Wednesday, January 8, 2020

The Nation's 60th birthday ... a few memories of the wazee (Nation 1)



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 articles provided 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
NSW 2145

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 Nation The 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
28-2-1920 – 3-7-2004
Executive Chairman
East 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 “darkest” Africa.
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 expansion began.
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.
Michael Curtis died of cancer in 2004.

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