Kibaki Succession wars spill into Kenyan media houses

It can be said without exaggeration that the Kibaki Succession and its subsequent spill over into the media is linked to the violent early evening of December 30,2007, the day the delayed and hugely controversial presidential election results were finally announced and a hasty inauguration held at State House, Nairobi.

Indeed, so hasty was the inauguration that it did not even have the benefit of a guard of honour or even the blessings of the national anthem. This was the first time since January 4, 1994, that a presidential inauguration was being held in the protected precincts of State House and only the second time since independence.

All other related ceremonies have been held in public at the Uhuru Park. And the only thing that the 1994 ceremony did not have by way of protocol was a Kenya Air Force fly past, (with the exception of the presidential helicopter fleets no aircraft, military or civilian, are allowed to over-fly State House).

The 1994 ceremony had a Kenya Army guard of honour and military band and the invitations had been sent out overnight to VIPs, including members of the Diplomatic Corps. The close-circuit inauguration was the first one of the multiparty era and followed President Daniel arap Moi's highly effective tactic of divide-and-rule which scattered the opposition and handed him a minority victory with only 36 percent of the vote.

Moi decided on a State House ceremony after receiving intelligence reports from media sources that the opposition was headed for the High Court where they intended to file a case stopping any presidential inauguration until further notice with a duty judge (the court was in recess).
Unbeknown to the general public the beginning of the Kibaki Succession eight months ago also had an immediate impact on the media.

Hardly known to the public is that on the morning of December 30, Secretary to the Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service Ambassador Francis Muthaura, Minister for Internal Security John Michuki and Government Spokesman Alfred Mutua summoned media Chief Officers and editorial directors to the Office of the President and gave them a behind-closed-doors talk.

The media top guns were given to understand that the election results would be released before mid-afternoon on the same day. But what raised eyebrows was the fact that it had to be government officials making the announcement instead of the Electoral Commission officials.

The Standard Media Group's top two executives (Paul Melly and Paul Kamande Wanyaga) developed cold feet at the last minute and instead dispatched the Editorial Director, Kwendo Opanga, to the official briefing. Little did Kwendo know that he would become one of the earliest casualties of the explosive beginning to the Kibaki Succession?

By mid-afternoon there was no sign of any announcement of the presidential results. In every mainstream media house a series of top-level editorial meetings was considering whether to go to town with a story to the effect that as of midnight on December 30-31 President Kibaki's first term would lapse and the country would effectively have no President and no Commander-in-Chief.

Kibaki had been sworn in exactly five years before December 30, 2007, in a premature ceremony but one graced by what the media described as a mammoth crowd at Uhuru Park, Nairobi. The then victorious opposition literally ran President Moi and his Kami party out of town on that day in 2002, refusing to hear anything about a decent interval and a more orderly handing over.

On the mid-afternoon of December 30, 2007, when there was still no sign of the presidential results, a remarkable video cassette was doing the rounds in the newsrooms. It featured Juja MP William Kabogo describing in detail how he had been "rigged out" by businessman George Thuo and the President's PNU and administrative operatives. Kabogo made a direct on-camera appeal to Kibaki, urging him not to steal the election. Only one TV station ran the tape, the Standard Group's KTN.

Kibaki was sworn in at twilight and KTN stood out once more as the only broadcasting house that reported the beginning of the violence, starting with incidents in Kisii, Eldoret and the Coast. Soon after 9pm the Standard Group's top security managers, two of them Kalenjin and one of them a former Officer Commanding Police Division (OCPD), gave all staffers at the company's I&M building 5 minutes to clear the premises.

Although there was no immediate official explanation, whispers rent the air to the effect that Michuki had ordered a strike force to raid the building and get hold of the Kabogo tape. Terrified Standard employees vacated I&M in three minutes, many of them abandoning the night's work. KTN was taken off air by 9.30pm and replaced with the CNN feed.

How the Standard was able to produce a newspaper for December 31, 2007, remains a minor miracle. The alarm turned out to be false but as violence spread across Kenya the coverage by the Standard and KTN increasingly enraged the Government, which was composed of only 17 Cabinet ministers and President Kibaki at that time. There were many calls far behind the scenes for another raid on the Standard Group such as the one mounted by the notorious Artur brothers a couple of years ago.

The Standard's owners -Moi and his favourite son Gideon - came under tremendous pressure from State House, the National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) and the PNU hierarchy to put a leash on the Standard and KTN and to make a number of heads roll. Moi tried his damnedest to control the Standard but to little avail. Gideon, busy licking his wounds after losing his Baringo Central seat to an ODM political neophyte, moved more slowly than his father, who was also in shock at the extent of his loss of power, influence and prestige in Rift Valley Province.

Two top editors lost their jobs as a direct result of their media houses' coverage of the General Election campaign, voting and tallying anomalies and the violent aftermath. Opanga and the Nairobi Star's Executive Editor Frank Whalley, both of whom used to work for the Nation Media Group as Associate Editor and Training Editor respectively were first casualties. Whalley, an expatriate who started out in journalism in 1968 found his way to a brand new publication, Kenya Weekly, bankrolled by Amos Kimunya and other regime heavyweights. Published by Oakland Media Services' Mundia Muchiri and edited by Ngugi wa Mbugua, both of them former Nation Media operatives, Kenya Weekly collapsed afterwards due to lack of funding. Why Whalley left Nairobi Star whose chairman is Mumias CEO Evans Kidero and the editorial policy has soft spot on PM has left many guessing. State House itself is known to complain about articles carried by the paper.

Kwendo's departure from the Standard was quickly followed by that of ace TV anchorman Alex Chamwada, who moved back to his original base of Citizen TV. A new editorial line-up is now in place at I&M building.

At Nation Television (NTV) star anchors Tom Mboya and Sophie Dcenye were showed the wide open doors of Nation Centre by top management for consistently failing to tow a conservative political line of reporting early.

The politically-charged onslaught on the media houses did not begin with the disputed presidential results. It started much earlier during the Orange-No and Banana-Yes titanic campaign for Kenya's first ever national referendum in November 2005. The big vote, on the then- Proposed New Constitution (PNC), resulted in a humiliating defeat for the government side and appeared to set a template for the 10th General Election.

Beginning with the referendum campaign the president's wealthiest and most faithful followers moved into the media sector massively, rolling out media strategies and networks oiled by envelopes bursting with cash and other goodies. But the timing was all wrong and the focus was on Central Kenya media operatives, both active and retired. Suddenly so-called research offices mushroomed all over the leafy suburbs of Westlands, Hurlingham and Lavington and elsewhere, manned by PR, advertising and editorial operatives, some of them at CEO and managing editor levels.

The General Election campaign, which began almost the minute the referendum results were announced, also sucked in media operatives in big ways. Wilfred Kiboro, the retired CEO who turned the Nation Group into a Shl5 billion operation, joined Kibaki's Presidential Re-election Directorate in a senior capacity.

But the Orange Democratic Party (ODM) was not sitting on the sidelines watching the action; they were in the thick of networking with the media and were in fact doing a more effective job than their PNU rivals. After clinching the ODM presidential nomination Raila started to increasingly rely on veteran journalist and former UN publications chief Salim Lone, a Kenyan citizen of Asian extraction who once had his citizenship revoked and later restored by the Moi regime.

Lone rolled out a media strategy for Raila that left the one developed for Kibaki by Marcus Courage of international PR, publicity and advertising firm Africa Practice stuck in the mud of campaign politics. Courage, which came to the Presidential Re-election Directorate via the powerful presidential buddy Nat Kang'ethe, who runs the Saatchi and Saatchi Kenyan franchise, came highly recommended for work done in South Africa, Nigeria and Libya. But his best efforts came a cropper against Lonc's tactics and strategies.

The Kibaki Succession struggle, which is four-and-half years premature (but that is nothing, the Kenyatta Succession ran for 15 years) is impacting the newsrooms in many invisible ways. Part of the Kibaki Succession is the silent but permanent struggle between Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, which reached a climax during the protocol wars before the organization of government chart was produced.

Both sides somehow managed to have their cases showcased in the media by household name columnists, analysts, commentators, editorial cartoonists and photojournalists. Hundreds of thousands, even millions, of shillings changed hands at the time, with some newsroom operatives eating from both sides of that political divide.

The internecine warfare inside PNU, especially the Martha Karua/Narc rebellion against the President's exit strategies and her onslaught on Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and Internal Security Minister George Saitoti is also reflected in media coverage, both pro and contra and indifferent. A lot of cash is changing hands, particularly at weekends when the weekend editions of the major papers and the FM and TV talk-shows go into overdrive.

There is a clear ethnic divide between journalists and even media houses when it comes to the Kibaki Succession, with Luo and Kikuyu media people lining up behind their top politicians. The Standard, long after Opanga's departure and re-surfacing at the Nation Group as a top columnist, remains the voice of Kenya from Nakuru to the Lake and the Nation maintains a huge readership base and ideological bent in Central and Eastern Kenya.

But there are some major overlaps, for instance, it is taken as an article of faith by both practitioners and consumers of journalism that Nation Media's Group Managing Editor Joe Odindo is a diehard supporter of the Prime Minister and his boss Editorial Director Wangethi Mwangi of the President.

At the Standard Group, the Kalenjin formation of Deputy Chairman and Group Strategy Adviser Melly, Editor in Chief Bundotich and Managing Editor Weekend Editions Tanui takes care of the Rift Valley impacts of the Kibaki Succession battles, CEO Wanyaga projects an image of being far above the political fray but insiders say his hidden hand sometimes comes into play when PNU is in a particularly tight corner.

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