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Wednesday, January 8, 2020
The Nation's 60th birthday ... a few memories of the wazee (Nation 1)
INSIDE STORIES BY THE WAZEE
The word wazee means
elders in Swahili. In some tribes they were the governing council instead of a
chief. The elders were undoubtedly respected by all.
No.1 March 20, 1960
Here we are – East
Africa’s newest, liveliest Sunday paper. Our policy? That is explained on Page
Four. And it will remain a matter for Page 4, our “leader” page every week. For
we do not intend to allow policy to interfere with the selection and
presentation of news. We believe firmly in the old newspaper adage “Facts are
sacred but comment is free.” We aim each week to bring our readers something
the other papers do not have. To add lustre to our debut we have secured
exclusive East African rights to serialise the much-talked-about Memoirs of Sir
Anthony Eden. His fascinating and highly personal account of the Suez Canal
begins today on Page Seven of our pull-out magazine section, TIME OFF.
This publication has
been made possible by the articlesprovided by former Nation journalists and the writings
and obituaries of colleagues who have gone before us.
I am indebted to an old friend (as in long-time)
Mike Parry for immense editing
help and support. Thanks also to Gerry Loughran and Jack Beverley.
Published by Cyprian Fernandes 41 Frederick
Street Pendle Hill
Dedicated to anyone
who ever had anything to do with making sure The Nation stable of newspapers
were published every day!
Once upon a time …
Gerry Loughran did
quite a brilliant job with his celebratory tome Birth of a NationThe Story of a
Newspaper in Kenya, produced to mark the 50th anniversary of the
Nation which first rolled
off the presses in Nairobi on 3 October 1960. Same day in 2020, The Nation will celebrate its 60th birthday.
With Gerry having
covered almost every conceivable bit of the Nation story, you would
think that there would not be much more to write about… wrong. As my old News
Editor Mike Chester (he was sadly deported in clear case of mistaken identity)
used to tell his charges: There is always a story to be found if you dig deep
enough (after having done your homework, of course).
Individually, we have often
remembered some of the men and women who collectively made up the Nation family, our colleagues, our friends, or just ships passing in the
Kenyan night, a billion stars and all. I thought it might be an idea to bring
as many folks as I could to come together with a story or two to remember in
print some of the folks who once worked for the Nation.
The lists below are
only an amateur attempt and rely mainly on the collectively memory of former Nation colleagues I have been in touch with over the years. The experiences
related in these pages are those who answered the call. There were other who
chose not to. I have restricted our memories of those who were there between
1960 and 1975… a little more than the time I spent there.
The Nation’s vanishing tribe:
Who are still with us:
Lorraine Alvares, Roy Anderson, David Barnett, Jack Beverley, Norman Da Costa,
Azhar Chaudhry, Tom Clarke, Dick Dawson, Rashid Mughal, Bill Fairbairn, Cyprian
Fernandes, Polycarp Fernandes, Aidan Flannery, George Githii, John Gardner, Adrian
Grimwood, Joe Kadhi, Gerry Loughran, Peter Mwaura, Hilary Ng’weno, Philip
Ochieng, Brian McDermott, Mike Parry, Peter Mwara, John Platter, John Tidey,
Ngugi wa Thiongo, Anil Vidyarthi
No information on: Adrian Beg
(retired somewhere in Australia) Mike Chester (in South Africa), Tony Dunn (Sports
Editor), Tony Dunn (ex-Tanzania) John Eames, John Esebi, John Fairhall, Neil
Graham (Vancouver, Canada), Bill Harris, Mike Harris, Mike Kabugua, David
Levine, Chege Mbitiru, Peter Moss, Gideon Mulaki, Moses Mumba, Pius Nyamura,
Francis Rafiki, Tom Whiston.
R.I.P: Joram Amadi, Allen
Armstrong, Alfred de Araujo, Lex Ballantyne, John Bierman, John Dumoga (the little
Ghanaian), John De Villiers, Jack Ensoll, Olinda Fernandes, Henry Gathigira,
Sammy Githegi, Tony Hall, Ruth Hall, Desmond Healey, Akhtar Hussein, Sultan
Jessa, Ron Jones, Barbara Kimenye,
Marjorie McCrindle, Brian Marsden (Sports Editor, brother of Eric Marsden), George
Mbugguss, Bob Muthusi, Asaph Mureria, Boaz Omori, Neta Peal, Joe Rodrigues,
Harry Sambo, Sashi Vassani, Monte Vianna, Hezekiah Wepekhulu.
Management: Michael Curtis,
Stan Denman, Frank Pattrick. How it all began …
The Nation Group
African Printers and Publishers Ltd
IT WAS November 1958, at Harvard,
where the Aga Khan had returned to complete his studies after a year of
travelling in Asia and Africa. Less than 18 months earlier he had succeeded to
his grandfather’s title.
He sent for me one day and asked if I
would go back to Kenya, one of the many countries we had visited and start a
group of newspapers there. “Before you do this,” he added almost as an afterthought,
“go wherever you feel is necessary and make a complete investigation of the
technical developments in newspaper production.”
We had discussed the general idea of
starting a newspaper in Africa on several occasions during the past year and in
broad terms, I already knew what was wanted. Until that moment, however, I had
given little thought to production methods, Not for the last time, I discovered
that the Aga Khan’s advice is frequently both apt and timely, for this was the
year (1958) of “breakthrough”, both in America and to a lesser extent in
western Europe, in technological revolution of newspaper printing methods.
As a former editor of London’s Fleet
Street, I regret to say that I had not even heard of phototypesetting nor of
the web-offset process of printing. Yet these were to be the instruments of an
entirely new production process ideally suited to the relatively small
circulation requirements we had in mind.
In Boston (at a newspaper quaintly
entitled the Quincy Patriot Ledger), in London with Harry Smith (the dynamic
head of the School of Printing) and in Copenhagen (at Aller’s) I ran headlong
into a strange new world of printing boffins who preached the gospel
of offset litho with all the fanaticism of old-time, bible-thumping
missionaries. Innocent at large as I was, they converted me instantly.
Eighteen months later we secured
delivery in Nairobi of the first and, as it turned out to be, the only
production model of the Crabtree Spearhead rotary press. By October 1960, it
was printing the first offset daily newspaper outside America – in the heart of
We were mad, of course – as several
of my colleagues did not fail to remind me at the time. But thanks to Frank
Pattrick, who was the Production Manager at Nation House, to Stan Denman, a young,
ex-marine commando turned printing engineer, an irrepressible Welsh printer
called “Taffy” Jones and his successor Peter Bailey, we mastered the new
technics in the nick of time and avoided disaster by the razor’s edge.
I will recall only two events from a
period when the proverbial dull moment nearly always eluded me. The first was
when 25,000 pound-worth of complex electronic equipment (the first of the
Photon-typesetters) was “dropped” by over-enthusiastic dockers at Mombasa. The second
was the night of a tropical cloudburst in Nairobi when the pressroom at Cardiff
Road was flooded with several feet of stormwater. Newsprint floated around us
like so many outsize toilet rolls in a giant’s nightmare. And when the waters
receded and the press was finally induced to turn, a cloud flying ants
descended from the night skies to form a monstrous porridge of writhing
insects, paper, water and black ink.
Long before this, I had taken
advantage of an invitation to visit Ghana and Nigeria by Mr Cecil King who was
at that time Chairman of IPC, the huge British publishing group. Mr King was
paying an annual visit to West Africa where his company successfully operated
newspapers in Lagos, Accra and Freetown. He invited me to accompany him, and I
spent an instructive two weeks seeing at first hand some of the more unusual
problems of managing, editing, printing and distributing newspapers in Africa
were being resolved. I always remembered one piece of advice which Mr King
offered me. He warned that the pressured to Africanise the organization would
always be swifter and more powerful than I expected and added that, in his own
West African experience, the expatriate accountants and one of the two of the
most senior and qualified technical managers would be the last to go.
Back in Kenya, the battle for
independence had begun in earnest and it was quickly apparent that the Nation had literally blown in
with Mr Macmillan’s wind of change. The Nation and Taifa endorsed the Nationalist movement
wholehearted and reported East African politics as they had never been reported
before: in detail, in-depth and through the eyes of the African leaders who
were writing the pages of their own country’s history.
A warning from Jim Rose, then
Director of the International Press Institute in Zurich was my
intimation that the new-style Nation/Taifa reporting, introduced by our
predominantly expatriate editorial staff was too vivid, too personal and (the
inevitable label) too “sensational” for many African tastes. I became convinced
that we should find an African as Editor-in-Chief to all our publications, but
the search was not an easy one. It was not until 1964 that we appointed Hilary
Ng’weno, a graduate of Harvard who had recently returned to join the Nation’s editorial staff.
The first test of his judgement was
the Congo uprising, the murder of Lumumba and the landing of the Belgian
paratroopers. Belgian refugees from the Congo poured in Nairobi. The western
news agencies were preoccupied (like their readers) with the fate of the
Belgian and American missionaries. It was Mr Ng’weno who tactfully but firmly
reminded his staff that the death of many thousands of fellow-Africans –
whether in civil strife or at the hands of the hated mercenaries – was at least
as important a consideration in terms of news priorities for African newspaper,
with a majority of African readers.
This was the most difficult and most
worrying period of the Group’s history. Financially, the newspaper company was
still losing money and the ban in Tanzania (although lifted later) had not
improved matters. Meanwhile, the Nation’s decision to campaign for the
release of Mr Kenyatta (from detention) and to support KANU at the first
general elections in Kenya made the paper (and its staff) extremely unpopular in
a number of expatriate business circles. Advertising revenue was far from
buoyant. An attempt to print a special edition of the Nation in Kampala all proved
ill-founded. Even the fortunes of the printing companies were lagging.
Two things happened: much against his
wishes, I persuaded Frank Pattrick to move from Nation House to take charge of Kenya Litho.
The effect was dramatic. Within a year he had transformed the printing
company’s financial position and under his leadership, a period of steady
At Nation House, the Aga Khan introduced me to
a brilliant young German business consultant, Dr Peter Hengel, who was later to
join his Highness’ personal staff in Europe. With Dr Hengel’s help, we
introduced marketing research techniques which had hitherto been neglected. At
about the same time, I had appointed Stan Denman as General Manager at Nation House and he quickly
proved himself an able executive, lifting a considerable weight of the
day-to-day administration from my own shoulders.
A brilliant young African named
George Githii left the President’s office to succeed Hilary Ng’weno as
Editor-in-Chief in Nairobi. Mr Ng’weno went on to become the Nation’s leading contributor and
columnist. The circulation graphs rose steadily. Gerald Reilly, Group Financial
Director, and one of the ablest and most devoted executives was even observed
to smile sometimes at the end of the month.
(Success came quite quickly, helping
to wipe out painfully accumulated losses.)
The Nation grew with the Nation. George Githii proved it
was possible to give journalistic substance to Kenya’s constitutional right to
freedom of expression, and if he sometimes made enemies, his courage and
ability could seldom be faulted. He left to study politics, economics and philosophy
at Balliol College, Oxford and I doubt that Kenya had heard the last of him.
His successor is Boaz Omori, who is
altogether different in temperament, who combines qualities of gentleness and
patience with considerable inner strength, and a warm sense of humour with a
strictly professional approach to his job. Under his leadership, the Nation has become the largest
English-language newspaper in East Africa.
The Nation’s editorial success has been all the
more striking in view of the rapidity with which expatriate staff have been
replaced by citizens over the past five years. Joe Rodrigues, the Managing
Editor and Henry Gathigira, the News Editor, have seen innumerable reporters
come and go. They, however, have been rocks that have endured. For Taifa,
the same should be said of George Mbuggus and Bob Muthusi.