The Aga Khan Deserves a Medal – and the Gratitude of All Kenyans

When in 1958 he set out to publish a newspaper which would “identify with and reflect the aspirations of the African majority in Kenya” it seemed like an act of supreme folly to many other potential investors.

But the Aga Khan, purely on moral grounds and as a matter of principle, was determined that there must be a strong and independent media in Kenya.

He knew that it was something the country would need.

Kenya has benefitted enormously from this strength in our media establishment.

And for this the Aga Khan deserves a medal.

– Charles Njonjo, former Attorney General of Kenya (1963 – 1979), and Minister of Constitutional Affairs (1980 – 1983)

GOOD OLD DAYS: Founding President Jomo Kenyatta with His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan .<br /> Kenya and several other countries in Africa and Asia, have immensely benefited from His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan's projects in education, health, media, communication, tourism and various other spheres of development. (Image credit: The Star)
GOOD OLD DAYS: Founding President Jomo Kenyatta with His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan .
Kenya and several other countries in Africa and Asia, have immensely benefited from His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan’s projects in education, health, media, communication, tourism and various other spheres of development. (Image credit: The Star)

… there is one other man who played an equally great role in ensuring that Kenya is what it is today and that was His Highness the Aga Khan.

What Kenyatta did in in the political arena, in the establishing of political traditions and political norms of freedom (which often are more important even than the law itself) the Aga Khan did for the media.

Now you have to appreciate the Aga Khan did not have to set up Nation media. He had many better and much safer investments available to him.

But the Aga Khan, purely on moral grounds and as a matter of principle, was determined that there must be a strong and independent media in Kenya.

He knew that it was something the country would need and he devoted his financial resources to ensuring that this happened – even though back then nobody could have foreseen that his idea would grow into the Nairobi Stock Exchange blue-chip, which is now the Nation Media Group.

But once The Nation came into the arena; once there was competition; then you had a real media establishment. If one paper did not report something, the other one would, in the competition for circulation.

That’s the sort of thing you need in order to have a vibrant media sector. And the Aga Khan played an indispensable role in bringing this about.

I look back with pride on the fact that I played a small role in this – by taking steps to block a hostile takeover of the Daily Nation by local political and business interests, who wanted to compel His Highness the Aga Khan to sell the paper to them.

I knew very well that The Daily Nation would not remain a neutral and professionally run publication in their hands.

Misrepresentations, vilification, spreading of lies – all these I have endured at the hands of the Kenyan media. But none of that has ever made me waver from my conviction that a free and independent media is absolutely central to our functioning as a democracy.

But my bigger point in all this is the Aga Khan played a fundamental role in helping us establish a strong independent media establishment in Kenya.

The media provides an essential component of our institutional checks and balances. And to me, when a president or deputy president says that the local newspapers are only useful for wrapping meat or fish, I know very well that they are, in reality, acknowledging their failed attempts to control the media.

And for this I thank my old friend the Aga Khan. He did the country a great service in helping set up The Nation and its affiliated media products, thus introducing a competitive media establishment in Kenya which now has at least five powerful players: Nation Media itself; the RadioAfrica Group; The Standard Group; the MediaMax Group; and the Royal Media Group.

Kenya has benefitted enormously from this strength in our media establishment. And for this the Aga Khan deserves a medal.

BY CHARLES NJONJO. Published August 31, 2015

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One thought

  1. I have always had deep respect for the Daily Nation newspaper in Kenya. I am a believer that the media should not and should never have political players in the mix since they will ruin everything

    Like

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