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‘Nation’ founders would be shocked by its growth

Monday March 15 2010

The Nation  Centre on Nairobi’s Kimathi Street. Photo/WILLIAM OERI

The Nation Centre on Nairobi’s Kimathi Street. Photo/WILLIAM OERI 

By Nation Reporter

A historical account of Nation Media Group’s first 50 years will be released this week at a landmark Pan-Africa Media Conference in Nairobi.

The meeting was organised to mark the anniversary.

Titled Birth of a Nation —The Story of a Newspaper in Kenya, the book was written by Gerard Loughran, who was among a small band of pioneers who launched the Sunday Nation and Daily Nation in 1960.

Mr Loughran, a Briton, remained closely associated with the newspapers in subsequent years and still contributes a weekly column to the Sunday Nation, Letter From London.

“Kenya has changed unimaginably over the past half-century,” he said, “so that digging into the past, interviewing old-stagers and recording their memories was like exploring a foreign country.

“I was lucky to talk to people like Michael Curtis, the first managing director but really the man who created the Nation, the bedrock of it all, and Charles Hayes, a former colonial officer who started the Kiswahili weekly, Taifa, then sold it to the Aga Khan.”

Building block

Turned into a daily, Taifa Leo became the first building block in a news edifice that was to grow over the years into the largest publishing empire in East and Central Africa.

“Seeing the Nation in Tanzania and Uganda as well as Kenya, newspapers and magazines galore, radio and television companies... all this would astound the class of 1960,” Mr Loughran said. “We were mostly young expatriates from Britain in our 20s working with very few trained Africans and trying to keep three tiny papers afloat.

“But we came with no predetermined attitudes, except that it was proper for a country to exist as an independent entity and that is what we pushed for from the beginning — early independence.”

Mr Loughran believes it was this clearly stated policy that earned the Nation the support of a growing African readership and which proved crucial to the group’s future editorial and commercial success.

“I always had in mind that I was telling two stories, or the story of two nations (country and newspaper). They were inextricably mixed. Whatever happened on the national scene was reflected in the newspaper and sometimes the paper changed and motivated developments in politics and life,” the writer said.

Birth of a Nation will be launched on Friday at the Carnivore.