The regionâ€™s most renowned media executive Wilfred Kiboro is finally leaving the Nation Media Group (NMG) after more than six years as the board chairman.
Mr Kiboro, 71, will be replaced by Dennis Aluanga, a Nation insider currently serving as chairman of the powerful finance and audit committee of the board.
At a glance, the transition looks seamless because Kiboro and Aluanga have worked together for the better part of the last 25 years when they served as CEO and finance director respectively. However the retirement of Kiboro marks more than just the end of an era at the media house.
For the first time since the 1970s the most powerful positions in the company have gone to people outside Central Kenya.
Indeed, the Nation has been considered for many years a GEMA company and it draws a lot of its readership and advertisements from the loyal support of its elite. This perception was entrenched by the close relationships between the NMG management and the financially and politically powerful elite from Central, who often called the Nation â€œour paperâ€.
Kiboro entrenched this view further by working with GEMA lobbies in the opposition between 1992 and 2002, and campaigning for Kibaki and Uhuru thereafter. This worked very well for the company and it entrenched its position as the establishment media house.
The question now is whether the Kikuyu elite will consider the Nation â€œtheir paperâ€ when the executive management and managing editors are predominantly from western Kenya, which is associated with CORD.
Aluanga is Luhya; the new CEO Joe Muganda, a luo; Editor-in-Chief Tom Mshindi is Kisii and Finance Director Stephen Gitagama is Kikuyu. Matters are worse in the editorial department where the retirement of Macharia Gaitho early this month left Ngâ€™angâ€™a Mbugua, the associate editor of Daily Nation, as the most senior Kikuyu editor in the newsroom.
Daily Nation Group Managing Editor Mutuma Mathiu is Meru, Eric Obino of Sunday Nation is Kisii, Pamella Sittoni (The EastAfrican) Luhya, Saturday Nationâ€™s Tim Wanyonyi is Luhya, Churchil Otieno (Digital) Luo, Ochieng Rapuro (Business Daily) Luo, Daniel Kalinaki (Africa) is Ugandan, Linus Kaikai (NTV) Maasai, Nicholas MwemaÂ (Taifa Leo) Kamba and Denis Galava (Investigations) Luhya.
In a market economy this should not matter, but the reality in a country where your name â€œbetrays youâ€ is far much complicated. Already TNA politicians are complaining that the Nation has gone to ODM while the talk in the newsroom is that the â€œKikuyu have become an endangered minoritiesâ€.
For the Nation, the biggest nightmare scenario would be for the Kikuyu to start boycotting the paper on the pretext that it advocates anti-Jubilee agenda. Already in parts of the Rift Valley and Nyanza, readers shun the Nation claiming it â€œpushes GEMA agendaâ€. Though the Nation outsells the Standard at the ratio of 4:1 countrywide, in Kisumu, Siaya, Homa Bay and Eldoret, the Standard beats it.
How Muganda and Aluanga manage this perception will shape their reign in the face of dwindling newspaper sales and falling advertising revenues. The transition is also bound to affect the companyâ€™s relationship with the edgy Jubilee government. While Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto saw Kiboro as a relic of the Kibaki era, the old guard around the presidency worked closely with him and often relied on his networks to push their agenda whenever push came to shove.
Kiboro was also a master networker, and very good at charming the powers that be. Aluanga, on the other hand, is the extreme opposite. An extremely intelligent man credited with crafting the strategy that turned the Nation into a multi-billion shilling profit company ten years ago, he is a poor networker and is known to enjoy his own company.
Muganda is also facing another herculean task. The Nation executive is ultra-masculine and he has to figure out how he will increase the number of women in the company.
Three senior women â€” Mwikali Muthiani (HR Director), Olga Arara (General Manager, Business Development), and Anne Gitao (Marketing Director) left NMG last year.
That leaves only two womenâ€”Elizabeth Kyengo (General Manager Procurement) and Agnes Asiimwe (MD, NTV Uganda) â€” in the senior executive team of 20.
The board has to figure out how it will bridge this gaping gender gap especially given that NMG is one of the three listed companies that have allowed the National Gender and Equality Commission to audit its staff policies.
Matters are worse in editorial, where the Managing Editor ofÂ The EastAfricanÂ Pamela Makotsi-Sittoni is the only senior women in the newsroom. Pamela cut her teeth on the news and subs-desk at Nation and became the first woman to edit a daily newspaper in 2005 when she replaced Mutuma as Managing Editor ofÂ The Standard. She quit in 2006 for UNICEF where she served as communications specialist until 2012 when she was tapped to edit NMGâ€™s regional paper.
The question which Aluanga and Muganda must address is why very few women rise to the top at the company, and when they do their tenure seems to be so short.
Adapted from the Kenyan Editor. The article was first published here.