Kenya Broadcasting: Tribalism in Steroids? Those who are old school have certain things in common. Certain traits of comradely that are shared by only old friends. I Mean old friends like my dorm mates in high school. Those one long roomers with double decks of squishing beds. Those old friends like my Kenyan college roommates who enjoyed door less bathrooms or as we called them, the ‘thrones of Solomon’! Talking about Bible College so we had to give them something relevant.
Those old school boys and girls who like me have some grey hair and the football is a little bit too heavy to kick enjoyed certain traits of comradely like KBC’s ‘sundowner’. Those old R&B songs still go through our minds. The presenters were just right, not talking over Kenny Rogers’ the gambler! Precious evening especially for those who lived by the mountains as they watched the sunset at same time daily down Mt. Longonot or Mt Kenya, or those wonder hills of Khumsalaba. It did not matter where one was, the radio did not discriminate or show favor, and it spoke the same language. For those enjoying the an evening at Nyali beach, or those sitting by lake Victoria watching the fishermen go out for the evening ‘hunt’ we were one people under one great sound of “Kenya inchi yangu” played by the military band signaling the news.
They say change is good and as a theorist I agree with the premise. My question is whether all change is good. President Daniel Toroitich arap Moi liberated the media and handed out the broadcast license to private companies. Those first licenses were to mainstream broadcasting. We at Bibilia Husema Studios, Kijabe got our license in 1988 and decided to go forth with the non-discriminative philosophy of Christ for all nations. The gospel message from Kijabe had always been identified by Wimbo Niupendao. Every Kenyan tuned in Sunday afternoon to hear a presentation of the Gospel of Christ in music that reached every heart in the language of all.
The problem is that liberalization became a wild fire, and those who started the fire had not bought any fire equipments or supply to control the burning. Therefore every person with some millions to spare jumped into the market and started broadcasting: or should we say ‘propaganda’. In 2007 I wrote an article on Kenya Empowerment Newspaper (Kim Media group Atlanta) arguing that Kenyan tribalism was going to be promoted legally through broadcasting. Some who read argued that Kenyans are mature enough to not become tribal; that the new generation of young people had moved away from tribalism to nationalism
My concern arises from sitting at one of those manduka hangouts and realizing that the shopkeepers tuned their radios to stations broadcasting in Kikuyu.This means that any other tribal group within the area had no idea what was being talked about. Given the expense of starting a radio and sustaining it, many of the smaller tribes did not have a way of starting their own. One company, like the Royal Media, served others but its stations were for the bigger tribes, which meant market share in advertising.
After the Start of KAS FM by my brother Joshua Arap Sung, the Kalenjin community saw the growth of several other tribal stations. The luhya community has their stations, the Luo Community has several, and the Kamba has ‘musie’ fm and others. The harmonious nation that we grew up in with the comradery of ‘sun downer’ and wimbo Niupendao has gone. The nationalism of all of us singing that old song, “pole pole Mzee kwa kufungua…” or the Maroon Commandos song “. . . hata wewe mwanangu Amuka Kumekucha kwani hizi ndizo saa za kwenda shule,” is legally gone!
Each society has its own problems, but the Kenyan societies’ un-regulated distribution of licenses for broadcast has given tribalism steroids and registered it as legitimate business. Every tribe now seeks to have their own station. Each tribal group has migrated from the national ideal of we the people to we the tribe. It is true that while within a certain community politicians do result to speaking their language to get the point home. DP William Ruto is a master and who can blame him. But to have Radio and now Television Stations promote the idea of tribalism, as a mainstream philosophy is scary!
As a Kenyan Media owner, it is important to sound an alarm that we as a country are going the wrong direction. Ours of course remain focused on the Kijabe Evangelistic Ideal that the message of the cross is salfavic to all men: That, at the Cross of Christ, every tribe and group finds forgiveness and the blessings of eternal life.
The question we who are citizens of this Kingdom of Man known as Kenya is, who do we want to be National or tribal? If the former, we must take a hard pill and eliminate tribal broadcasting!
So it is written, so it should be.
Teddy Njoroge Kamau (PhD)
CEO Bibilia Broadcasting Network BBN TV Kenya (EMG)
Diaspora Messenger Senior columnist