman at MAK Stationeries in Mbarara town reads The EastAfrican at his residence in Rugazi cell Mbarara. Picture: Colleb Mugum Neutral stand even on the most emotive of issues J ust over 20 years ago, a series of teasing advertisements began to appear in the Ugandan newspapers. As the days drew close to November, it became clearer that the campaign was about a new regional newspaper that was to be launched. Come November 7, 1994, The EastAfrican was unveiled to audiences in East Africa. I was working in Mbarara, far from the main launch activities in Kampala, but I still managed to get a copy from the local newspaper vendor. It was the culmination of the moment many of us had been waiting for and it was immediately clear that we were dealing with a unique product. Grey but very neat, The EastAfrican looked different from the papers we were used to. The headlines and pictures were small and you got the impression that the paper did not want to shout. Yet the effect of its overall appearance was to create so much contrast with the other papers that it stood out. Buying that first edition was a product of habit. I am a lover of the written word and before that I had been an ardent reader of titles as diverse as the German Tribune, which graphically looked like The EastAfrican; the Pyongyang Times from North Korea and its antonym, The Korean Herald. By the time The EastAfrican hit the streets, these newspapers had become less available so, for me, the new arrival was filling a gap. The paper did not disappoint and since then I have read every edition put out. I liked the coherence, sustained and in-depth analysis of news and the feature stories. The paper also gave us a sense of what was happening elsewhere in East Africa and beyond without the need to spend money on different publications. The EastAfrican’s strongest point lies in its neutral reportage of even the most emotive issues, which attribute puts the paper in its own class. The breadth of its coverage also means there is almost certainly something for everyone. It is also a decent family paper that can be read from anywhere any time without fear of stumbling upon morally repugnant content. This is a plus not only for the paper but for the readers especially parents with children of newspaper reading age. It also has a wealth of information making it educative. I am a trader and my interest is normally in business and new innovations in the field, so my focus is always on the business pages. The Magazine, featuring various topics, also is worth reading, not forgetting Joachim Buwembo’s often humorous but educative articles. Again through the years, The EastAfrican has distinguished itself as a paper which does not bend before by the political wind, charting out its course by deliberately avoiding sensational and confrontational reporting. The paper has an objective and balanced approach to issues in the news. It is for this reason that after I have read the various newspapers during the week, I turn to The EastAfrican for an authoritative touch of the news of the week — what it says counts a lot. Thinking about the 20-year journey, one cannot forget the prophets of doom. The very week the paper first came out, it came under severe attack from the defunct Uganda Confidential, which predicted that the concept of a regional business newspaper would fail not least because the papers writers in Kampala were a “motley crew.” Twenty years later, we as readers owe a lot to their courage and perseverance. As the paper embarks on another score of years, I would wish to see more reportage on the local or grassroots scene for a wider coverage of pertinent issues touching on our community. Issues to do with health, development innovations, the efforts of local communities to change their lives, success stories and failed ventures and causes for failure or success should form the core of reporting. I know and trust that since you embarked on covering the region, you have built the capacity to dig deeper into the above issues affecting the people. Congratulations to the management of Nation Media Group and staff of The EastAfrican newspaper upon attaining 20 years in the news field. We, the readers are partners in your progress. Miiro Stephen is a longtime reader of The EastAfrican from Mbarara, Uganda.
Nov 3rd 2014
Nov 17th 2014