Thursday, April 29, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

April 28, 2010

There is something definitely not right the way the media is treating such an important breakthrough as the formation of the East African Common Market. There doesn’t seem to be any meaningful desire to bombard the public with stories regarding this great event that is around the corner. If our regional media cannot hype it the way the European newsrooms did with the formation of the European Union, we may never know when it really becomes operational leave alone its immediate benefits.

It is amazing how these days regional investment conferences like the one currently going on in Kampala or even summits of heads of state are rated rather lowly in our newsrooms. Unless our presidents are in attendance, EAC meetings never get meaningful media mention. And even when it happens, presidential photo sessions are all we get as news. Content and substance get lost in the background.

Take the case this week when the Kenyan cabinet finally ratified the Common Market protocol that clears the way for the implementation in July this year, just one or two of mainstream media gave it a casual quarter column deep inside the pages of their newspapers. In other countries I know of, this is the substance that would have made the headlines. Interestingly, it was when Kenyan cabinet ratified the document were we told that we were fourth member state to do so. However, the author didn’t even think it necessary to tell us which of the fifth country hadn’t ratified it and why.

It is interesting that just two months to the opening of our borders from Busia to Bujumbura and Kampala to Kigali, Moshi to Mombasa and Tanga to Tarime, there are no billboards on our major

Highways screaming about this great event. I cannot talk for Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura and Kigali since I have not been there lately. However, I can confirm that there are no signs in Nairobi that we are moving towards the big day apart from occasional news snippets whenever Ministry of EAC officials make presentations to various universities in Kenya.

Kampala is certainly doing better than Kenya on this score. At least I saw a big billboard in the city of Kampala some time back screaming: “The East African Common Market, Coming Soon” on one of the big signs that really made me happy.

This lack of excitement by our media about the EAC Common Market should be cause for concern to the regional governments and the so called East African Business Council that is slowly losing its steam of yester years. At its peak, it used to hold regular high profile business meetings advocating a more active role in the affairs of the EAC. However, when the summit finally recognized its observer status, members have ended up being the usual bandwagon that follows the summit at every meeting with very little productive input apart from the usual rhetoric about the slow pace of implementation of open market protocols and cross border hurdles to trade in the region.

Way back in 2005-2006, the East African Media Council was formed as an offshoot of the Business Council. At that time private media owners under the umbrellas of the Media Owners Association of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania sought to assert themselves at the EAC. However, after one or two high profile annual meetings, their fire died too!

The other event suffering inadequate media hype in Kenya is the World Cup event taking place in South Africa in the next 40 days. Much as sports writers are trying their best to give readers the count-down to the event, it is however obvious that our big corporate spenders are not spending on enough public awareness. In Uganda, the hype is so serious that the entire Kampala- Entebbe road, a stretch of 40km is flustered with World Cup billboards, thanks to the generosity of Uganda’s new entrant into the mobile market, Orange Mobile. The question to ask is this: how come this Orange hype is not taking place in Kenya, a market it has operated in much longer than Uganda?

Orange Mobile aside, I think there are big corporate operators that have benefitted immensely from our regional economies. One therefore wonders why companies such as Safaricom, MTN, Vodacom Tanzania, Zain, East African Breweries, Kenya Airways, Tanzania Breweries and Kenya Airways are not enthusiastic in mainstreaming these two big events in their corporate advertising budgets. One would have expected these regional operators to take a more active role in hyping the countdown of these two events for at least the last two months.