After 5 decades, the future depends on ability to adapt
By His Highness the Aga Khan
(Reprinted from a foreword to the Daily Nation 50th Anniversary special supplement)
As the Nation Media Group (NMG) marks its 50th anniversary, it would be too limiting to perceive this occasion as a mere milestone in a history of a media organization, no matter how successful. The Nation’s path has been closely entwined with the history of Kenya, East Africa, and the entire continent during a period filled with momentous developments.
NMG itself has undergone a remarkable transformation. From two struggling Kenyan newspapers, one Kiswahili and one English, half a century ago, the group has grown into the largest multi-media enterprise in East and Central Africa. At the same time, the organization has evolved from a small private company into a publicly-traded corporation, one of the largest on the Kenya stock exchange, with a majority of its shares owned by individual East African shareholders.
My own role in the Nation Media Group has also evolved considerably. Seven years ago I gave my personal shares in NMG to the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED) – the economic development arm of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The move not only gave NMG a new source of corporate strength but it also anchored the company in a broader development philosophy designed to bring excellence and best practices to societies in the developing world. It also allowed NMG to benefit from the Network’s significant experience in East Africa.
The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development is neither a charitable foundation nor a vehicle for wealth generation. It is a for-profit, international development agency that, because of its institutional background and social conscience, invests in projects, which will make a positive contribution to the quality of life for those who are impacted by their activities.
The broader philosophy of the Aga Khan Development Network is founded on the premise that developing societies deserve the best and that settling for less, though often tempting, is an increasingly dangerous option. Our world is competitive: like other AKFED companies, the Nation Media Group must strive to meet world-class standards if it is to thrive and grow in the globalized world of the 21st century.
Our Network, I should also emphasize, is active in a broad range of development fields, from environmental, humanitarian and civil society projects to microfinance and infrastructure investments, to cultural, health-related and educational support. East Africa has been an important setting for our work in all of these arenas, including, most recently, major new initiatives in education.
For example, Kenya is the home of the first functioning Aga Khan Academy, located in Mombasa, and one of a network of 18 schools that will eventually provide world class primary and secondary education to talented students in 14 countries across three continents. I am pleased that East Africa will also host the continent’s first faculty of Arts and Sciences of the Aga Khan University (AKU) as well as the university’s new Graduate School of Media and Communication. It is my sincere hope that the school, which will be initially located in Nairobi and later extended to the new Arusha campus, will help Africa in particular and the developing world in general to develop an ever-stronger corps of owners, media managers, public-spirited professional journalists who will be able to adapt and excel in a rapidly changing media environment.
I believe that the media in general and the Nation Group in particular can play a central role in the shaping of the region and the continent in the years ahead, as part of the growing influence of civil society institutions in an increasingly pluralistic environment. Indeed Kofi Annan, arbitrator of the post-election reconciliation agreement in Kenya, acknowledged the Nation’s work in mobilising the forces of civil society in the cause of stability.
Anniversaries tend to lend themselves to reminiscing about the past— and, most appropriately, to saluting those who have been a part of that past, as I am pleased to join in doing. But commemorative occasions also present an excellent opportunity to look toward the future. NMG has had an impressive record of past achievement , dealing successfully over five decades with a wide variety of challenges and opportunities, and emerging as what some have called a journalistic “Mzee” of East Africa. But now, NMG’s future will depend on its continued ability to learn and to adapt, to attract leaders and employees of the highest quality, and, driven by an ethic of responsible service, maintain the confidence of its reading, viewing, advertising and shareholding constituents.