Friday, October 8, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

October 7, 2010

Why is our media obsessed with the usual sideshows even at moments when we should focus on the bigger pictures of our society? How come there are no count downs to the October 31, just three weeks away when Tanzania, East Africa’s most populous country will be holding its elections?

As I sat at a hotel room in Nairobi this week listening to the Ministry of East African Community trying to update the media in Nairobi on the achievements of the East African Common Market since its implementation three months earlier, my mind kept wondering aloud.

Then in the middle of Permanent Secretary David Nalo’s presentation, the unthinkable happened. A fire safety water sprinkler gushed water from the ceiling sending journalists and guests scampering for safety. This stampede was understandable, it could have been the work of terrorists or simply a sewer bursting its pipes. And as we left that room for another location in the hotel, I remarked to Hon Akhaabi of the EALA who was also one of the guest speakers that, knowing our media, that water episode would be the main story of our media; not the important briefing David Nalo, former minister Mukhisa Kituyi and Hon Akhaabi had so laboriously prepared for the media! True to form, the “sewer” story was the news that dominated FM stations the whole day, prime time TV networks the whole evening and of course the mainstream press the following morning. The EAC story disappeared altogether.

As we struggle to publicize the efforts of the EAC to make regional integration a reality, a bit of common sense and genuine interest in the bigger picture of the East African affairs would go a long way in sustaining this campaign. In my humble opinion, I don’t think it is the business of technocrats to keep reminding the media at breakfast meetings from time to time of what progress has been made. It is about time the media went the extra mile and did its bit by genuinely taking interest in what actually is going on in the region.

As I write this article just three weeks to President Jakaya Kikwete’s destiny with Tanzania’s voters, one can scan all the media in Kenya and Uganda, two of the senior partners of the EAC and will hardly come across any stories or how the elections are going on. I would have thought that some of the networks and newspapers with presence in Uganda and Tanzania would be keen to contain campaign stories but no, we dwell so much on local politics day in day out as if there will be no tomorrow.

In Uganda, instead of the media focusing on Tanzania, we are easily drawn into Uganda elections which are still one year away. Kenya is no different.

After the referendum, our media keeps feeding us with tribal alliances and candidates for senators and governors even before we enact legislation to create such offices. We fail to see that the future of the East African Community is equally very much dependent on who becomes the next president of Tanzania.

Give it to the East African media; whenever there is a trail of violence accompanying elections or if there are chances that the elections would be violent, we always ensure that we follow the elections most keenly and report any signs that might suggest that the prophecy would be fulfilled.

The 2007 Kenyan elections were reported widely in East Africa simply because the campaign had pitted the Kikuyu against all other tribes following the failed 2005 referendum.

When finally elections were rigged and the orgy of violence ensued, the media fell over each other trying to outdone another with explanations why Kenya can no longer hold together! This mentality is the reason the 2010 referendum debate on Kenya’s new constitution was followed by the media with baited breath. However when hotspots failed to yield the expected violent outcome, the media packed up and left. A day after the referendum, Kenya stopped being on the news on the international networks.

If we truly as media fraternity want to sustain the campaign on the East African integration, let us not burden bureaucrats with the responsibility to foot our breakfast bills at five star hotels from time to time. Let us make it our responsibility to promote the protocols of the EAC, its benefits and even the pitfalls ahead for our people to understand what we in for.

Most importantly, there is nothing more exciting that can bring East Africans together than a general election in a partner state. We all love politics in this part of the world. Let us bring debates from Dar es Salaam, Dodoma, Shinyanga, Mbea and Tabora to the living rooms of our citizens in Kisumu, Kisauni, Kasese and Gulu.

Let us not just report elections in Kigali, Kampala and Bujumbura when there is election violence. Even peaceful elections like the one we are expecting in Tanzania deserve our attention.

Jerry Okungu is the CEO of Kenya Today in Nairobi