To read this article in Deutsch, Francaise, Italiano, Portuguese, Espanol, copy and paste the complete URL("http://www.generator21.net/africa7.html") and enter it in the box after you click through.
|The World's Magazine: generator21.net
Event # 240: PUTTING OUT FIRE ... with gasoline
CARTOONS BY GASPIRTZ
G21 Digital Internet Postcards
G21 E-MAIL NEWSLETTER
MEMOIRS OF THE INFO AGE
MY GLASS HOUSE
EVERYONE LOVES "RECOMMENDED DAILY REQUIREMENT" but can't find their favorite article. No More! Here's *another* link to the complete ARCHIVES.
G21 STUFF: We know. You want to let people know that you KNOW. So why not prove it by wearing a G21 t-shirt? Drink from a coffee mug that proclaims your allegiance to The World's Magazine. Thank you so much!!!
LAST WEEK's EDITION
MEET THE G-CREW! These are the people behind this jam-band every week. AND there are GUIDELINES FOR YOU TO JOIN THE BAND...
Among members of Kenya's most populous ethnic group, the Kikuyu-- (about 4 million out of a total population of about 30 million according to the 1999 census)-- the melodious refrain, "Kayu Kamuigi ... Kameme FM" (Kikuyu for "Kameme FM, the People's Voice") has now gained the status of something of a popular catchphrase. This, to a large measure, thanks to the launch early this year, of the Kameme 101.1 FM radio station, which targets Kikuyu speakers around Kenya's capital city, Nairobi and the outlying districts.
Hence the trepidation recently, when Kenya's President Daniel arap Moi declared --- for a second time --- that all vernacular stations in the country would be banned unless they became "transparent." Such stations, claimed the President, did not promote national unity and could therefore be misused to cause anarchy and genocide as had happened in Rwanda some six years earlier.
Rwanda, the tiny Central African nation to the west of Kenya is where the nominally independent Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) waged a campaign over several months in 1994 inciting the majority Hutu population to genocide against the Tutsi minority which resulted in the massacre of up to one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days.
As one would have expected, among the first to respond to Moi's stunning declaration was the station's managing director, Ms Rose Kimotho. Kimotho forcefully pointed out that contrary to what the President would have wanted the people to believe, the station was a purely commercial enterprise with no political agenda. The station she said, simply aimed at providing wholesome entertainment and education.
She also dismissed reports that were doing the rounds in the country that among the station's shareholders were Moi's deputy, vice president Professor George Saitoti (an ethnic Kikuyu who for political expediency has preferred to keep his ethnicity shrouded in mystery preferring to pose in public as a member of the minority nomadic Maasai community) and several other wealthy Kikuyus with a stake in Kenya's politics.
The Executive Director of the International Commission of Jurists (Kenya Chapter), Ms Kagwiria Mbogori echoed Kimotho's sentiments pointing out that Kenyan laws did not specify what languages were to be used by the electronic and print media and that for the government to turn round and legislate languages was clearly a case of press censorship.
Kenyan opposition parties also joined the fray, charging that English and Kiswahili (Kenya's official and national languages respectively) could also be used to pursue jingoistic aims on behalf of a particular tribe or race. They said the Presidential directive amounted to interference with the work of the Communications Commission of Kenya whose responsibility it was to license broadcasting stations.
Kenya's leading daily newspaper, the Daily Nation also weighed in with an hard-hitting editorial which stated emphatically that freedom of expression was a basic universal human right and that its form, style or language should be "hemmed in only by the dictates of good taste, orderliness and consideration for others."
What made Moi's pronouncement particularly ominous this time around is the fact that a month earlier he had again directed Kenya's Minister for Information, Mr Wycliffe Musalia Mudavadi, and the Attorney General, Mr Amos Wako, to enact a law to force private radio stations to broadcast only in English or Kiswahili.
In a country where Presidential decrees were until very recently something akin to a source of law unto themselves, that was particularly disturbing coming especially soon after the government made amendments to increase bonds executed by newspapers from KSh 10,000 (US$125) to KSh 1 million (US$12,500).
A constant stream of opposition to the edict, however, compelled the Kenyan Information Minister to backtrack saying the government had no intention of banning stations broadcasting in vernacular. Instead, he said, it would provide a legal framework for their operations. "The vernacular is part of our culture and there is nothing we can do about them," he told parliament.
In many quarters, Moi's recent decrees are widely seen as aimed at stopping the activities of a number of Kenya's recently launched multi-million shilling vernacular radio stations and especially Kameme FM. Besides Kameme, there are two other vernacular radio stations, Rehema FM and Metro East FM.
Owned by Regional Reach Company Limited, Kameme is headed by Ms Kimotho, a former Nairobi print journalist. In its 8 months of operation, the KSh 40 million (US$500,000) station has built up one of the highest listenerships in Nairobi and its surroundings, and in the process, given a good account of itself, attracting a large audience and a good chunk of advertising including cigarette and beer manufacturers who are the main target of most Kenyan media houses.
On the other hand, Metro East FM, the first Asian commercial radio station in Kenya, is jointly owned by the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) and Ellies Aerials Company Limited. The station transmits on 91.1 FM and has been in existence for two years. The KBC owns 40 percent while Ellies owns 60 percent of its shares.
The station targets the South Asian community in Nairobi and its environs which makes up 90 percent of its audience with the remaining 10 per cent being indigenous Kenyans who have studied in South Asia. Through an agreement with WorldSpace, Metro East FM reaches Dubai, Timbouktou, Cape Town, Norway, Sweden and several other countries. Headed by one Mr Arjun Ruzaik, the station uses both English and Hindi.
The other vernacular station, Rehema, also known as Sayare 101.2 Metro FM, only airs Christian programmes and is headed by Pastor Elly Rop. It is largely viewed as gunning for a fiefdom in the expansive Rift Valley and Western Kenya region, embracing all languages spoken in the region. By and large, this media growth is a commendable attempt to stretch out to Kenya's un-reached: the estimated 78 percent of adults who are illiterate and unschooled in the official and national languages.
But then, --and this is worth noting --- these vernacular stations have also, to the government's dismay, established themselves in the market positions where today they pose a major threat to the government-owned KBC's vernacular services. It was partly for this same reason that for a long time, the government was reluctant to issue private broadcasters with licenses and even today still dithers when it comes to the issuing of countrywide frequencies.
What is more, the government also remains acutely aware that in Kenya, as elsewhere in Africa, the radio remains the most effective means of disseminating information, ideas as well as propaganda.
Poverty and high rates of illiteracy have also served to make television and the print media inaccessible to the majority. This thus explains why for a very long time, African governments preferred not to open up the airwaves to private competition until the pressure for liberalisation became too great to resist.
In Kenya for instance, the government was --- until it finally caved in --- constantly criticized over the manner in which it was issuing broadcasting licenses with many pointing out that the process lacked transparency and was inconsistent with the regulatory frameworks.
This too, would explain why --- when push finally came to shove --- most African governments, including Kenya's, preferred to issue licenses to religious organizations rather than secular ones. The reason for the strong religious station presence was two-fold:
- first, granting them a radio license was viewed as a risk-free means for the authorities to prove their democratic credentials;
- second, radio stations, unlike newspapers, are an expensive proposition, and religious organisations are among the few groups in Africa, with the necessary capital to invest in the equipment; studios, transmitters, antenna, audio recorders, microphones and telephones.
An FM station with a range of 150 kilometers or thereabouts --- the range of most existing networks --- would require something in the area of US $200,000 and this is before salaries and rent. Moreover, religious organisations are not wholly dependent on advertising in order to meet their running costs, the only source of revenue otherwise available to private business.
In Kenya, meanwhile, as the search for niche audiences intensifies in a competitive arena characterised by a shrinking advertising cake, fears are already emerging that ethnicity may gain prominence over other criteria such as business segments, age groups, or even income brackets. Indeed, not long before President Moi lashed out at private vernacular stations, the state-run KBC had announced planned to launch an independent Kikuyu language station targeting the Central Kenya province (obviously to compete with Kameme FM).
Even so, questions already abound over whether vernacular broadcasts by state-run KBC would not foster "ethnic chauvinism" as implied by the President. This especially because, in a fragmented broadcasting market such as Kenya, it is all too understandable for stations to create slots for themselves by broadcasting in vernacular.
Others, however, are already reading succession politics behind Moi's attempt to ban private vernacular radio stations.
After being at the helm for a good 22 years, Moi is due to retire in two years time because the constitution now bars him from seeking another term. Of all ethnic groups in Kenya, Moi is particularly loathe to see a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group ascend to the helm --- if only because it is they who more than any one else bore the brunt of the politically induced ethnic clashes in the mid-1990s and which saw many of them displaced from their land in the expansive Rift Valley Province.
Now with only two years to go, Moi is clearly fearful that the Kikuyu elite may use stations such as Kameme FM to spread political propaganda especially during the campaigns that will usher in the post-Moi era.
Besides, the Kikuyu, with its core population in Kenya's Central province and strong representation in the capital, Nairobi, and the expansive Rift Valley provinces are not only Kenya's most populous ethnic group but combined with the closely-related Embu, Meru and Kamba ethnic groups --- who are generally at home with the Kikuyu language --- would form one huge market with formidable economic clout that could easily sweep the gains that members of Moi's minority Kalenjin community obtained during his long reign by dint of their ethnicity.
In the meantime, the language debate continues to be a matter of global human rights concern. Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Linguistic Rights states that ".... all language communities have the right to codify, standardize, preserve, develop and promote their linguistic systems, without induced or forced interference."
Considering that in the majority of African states, less than 20 per cent of the populations have mastered the former colonial languages, the African languages constitute a key factor in African economic, social, cultural and political development. Everything must therefore be done to allow these languages to be used effectively within the democratic process. Hence the need for a democratically accountable and politically impartial body to regulate access to broadcasting frequencies.
ROBERT ODOUL - works with the Nairobi, Kenya-based Central Africa News Agency. Previously served as Editor of Trade and Industry Magazine and senior writer for the Economic Review and Weekly Review newsmagazines. This is his second article for G21: The World's Magazine.
© 2000, GENERATOR 21.E-mail your comments. We always like to hear from you. Send your snide remarks to firstname.lastname@example.org.