In the wake of a biased review of my book, “Raila Odinga’s Stolen Presidency” by The Nation newspaper, and in relation to enquiries and comments by people who have read the book, it is prudent to highlight what the book says about the paper so that the sloppy review can be put into context. Excerpts below are drawn from Chapter thirteen (The anatomy of the 2007 election rigging) of the book.
Just before and after the Referendum on a new Constitution, which Kibaki lost, Kenya’s Daily Nation newspaper was notoriously accused (rightfully or wrongfully) by politicians, research groups and opinion pollsters alike of being pro-Kibaki government and anti-Raila allegedly because the paper was being managed by a clique of Kikuyu barons, the same ethnic group as Kibaki. A poll conducted by the Strategic Public Relations and Research (SPRR) on behalf of UNDP noted “…a general bias in favour of the President in both State-owned and private media.”(313) At the time the SPRR poll was conducted, the result showed that The Nation had given Kibaki “space coverage” that totaled 741, Raila 532 and Kalonzo was trailing with 645.(314)
Top staff who were promoted at The Nation before elections and who were Kikuyus were supposedly entrusted with a special responsibility of helping Kibaki’s election campaign at the propaganda level and at the expense of Raila’s team. For conspiracy theorists, the plan was to have The Nation employ a level of bias in favour of Kibaki. This theory almost gained credibility when an SMS was circulated across Kenya urging ODM supporters to boycott The Nation and to stop the newspaper’s journalists from covering ODM events. Sensing the potential damage the message could inflict on his election campaign, especially through accusations that his Party was trying to muzzle the press, Raila dismissed the SMS, saying, “I would like to state categorically that I have nothing to do with that message.”315
Although The Nation Media Group is a private entity, it is a mainstream daily newspaper in Kenya and, therefore, its line of reportage has the potential to influence political events depending on circumstances on the ground. Because of its high position in the Kenya media rating, and were this the agenda, the paper’s top brass of Kikuyu extraction clearly had the capacity to collaborate with designated members of the Kikuyu ruling class to influence political opinion in Kenya for purposes of materializing a specific pro-Kibaki psychological outcome, especially among the Kikuyu. The phenomena of mainstream media emerging as a major player to influence voting patterns in general elections is rampant across the world. In the United States, the Republicans are known to depend heavily on the Fox News TV channel for propaganda dissemination while in China, the view of the government is known to find echoes in key TV stations, especially those controlled by the State.
In Kenya, the State-controlled Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) exhibited obvious bias in reportage of election campaigns in favour of PNU, a bias that reached a climax during Kibaki’s secret and illegal swearing-in ceremony at State House Nairobi where KBC was the only media house that was invited to cover the event. That was after KBC was given exclusive rights to cover the announcement by Samuel Kivuitu that Kibaki had won elections. Every media outlet, including International Press, were kept out of the announcement room by General Service Unit personnel and regular police after the great deception at the vote tallying room at Kenyatta International Conference Center. Before elections, Kivuitu was himself quoted by the BBC accusing KBC of bias in their reports on election campaigns. According to one media report, “Samuel Kivuitu condemned the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) for not providing equal coverage to all presidential candidates.”(316) Given his role in election rigging, was Kivuitu’s attack on KBC for PR purposes?
This view about KBC bias was further supported by Raila Odinga who had no kind words for the Corporation. He said, “We are demanding equal coverage by this station, which is being funded directly by taxpayers’ money,” he (Odinga) said after holding talks with US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger in Nairobi.(317) In the report, Raila went further and accused Permanent Secretaries and Provincial Administration officials of having been directed to campaign for Kibaki. Using the inclination that The Nation was pro-Kibaki, Kenyan conspiracy theorists literally saw the rigging of election plans as early as 2005 when The Nation and other privately owned media houses controlled by boys from Central Province began elevating members of the Kikuyu ethnic group into top positions apparently in preparation for election rigging. Kikuyus who were already in high slots at The Nation Media Group were retained in the process of the abrupt promotions as non-Kikuyus were allegedly transferred to peripheral positions that could have no impact when it came to the general direction of news during election campaigns. Media houses that were already owned by the Kikuyu were reportedly encouraged to sing pro-Kibaki hymns as members of the Kikuyu ethnic group apparently underwent a choreographed psychological preparation on a mass scale to vote for Kibaki on grounds that power in Kenya should not leave the “House of Mumbi” (the Kikuyu nation). In rural areas populated by Kikuyus (especially in Central Province), this media brainwashing strategy is said to have gone overboard with some news channels using radio stations to openly demonize ODM as a political Party, spread hate messages to scare the electorate and, in particular, demonize Raila Odinga…
…For example, Linus Gitahi, who hails from Nyeri (Kibaki’s home turf ), was appointed the Chief Executive Officer following the retirement of William Kiboro. Mr. Gitahi, whom, at the time of his appointment was also a non-executive director of Kikuyu origin, controlled Equity Bank and had previously been a senior executive with GlaxosmithKline, a pharmaceutical giant.(321) With an interest in Equity Bank, Gitahi was not just another baron at The Nation but a member of the wealthy class of Kenyans whose interest formed part of the economy of the Kenyan nation. The post of Managing Editor of Business Daily, a sister paper launched by The Nation Media Group in early March 2007 and partnered with Wall Street Journal, went to Nick Wachira, another Kikuyu also from Nyeri. If any pro-Kibaki reporting or propaganda spreading was to be executed, these two boys allegedly from Kibaki’s own backyard were said to be the key point men.
In the run up to the 2007 elections, other key positions at The Nation were occupied, almost entirely, by members of the Kikuyu and this, in the minds of conspiracy theorists, further strengthened the view that changes at The Nation’s top leadership that began in January 2005 were not accidental. Other Kikuyus patched on top positions of The Nation Media House included the paper’s Editorial Director, Wangethi Mwangi; Managing Editor of The Daily Metro, Tim Chege; General Manager in charge of Marketing and Circulation, Mike Ngugi; General Manager in charge of Advertising, Julius Maina; Managing Editor, The Sunday Nation, Macharia Gaitho; Managing Editor, The Daily Nation, Bernard Nderitu while Managing Editor of Taifa Leo (sister paper in Swahili) was Wainaina Kiganya. Nderitu, who had been the Managing Editor of The Sunday Nation, had just returned from post-graduate studies in Britain when he was posted to his new position.
Theoretically, if The Nation was to help with sending pro-Kibaki signals to its English readers allegedly through a media master plan, the “Swahili assignment” rested with Kiganya and this made substantial sense, especially to a conspiracy theorist who could have found lots of indigestion trying to decipher why Kikuyus (whom, by the gist of their ethnic origin, were supposed to be aligned to PNU) were literally patched on the “control tower” of The Nation, especially in an election year. The paper’s top brass who were non-Kikuyus such as Joseph Odindo, the group’s Managing Editor, were seen more as flowers meant to colour the Kikuyu-populated garden of The Nation and to give it a semblance of ethnic balance. The non-Kikuyus reportedly had no influence when it came to key decision making, especially on political reporting that could influence opinion in the run up to the elections.
Besides having their fingers on The Nation, the State-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) was also in the hands of children from the House of Mumbi, namely David Waweru, Managing Director and Waithaka Waihenya, Editor in Chief. It is instructive that Waweru hails from Nyeri, Kibaki’s home turf. Together with other boys from Central who were in the control room at The Nation, it is possible that election news could well vibrate positively in the direction of Kibaki and at the expense of ODM as a covert or “invisible” contribution to Kibaki’s President’s campaign.
In a media survey conducted between January and June 2007 by Steadman Group, Kibaki was leading in media coverage among top Presidential candidates. He topped with 33 percent in mentions in newspapers, television and radio. Raila received 22 percent while Kalonzo trailed with 11 percent.322 The Daily Nation (25.08.2007) reported that from a grand total of 2,042 mentions, Kibaki got 1,151 mentions in radio, 747 in print media and 144 in television. In the month of June alone, the same issue of the newspaper reported that Kibaki got 32 percent of total mentions while Raila got 18 percent, a clear indication that there was a media bias that tended to favour Kibaki during election campaigns. Who could have been behind this bias?…
While the theory that the media may have been part of the rigging as early as 2005 sounds credible, it cannot exclusively explain this historic and criminal act that appeared to have had much broader conspirators. The Kikuyu-controlled media may have been a cog in the wheel of election rigging but my view is that Kenyans need to look much further and search for other parts of the puzzle that together can add meaning to an act of cowardice that not only shocked the nation but also plunged the country into deep crisis.
RAILA ODINGA’S STOLEN PRESIDENCY: Consequences and the future of Kenya
KSB Comment: The right wing media is unlikely to be obejective in its review of the book, given that the book also questions the capitalist status quo.