Women Editors Call the Shots at KEG’s 6 th Convention

By Dorothy Kweyu

The sixth edition of the Kenya Editors Guild’s (KEG) Annual Convention was unique in more than one sense. Held at Paradise PrideInn on Shanzu beach, Mombasa County, the meeting brought together 127 editors from five countries—host Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

The most conspicuous aspect of the convention was the gender factor. For the first time since the first annual convention in 2018, women called the shots with KEG president Zubeida Kananu and vice-president Ruth Nesoba joining CEO Rosalia Omungo to mount one of KEG’s liveliest conventions.

As if that was not enough women calling the shots at PrideInn, long-serving BBC reporter Mary Harper, and now mentor to Bilan Media, the All-Woman Somali media house, led a delegation of four young journalists to Mombasa. Hinda Abdi Mohamoud, the deputy chief editor at Bilan, came with ‘multifaceted’ expectations. She hoped to interact with a diverse group of people from various African countries. The prospect of visiting Mombasa for the first time was exciting.

“The convention turned out to be a rich experience where I actively engaged in different sessions, proudly presenting the work we do at Bilan,” she told Kenya Journalism Review (KJR) magazine. It was an opportunity to share their mission and achievements with a broader audience. “The convention lived up to most of my expectations, and I’m deeply thankful to KEG for inviting us and providing the platform to be part of such a remarkable gathering.”

Naima Said Salah, a senior reporter at Bilan, is no stranger to Kenya, having first visited in 2020. “I had a lot to look forward to; I met a lot of great people,” she said.

Equally excited and with lofty expectations of the convention was Kiin Hasan Fakat, a reporter. She, too, is no stranger to Kenya. The young woman grew up in Dadaab refugee camp and regards Kenya as her second home. The convention was an opportunity to gain experience from seasoned journalists, she said, and her expectations were more than met.

The journalists’ brief testimonies belie the high esteem in which their mentor holds them. During the gala dinner, Harper, a born-in-Kenya journalist, extolled her mentees’ exploits. Within 18 months of existence, Bilan Media has caused “enormous waves in Somalia and beyond”, publishing topics previously considered taboo in a traditionalist society and male-dominated media. They have tackled HIV and Aids, albinism, and menstruation topics, among others.

Besides being read by a Somali audience, Bilan also submits stories in English and Spanish, among other languages. They report for international media from Australia to London to Madrid to Canada. “They write, do TV, radio, social media… for international media,” Harper noted.

Her thoughts on the media in Kenya? “Like in other parts of East Africa, it is credible and sophisticated albeit depressing just like in the UK, which is having a tough time.” She loved the fact that although Somalia joined the East African Community only recently, “there is now a whole lot of Somali journalists here.” Kenya’s welcoming of Somali journalists makes them “more bold, more liberal, more comfortable…” And while other East Africans may view Somalis as “those complicated people, who are always fighting”, most Somalis are friendly, charming, open-minded—and willing to integrate, she said.

CS Information, Communication and the Digital Economy Eliud Owalo

CS Information, Communication and the Digital Economy Eliud Owalo makes a point in his keynote speech to editors at Pride Inn Paradise in Shanzu, Mombasa County during KEG’s sixth annual convention.

Another unique aspect of the convention was the decision to split the awards ceremony to accommodate keynote speaker Eliud Owalo, the Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communication and the Digital Economy. The CS was initially scheduled to present the awards during the traditional gala dinner but ended up doing so on the morning of December 2, the last day of the convention, due to other pressing matters.

Mr Owalo’s speech focused on the media sector working group; innovation, sustainability and transformation; the future of the media; and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), popularly known as Kenya’s the ‘Baba na Mama’ broadcaster. The CS cited court cases and an injunction that had stopped the recruitment of a substantive managing director for KBC. The former MD had agreed to withdraw all the cases, get compensated and be given a job. The recruitment of a new MD was in progress, he said.

The welfare of journalists at KBC is not unique to Kenya’s national broadcaster. Also in dire straits are journalists at the Standard Group, publishers of The Standard, Kenya’s oldest newspaper.

Earlier, National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula had raised The Standard journalists’ hopes when he pledged to intercede for cash bailout for their employer. Although Owalo concurred that Government has a role to ensure a legal and regulatory framework that enables media houses to survive and thrive, he threw the spanner in the works when he said, “it’s not for the government to put money into any media house at the expense of the rest”.

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From left: KEG president Emeritus Churchill Otieno and his successor Ms Zubeida Kananu welcome CS Information, Communication and the Digital Economy Eliud Owalo to PrideInn Paradise. The CS was the keynote speaker at KEG’s sixth annual convention.

“Once the [rules] are in place, every media house will have to position itself effectively within that operational framework. This calls for creativity, innovation, strategic agility and manoeuvrability such that any media house can be supported within the law,” Mr Owalo said, underlining the need for “a level playing field for all”.

The CS deplored Kenyans’ perpetual planning mode. “You must move to execution,” he told the editors. He said he expected to be apprised of the convention’s resolutions, what the ministry needs to do and a clear implementation plan, clear timelines, responsibilities, and expected output indicators. “This is the only way to realise the goals and objectives that we aspire to achieve.”

Award winners included Chair of the Ethics and Media Freedom Committee Martin Masai, media scholar and lecturer at the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications Prof George Nyabuga, and the CEO of KEG, Ms Omungo, who were feted in the Service to KEG category. Ms Omungo recalled KEG’s situation when at the time of joining it four years ago, her laptop was her office. “She left a secure senior editorial management position in one of Kenya’s biggest media houses to take charge of an organisation that had no office, no staff, no resources of its own” the citation read.

Masai, a journalist of 40 years’ standing, declared his lifetime commitment to journalism. He would continue inspiring young journalists to see the profession as capable of providing for them, and that journalism should be practised “with utmost respect for self, news sources, colleagues and audiences”. The citation lauded him as “an ever-present fixture in all [KEG] activities, ranging from training, workshops, town hall meetings, stakeholder engagements, media policy formulation, [and] agitation for free and independent media.

Prof Nyabuga was cited as being “part of the team that revamped the Guild in 2018” and who has “brought sponsorship of colossal amounts” [to KEG]. “He has been a trainer, mentor and researcher in several Guild projects” and “was key in crafting the Strategic Plan for KEG”.

Also awarded by Owalo in the Warriors for Freedom category was Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary-General aka SG, Eric Oduor. “Apart [from] agitating on bread-and-butter issues for media workers, he has also been at the forefront, fighting for free and independent media,” the citation read.

The gala session saw one of Kenya’s most celebrated go-getters Alex Chamwada—founder/MD of Chams Media—awarded in the Pioneers and Trailblazers category. Acknowledged in the citation as “a player in an industry that is facing an existential crisis” with “layoffs, delayed salaries and fears of shutdown [as] the order of the day”, his award, after Owalo’s bleak message to editors, was a fitting closure to the convention. There’s life outside the newsroom.

As session moderator Francis Openda put it, “newsrooms have imprisoned a lot of us and for far too long”. He expressed the hope more journalists would break away from newsrooms, which he likened to prisons and working in them as a form of colonisation.

Dorothy Kweyu is an independent writer/editor and sits on the Ethics and Media Freedom Committee of KEG.