OCHIENG: Do not mistake a language error for malice - Daily Nation

Do not mistake a language error for malice

Saturday July 21 2018

Residents of Obunga slum in Kisumu read the Daily Nation

Residents of Obunga slum in Kisumu read the Daily Nation. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More by this Author

As an agent of the European “givers” of “development aid” to Africa, Mr Ralf Henker, the Swiss ambassador in Nairobi, will just have to understand that poor mastery of certain Western European languages is an essential part of the extreme poverty of knowledge that besets the “educated” ruling classes of all of Europe’s former colonies, especially in Africa.

Upon their alleged departure, our European colonisers had already, through the classroom, imposed on our educated classes a certain very elitist mode of thinking.

That is why our “aid givers” must understand that the language of Kenya’s print and other news media is not the media’s own.

In other words, English just is not natural to Kenya’s educated elite.


That is why the language of England gives that elite — including the Press — such a costly deal of problems.

Take the picture caption on the back page of the Daily Nation of Tuesday, July 10: “Switzerland President Alain Berset … and President Uhuru Kenyatta witness the signing of an agreement for return of stolen assets by Swiss Ambassador to Kenya Ralf Henker … and Attorney-General … Paul Kihara … at State House yesterday…”

That statement makes Ambassador Henker and Kenya’s own Attorney-General the chief central culprits in the implied misdeed against official Kenya.

Hopefully, however, being educated men, the envoy and the AG will readily have understood that the newspaper meant absolutely no malice against them or against anybody else.


Happily, the envoy might have understood, too, that a loose mastery of a European language related to the envoy’s own mother tongue was the problem.

Being a former central newspaper editor, I know and can reaffirm that all of Kenya’s Press editors fully understand the problem involved.

Yet libellous material often passes through all of them and, through our print media, finds its way into the street.

Being formerly a central member of Nairobi’s print establishment, what I can affirm is that it is never because of any malice on the part of any newsman or woman at any level.

It is practically always merely because of a weak mastery of the language in which a newspaper is produced, namely, in Kenya, English.


All levels of editors are so conscious of the problem of libel that it is their hourly singsong in newsrooms.

We can only hope that both the President and the Ambassador will have understood that the newspaper concerned meant no malice whatsoever against them and that a loose mastery of a Euro-colonial language called English was the only problem involved.

Even a small statement like the above contained about a million of problems that could have proved extremely dangerous to the newspaper.

Nevertheless, as a mere apology, mine simply will not suffice. It just cannot serve for always.

As I have pointed out here on many occasions, it devolves upon the newspaper establishments themselves to invest many more resources in the training and polishing of their editorial employees.

Philip Ochieng is a retired journalist. [email protected]