History Of Print Media In Kenya

History of Print Media in Kenya

Relative to other nations, even those of Africa, the history of the press in Kenya is rather recent. Literacy started in Kenya following the arrival of Protestant missionaries nearly a century and a half ago. The missionaries embarked on teaching new converts how to read and write primarily so that the new converts could read biblical literature for themselves. The initial publications carried religious materials. To date, the church is still involved in some magazine publishing.

In Kenya at independence print media could be categorized into a three tier system with the European press at the top, the Indian in the middle, and African at the bottom. Although in the beginning the press in Africa was a European creation, African nationalists adapted the press very much to their struggle. By 1952 it is reported that Kenya had nearly 50 newspapers. However, the speciality of these publications was not news as much as it was essays that agitated for freedom. Most of the contributors were nationalists, with no journalistic experience, who later became post independence leaders. All these papers folded up with the coming of independence.

Currently the print media can be divided into four sectors: the regular daily newspapers, the magazines, the regional newspapers, and the printed sheets(gutter press) that also seek to pass for newspapers in the urban centre streets.

Kenya has four daily national newspapers in English and one in Kiswahili all published in Nairobi with a combined daily circulation of almost 400,000. The oldest mass circulating newspaper is the Standard founded in 1902 by a Parsee migrant, A. M. Jeevanjee. The British settlers who came to Kenya had brought in Indians to work on the construction of the railway line from the coast to the interior to open up the countryside for settlement. Most of the Indians settled in Mombasa and engaged in commerce. Standard catered for these civil servants and business community. European press in Kenya began two years later when Jeevanjee sold his interests to the partnership of Mayer and Anderson who renamed it East African Standard. The Standard became the largest and most influential publication in colonial East Africa, typical a European people’s paper concerned with the happenings in Britain and urging subservience to the settlers, a tune that for a long time remained the tone of other settler controlled media including Mombasa Mail and Nairobi. Change in the Standard to identify with the aspirations of Africans was painstakingly slow even after independence. Over the years the Standard changed hands until Lonrho acquired it in 1967.

Following Tiny Rowland’s death in the mid-1990s and the reorganization at the Lonrho headquarters in London, it is understood that the Standard was once again sold, this time to a group of Kenyan political businessmen who then gained control also of the television channel KTN. It is not clear who owns this media establishment, whether Lonrho East Africa or these Kenyan businessmen. The Standard today, with a daily circulation of 54,000, has outlasted other competitors. At one time this media house published a Kiswahili paper called Baraza . Besides the Standard and KTN, this media house also operates Radio Maisha which began broadcast in 2010.

The Nation published by Nation Media Group (NMG) Kenya was first registered in 1959 by Michael Curtis and Charles both newspapermen in London and Nairobi, respectively. The spiritual leader of the Ismaili community Aga Khan purchased the Nation a year later. The paper was the first to adopt a policy of Africanization. While the Aga Khan is still the majority shareholder in the NMG, the firm is currently traded at the Nairobi Stock Market. Besides the Daily Nation the NMG also publishes the EastAfrican, a conservatively designed weekly newspaper focusing on economic news in East Africa, the Business Daily and a Kiswahili edition Taifa Leo.

Kenya’s press has always been private and foreign owned. The People, owned by Kenneth Matiba, started as a weekly, but turned daily with a Sunday edition in December 1998. In 2002 it had a daily circulation of 60,000. Initially founded to serve as the voice of the opposition politics and to report materials that Nation and Standard feared to touch, the People has since landed on lean times. The People has had the time long libel cases pending in court which has adversely affected its capital and hence circulation. But other challenges the paper faces may relate partly to the difficulty in attracting sufficient advertising revenue and partly because it has never really shed its image as a partisan newspaper trumpeting the opposition point of view. Its circulation has majorly remained only in Nairobi.

Hillary Ng’weno, the first African editor of the Nation, founded Nairobi Times intending it to be a quality afternoon paper. He was, at the same time, publishing Weekly Review, a quality news weekly that in the late 1970s used to be known for its incisive commentaries and two children’s magazines. The Weekly Review, probably the region’s premier newsmagazine with a distinguished style of journalism during its lifespan was founded in Published by Hilary Ng’weno’s Stellascope, the weekly in the late 1970s and early 1980s had the best analytical and investigative journalism in the region.  As a consequence of its analytical reporting the government instructed firms in which the state had interest to cease advertising in the paper. This eroded the papers ability to survive economically. Later it toned down its critical re-portage and, in 1998 before it folded up, had become a mere shadow of its former self. Ng’weno chose to retire the title and focus on his other business interests including television. Financial Review and Economic Review, both now defunct, made a major impact in business journalism in the country until the former was proscribed and the latter disappeared from the news-stands in the latter part of 1998. Today, however, there is no towering news-magazine that would offer compelling reading like the Weekly Review did.

In 1983 KANU bought Hilary Ng’weno’s Nairobi Times and named it The Kenya Times. As Kenya Times the paper has suffered an identity crisis, often seen as the mouthpiece of the KANU government. The Kenya Times often reflected official government policy. Kenyan newspapers do not have any ideological leanings that would differentiate them. Even in the case of the People the distinguishing factor is not so much ideology as the stories they choose to print possibly with the intention that such stories may embarrass those in the government. These often expose some of the corruption deals government functionaries may be involved in. And not too infrequently these stories have landed the people in legal trouble. The Kenya Times has remained at the bottom of the ladder in terms of circulation figures, advertising revenue, operating capital base, trained personnel and influence amongst the major newspapers in the country. KTMT also used to publish a Kiswahili edition Kenya Leo. Kenya Leo was in many ways similar to Taifa Leo carrying a summary of stories in the Times 

Besides the national daily newspapers there are several weekly publications circulating in the Coastal town of Mombasa. Because they only focus on issues of the coast their readership is confined to the coast and they are hardly of any national influence.

Also in the Kenya media scene is the publication of the gutter press but would be best described as “now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t” press. The sheets are on news-stands and often on street corners of major towns written in mainly the major vernacular languages besides English and Kiswahili and sold for less than half the price of the daily newspapers. They are poorly written, poorly edited, poorly laid out, poorly printed, and contain poor pictures. Generally they have no fixed address, no known publisher, and tend to focus on rumour sometimes making very spectacular claims. They have no clear frequency, will appear out of the blue, make some spectacular claim that regards either sexual or corruption scandal involving a prominent personality, then disappear. They may only occasionally write on current affairs. These papers have drawn the anger of the Kenyan government in no small way. As a consequence the government moved to pass a Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2001.

The church, through the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK), at one time had its own publications Target and Lengo publishing in English and Kiswahili respectively. Target , especially in the later part of 1960s and early 1970s was very analytical, an approach that often put it at odds with the Kenyatta government, but more specifically with the then Attorney General who accused the paper of having sympathies for communism. The paper, following an internal reorganization, seemed to lose its objectives and funding and finally in 1997 folded up. NCCK’s verbal exchanges with Kenyan government have a long history. They also published Beyond.









The Daily Nation was started in 1958 as a Swahili weekly called Taifa by the Englishman Charles Hayes. It was bought in 1959 by His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV, the spiritual leader of the Ismaili community worldwide. Taifa was then changed into a daily newspaper, Taifa leo (Swahili for “Nation today”), in January 1960. An English language edition called Daily Nation was published on 3 October 1960, in a process organised by former editor of the British News ChronicleMichael Curtis. The publisher was East African Newspapers (Nation Series) Ltd, which later became the Nation Media Group with its operations over the years covering the entire East African region with a diversified product portfolio.

The Daily Nation and its sister paper Sunday Nation have grown phenomenally since inception. They command over 50 per cent market share. Apart from Daily Nation, the Nation Media Group two television station (NTV and QTV), a radio station (Easy FM) and other newspapers including the weekly The EastAfrican, a daily business paper, The Business Daily, the Swahili language daily Taifa Leo and the Ugandan daily The Monitor.

Digital versions of the Nation titles and The East African are sold to subscribers via Newsstand. The newspaper also maintains a website, which hosts online editions of the daily and Sunday titles with links to its other titles, across the region. Access is free and the site’s daily hit rate is more than three million.

Taifa Leo with a 35,000 daily circulation is an abridged version of the Nation. Taifa Leo does not have a separate group of reporters. It uses the same pool of reporters as the Nation.

The NMG publishes the Daily Nation and Taifa Leo on week days, Saturday Nation and Taifa Jumamosi on Saturdays and Sunday Nation and Taifa Jumapili on Sundays. Both the Saturday and Sunday editions have pullouts including a children’s magazine. On the other days of the week they carry special sections: education on Monday, business on Tuesday, society on Wednesday, real estate on Thursday, and entertainment on Friday. The Nation, although targeting the Kenyan market, is also distributed throughout the East African region.Image


3 responses to “History Of Print Media In Kenya

  1. After the government ban advertising on the the Nairobi Times yet Hillary Ng’weno still has the node to sell the paper to the government (KANU). The most disturbing one is how the paper went on to lost it identity by being turned into a government mouthpiece.


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