Pearson aims to establish for-profit schools for poorest in Africa

By Keith Somerville

In a series of interviews with media such as the BBC’s Hardtalk and the Independent  Sir Michael Barber, the chief education adviser for the Pearson  global publishing and education giant, has been pushing hard the idea of for-profit schools for the very poorest in Africa.  The idea is that, to quote his Hardtalk interview, the poorest will pay 3, 4 or five dollars a month to go to school at primary level and 10 to 12 a month at higher levels of education.

He says the aim is to help achieve the UN target of getting all children into at least primary education by 2015 – a goal which Africa is lagging behind in it attempts to attain.  Pearson would invest $15 million in the scheme and would hope to sell out its minority share in each enterprise at a profit in 7 to ten years. Barber said there is huge potential in the vast global education market and that there is an important role for profit in education.

Citing alleged successes in for-profit schooling by Pearson in  Delhi and Karachi, he said this showed that schools for the poorest in society that charged a fee could work to improve educational provision while making a profit for Pearson and local majority investors.  What he didn’t say was just how poor the families were that used the schools and how many of the poorest just simply couldn’t afford it.  The view was that if it worked in India and Pakistan it would work in Africa.

But there are huge questions to be asked and in his interviews he evaded them or wasn’t pressed hard on them (as far as one could see from what was published or broadcast).  These questions revolve both around the amount of income the very poor have available to pay for schooling, the problem of making very broad brush comparisons between South Asia and Africa and the likelihood of private investors in Africa being willing to put up sufficient funds over a long enough period to fund schools without endangering the far more extensive and important government-run education sector while having a level of sustainability.

Poverty and the lack of sufficient cash income is the key issue, though.  Delhi is India’s richest area – its per capita income exceeds that for anywhere else in India and vastly exceeds that of most of Africa – including Accra in Ghana (where Pearson has started a school).  The average per capita income (and yes, there are huge disparities between rich and poor in India) in Delhi is $3,020; in Accra (richer than other areas of Ghana and far richer than most of rural Africa) it is $1,519, with the lowest quartile on $195.  If you pay the lowest rate quoted by barber of $3 a month that is still more than a sixth of a poor family’s income to educate just one child at primary level. At higher level at his lower figure of $10 a day, it is nearly two thirds of an annual family income to educate a child. The Pearsonn executive said that the schools had been hugely successful in India and Pakistan making up 70% of provision in some areas – but he was not asked what happened to government schools in those areas and what proportion of the poorest in those areas could not afford to pay and could then lose out completely if government schools close.

Barber is right in saying that in much of Africa government education is not free because of costs of schoolbooks, uniforms etc, despite there being no basic fee for going to school. But it is still below $36 a year for primary education, as he admitted.  For-profit education, whether in Africa, Asia or Europe, is a system that has as its aim profit. Companies like Pearson are not in it for altruistic reasons but to make money – even Barber at his most circumlocutious couldn’t hide that.  Africa has been a source of profit for too many for too long and to start selling off education to global multinationals desperate to find new sources of profit seems a step too far even in our increasingly rapacious, profit-seeking capitalist-dominated world.

Diane Ravitch, a bestselling writer on US education reform,  was quoted by the Guardian as saying that in its dealings with education for-profit in the United States “Pearson is overstepping the bounds of the role of a profit-making business. The corporation is acting as a quasi-government agency in several instances, but it is not a quasi-government agency: it is a business that sells products and services….At what point do conflicts of interest arise? Is it acting in the best interests of students, of the nation, or of its own business? These are questions that must be raised and answered.”

If powerful states, with strong and well-established institutions (albeit run broadly in the interests of those making profits) cannot cope with Pearson and the way it becomes so closely involved in educational decision-making and has big, fat fingers in running education as well as exam systems (such as Edexcel in the UK) and a global educational textbook business, what hope does a weak, poor African government have?

Pearson, through executives like Sir Michael Barber, has been able to gain huge influence over educational policy, notably in Britain, where Barber was Tony Blair’s adviser but then wrote two key education reports for McKinsey, the management consultants, that are widely cited internationally. He then joined Pearson.  The potential for conflicts of interest and monpolising school management, textbook supply, exam systems and debate on education are staggering and potentially very dangerous in Europe and North America. The dangers of loss of control for people and governments are even more severe in Africa, where the power of international companies is magnified by the weakness and lack of accountability of governments.

Barber made no secret of the fact, in his interviews, that Pearson would be interested in contracting out entire education systems to the for-profit sector.  The dangers for education in Africa are huge and very, very obvious. In Britain,  Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance, which is critical of corporate influence in education, was cited by the Guardian as warning, “This stuff frightens the life out of me. My concern is that business dictates the nature of education, and especially the aims of education”.  The danger is all the more extreme for Africa, where business interests can really reign supreme.

South Africa – Peter Hain, the sports boycott and ending apartheid

Peter Hain, Outside In, London:  Biteback Publishing, 2012

Product Details

Review – by Keith Somerville

Peter Hain was one of the faces, one might say the most notorious face, of the campaign to stop apartheid South Africa’s cricket and rugby teams from touring Britain and Australia and then of the campaign to boycott South African sport globally.  For this he was a hate figure for many in the cricket and rugby establishments in Britain as well as South Africa – he was viciously attacked in right-wing newspapers like the Daily Mail and was on the receiving end of hate mail, death threats and attempts to frame him for crimes to end his role in the campaigns and discredit them.

He writes how the  blinkered right-wing editor of the Daily Mail, Sir John Junor, said that “It would be a mercy for humanity if this unpleasant little creep were to be dropped into a sewerage tank. Up to his ankles. Head first.” (p,42).  This was typical of how the conservative, pro-apartheid press treated those who sought to oppose apartheid and the application of racism to sport.

In this review, I will stick to South Africa, though in his autobiographical account Hain deals fascinatingly, though from his own viewpoint (rather than dispassionately) with  his political career in the Young Liberals and then  the Labour Party,becoming a cabinet minister under Blair and Brown. His depiction of Brown as “well-intentioned, superhumanely dedicated and decent,  by dysfuncional” is the most acute observation of the former Prime Minister I’ve read.

His account of growing up in apartheid South Africa in a family fighting racism and willing to put themselves in the firing line is fascinating.  What is most chilling, and this reminds my of all that I read about many ordinary Germans in Nazi Germany when I was writing a book chapter on German propaganda, is the way that decent, intelligent and otherwise reasonable white South Africans accepted apartheid with all its evils and violence because they could somehow distance themselves and say it was someone else’s idea while demanding racial  loyalty from all whites..  Hain talks of how family members could not accept the way that his parents fought on behalf of the black majority and stood out against, as they saw it, white interests and survival.

He wrotes of his family’s forced move to Britain and then his own development into an activist. His main field – before being active in the anti-racist Anti-Nazi League – was in opposing and organizing boycotts of South African sports tours to try to highlight the racism inherent in South African sport and to oppose apartheid itself.  There has been much discussion of this campaign and whether it merely punished South African sportsmen without affecting the longevity of apartheid or whether it helped bring down apartheid.

I would side with Hain and fully support his actions and his reasoning for doing it. This is not just because I was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the 1980s and wrote for its newspaper, but because on trips as a BBC journalist to South Africa between 1990 and 1995 I spoke to politicians and sportsmen from the white community, visited rugby clubs and saw the near desperation of the white, sports-mad community to be part of world sport.  Under apartheid, especially after the mid-80s, white South Africans felt isolated and knew in their hearts that apartheid was responsible.

I remember sitting in the office of Renier Schoeman, a leading figure in the National Party, in March 1990 and seeing framed on his wall the certificate you got when to subscribed to National Geographic. It was up on his wall along with pictures of him in office and other important reflections of his public lfe. That was how much white South Africans wanted to be part of the wider world. The sports boycott had its effect.  Their acceptance back into the sporting world after 1994 and the reaction among white South Africans to Rugby World Cup victory and Nelson man dela’s presence at the final showed that.

This is a fascinating and personal account by Hain of the campaigns and of the way that the British sporting and conservative establishment (including a series of right-wing judges) tried to stop him.  It adds to the growing literature from the inside of the fight within and without to end apartheid.

Reporting Conflict – blending first-hand experience with in-depth understanding

Reporting Conflict – a review by Keith Somerville

Reporting Conflict - Journalism

As James Rodgers cites in his insightful and compelling examination of the reporting of violent conflict, journalism is often seen as the rough first draft of history (p.6).  It is the way many millions around the world learn about their world and about the conflicts that both plague and shape it.  What we know about the conflict in the eastern Congo or in Somalia or Syria we know through the reporting of correspondents on the scene or as near as possible or through the analysis of politicians and experts mediated through the prism of journalistic reporting.

This makes an understanding of how journalists report conflict key to the ability of people to ingest and themselves analyse what they are being told.  Can they trust this or that journalist, newspaper or radio/TV station; where did they get that piece of video footage, that comment from an eye-witness, who produced that piece of social media; how have they represented the different parties to the conflict, the institutions, NGOs or politicians involved?  These are all questions that need to be asked when reading, listening to or watching journalists’ accounts of events and are particuarly key when it comes to distant armed conflicts.

Rodgers’s book deals with all these issues from both the viewpoint of one who has been there, done that and done it commendably well as a BBC reporter, and from the viewpoint of one who knows and understands the academic literature on journalism and war.  It is an ideal starting place for students coming to journalism either at BA level or, with knowledge and experience from earlier study or work, at MA level. But it is also going to be valuable for academics and researchers in other fields (notably politics and international relations) whose subject areas are the focus of conflict reporting but who don’t know how it works.

In true correspondent fashion the book is clear and concise and not filled with unncessary jargon or the academic waffle that is often used to hide a lack of understanding of how journalism actually works rather than how non-journalists feel it might or should work.  Rodgers notes (p.3) that while some academic accounts are illuminating, “others are wide of the mark”. From my perspective as a career journalist who now straddles journalism and academia this is very true – many academic studies which get too wrapped up with intense sociological analysis or very fine detail critical discourse analysis do not, to journalists who read them, appear to describe their roles or the environment or business in which they work and  are rather ideal-type constructs or creations of a virtual journalism that do not adequately achieve understanding of how it works, identifying processes as mechanistic and failing to account for how content is why it is.

Rodgers’s book does not fall into that trap because the author has succeeded in the world of journalism and can now apply a wide-ranging knowledge drawn from experience and measure it alongside academic study.  Using these great advantages he provides a quick but nonetheless very useful history of the development of war reporting – from the much-feted but also rather flawed William Russell in the Crimea through the world wars to the start of modern, fast, TV-led reporting with the Vietnam War and on to contemporary conflicts.  The Vietnam section is very interesting and Rodgers demonstrates the fallacies of the “journalists lost the war for America” angle describing the interplay bewteen political elites and the media and they way that at times the media was very much guided or even led by the nose by political leaders and that it was ony when those leaders lost their way and faltered that the media became more critical and its coverage of the horrors of the war hit home hard.

Rodgers, and this is no surprise given his wealth of experience, is particularly strong when it comes to looking at issues such as objectivity, balance, independencev access and the nature of the relationship between reporters at the front and the soliders with whom they go into battle or with whome they live in  combat zones.  This is a key area – especially as government and many armies have become ever more skilled in managing journalists and information in the wake of the lessons of Vietnam.

From an African point of view, I would have liked some reference to the way that the reporting of the US role in Somalia, the whole sorry Blackhawk Down episode and the reporting of it affected media coverage of US involvement in wars and may have had a profound effect on the lack of good reporting on Rwanda in 1994 and on the interplay between the media reporting and international action over both Somalia and Bosnia.  The CNN effect is dealt with in passing but I would have welcomed the views of a seasoned correspondent on Piers Robinson’s very valuable refining of the concept and his work that suggests that it is not as powerful as first thought but that when (as in Vietnam) elite confidence or will is weakened then the media can have more of an obvious effect. This obvious effect is then very much dependent on the quality of the reporting of conflict.

Overall, this will be a very useful book for students and non-journalism academics alike, and one cannot but agree wholeheartedly with the conclusion that no sunstitute has emerged despite technological advance and the role of social media for the presence and expertise of foreign correspondents (p. 138).

James Rodgers, Reporting Conflict, basingstoke, Palgrave; 2012. Pbk, pp 154.

ISBN-13: 978-0-230-27446-4

Malawi – report card on Banda’s first hundred days says “good but could do better”

By Keith Somerville

If the Malawian people were to fill in a report card for the first 100 days of Joyce Banda’s presidency evidence from websites, chat shows, social networks and media coverage would suggest that the main comment would be, “Good but could still do better and needs to work on repeated absences”.
She came to power on a wave of euphoria and relief after the death in office of Bingu wa Mutharika. After a brief and rather bungled attempt by the governing Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) leaders to block her succession she was sworn in and immediately got to work entrenching her government and both mending fences with donors alientated by Mutharika and putting right some of the wrongs wrought by him at home.

On the whole she has done rather well, wooing donors back and receiving significant aid and budget support pledges, sacking the unpopular police chief, revoking harsh media laws and generally lightening what had been an increasingly heavy and oppressive hand of government. But not all has been good. Inevitably her attempts to win back financial support has involved much foreign travel and her scaling back on police powers has led to some accusations that she is soft on crime.

A rough and ready, but totally unscientific, survey has been reported by the Nyasa Times website. It said that, “Malawians are not united in thinking President Joyce Banda is as good for the country as the international community thinks she is”, citing as evidence public contributions to call-in radio shows or and comments posted on Facebook. The site quotes Rhodes Msonkho, who presents Capital Radio’s News Talk programme as saying this comment by a caller rather sums things up: “To be honest, 100 days has been prosperous, but I think the only issue which the current regime … [must] look into is the issue of security, which people are worried [about]. If I have given her percentage [out of 100] I think 75 [percent] can do”. On Facebook pages concerning Malawi contributors have also expressed doubts about personal security and rising crime levels – the latter being a possible consequence of the severe economic downturn under the last year of Mutharika’s rule. But some Malawians are worried that Banda’s scrapping of a police “shoot-to-kill” policy may have encouraged crime – notably a recent spate of armed robberies. Some have also questioned whether in the midst of an economic crisis her attention to gay rights is appropriate (though it, of course, has pleased donors critical of African states’ attitudes towards gay rights).

Despite this criticism – and one must always take care in accepting social network comments and phone-ins at face value, as they often only represent the views of a small, vocal and dissatisfied minority – Banda was upbeat when she spoke on 11th July about her achievements. She said in Lilongwe that on taking power she had to embark on “a journey to economic recovery” and that “we knew as a nation that it will not be an easy ride”. She also has set out to fight corruption – though opponents in the DPP say this has been more of a settling of scores with enemies who were involved in her expulsion from Mutharika’s party than tackling corruption. But Banda points out in her own defence that her policies – especially restoring good relations with Britain, the EU and other donors, have meant an end to massive queues for fuel, an influx of foreign exchange to buy imports and the ability to buy much-needed drugs for hospitals.
Aid unfrozen and pledges up
Banda’s main achievement has been restoring ties with Britain, Germany, the EU as a whole and the United States. Tens of millions of dollars in aid and budget have been unfrozen and Malawi’s main aid suppliers have promised about $496 million in budget support, an increase of 140 per cent from 2011, when they promised $210 million, according to the Finance Minister, Ken Lipenga. The Banda bridge-building efforts not only plugged the $121m hole in the current budget but enabled Malawi to get increased aid for the next budget year. The IMF has also restored good relations with Malawi and a three year economic support programme has been put together allowing Malawi credit worth the equivalent of $157m in IMF special drawing rights. In June, Britain released $51m to Malawi for budget support and reconstruction. Much of this money will go to the education, health and agriculture sectors. Both the African Development Bank and the World Bank are resuming programmes for Malawi stopped under Banda’s autocratic predecessor.

Media controls relaxed but opposition MPs unhappy

Domestically, Banda moved quickly to scrap Mutharika’s changes to Article 46 of the penal code which had gave the government powers to ban any news “not in the public interest.” The law gave the Information Minister the right to ban publications or broadcasts that he decided were not in the public interest. This had brought forth a howl of protest from Malawian journalists and the Committee to protect Journalists – which then welcomed Banda’s decision to repeal the changes.
While many ordinary Malawians are happy to see a crackdown on corruption in public life and on high profile civil servants (such as the Clerk of Parliament, Matilda Katopola, who is being questioned about her role in a procurement scandal that was worth K86,997 but which had been dropped as too small by the National Audit Office) the DPP has said many of the investigations are Banda’s revenge on political opponents.
But Banda herself has been criticised for her own spending in office – notably on foreign trips. The Malawi Congress Party, which has otherwise been relatively supportive, said that she has been travelling abroad too much as the taxpayers’ expense – including to Britain for the Queens’ Diamond Jubilee celebrations and then on to America. She has also been to South Africa. Banda’s response is that it was vital to improve foreign relations and restore aid.

Politically, Banda’s situation in parliament is interesting, as her small People’s Party lacks an official presence in parliament and so she did not have anything like a majority among other MPs at first. the People’s Party (PP) had few MPs and isn’t officially recognized within parliament, not having In the months following her inauguration over 80 former members of Mutharika’s Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and 98 United Democratic Front (UDF) members (including a number of MPs) have applied to join the PP. But Malawi’s parliamentary rules prevent those elected for one party crossing the floor to another without seeking re-election. Recently, a large number of defecting DPP members re-defected to their old party when a seven day deadline was set by the Speaker of the National Assembly before he could invoke Section 65 of the parliamentary law which would have stopped them sitting as MPs for another party.
But it is believed that there are still 41 MPs who could still be affected by Section 65. The leading mabvutojobani website says that, “This kind of flip flopping by the legislators has angered many electorates who say their representatives are taking them for granted”. But mabvutojobani reported that the DPP did stage a walk-out from parliament in protest against the Speaker’s after he refusal to declare vacant 40 seats belonging to MPs who defected to the new governing People’s Party. The DPP leaders who led the walk out, including Peter Mutharika (the late president’s bother and heir apparent) is ironic as the DPP had tried to scrap Section 65 when they were in power so they could win over opposition MPs
The next elections are not due until May 2014 – so the political merry-go-round will keep spinning until then – no doubt further weakening public respect for the country’s less than principled politicians and legislators.

The Libyan Sandstorm – a story of Libyans, Gaddafi and revolution: book review

By Keith Somerville

Lindsey Hilsum, Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution

It’s all too common that when leading reporters and correspondents write their accounts of events, they become the key player, the focus of the action and their feelings, responses and interpretations become the prism through which the reader is invited to view events. One need only to think of John Simpson in his burqa and his personal liberation of Kabul to realise how the main story can be forgotten. So, it was refreshing as well as enlightening to read Lindsey Hilsum’s thorough, informative and, dare I say it, entertaining account of the Libyan revolution. This is not a whimsical or satirical account in the style of Bill Bryson or P.J. O’Rourke, it’s just that the elegance, pace and sheer quality of the writing make it not only a comprehensive account of events and, most importantly of all, of their context, but one written in a way that now again brings a wry smile to the reader’s face. A good example is when Hilsum discusses the Libyan revolution as part of the Arab Spring. She explains that “while the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and Syria might be similar to each other in corruption and nepotism, and might employ the same brutal tactics…Every country was unhappy in its own way” (p. 19). Neat, concise but also incisive and avoiding the simplistic accounts you get of the Arab spring.

The book starts with the brutal, vengeful beating, sodomising and killing of Muammar Gaddafi. The account pulls no punches. The fate meted out to him was violent and hate-filled, but the writer neither descends into a stock condemnation of human rights abuses nor an apologia for the perpetrators, rather she sets out why it happened. The act is explained but not justified, as is the public display of his body. As a good journalist, Hilsum conveys atmosphere, feeling and explanation, placing Libyans at centre stage, not herself. We find out why these things happen, rather than their effect on the journalist.

The book is well-structured, moving from the death of the Brother Leader to an account of the strange, massively contradictory and bombastic nature of the man – a man who could denounce the West and all its manifestations on the one hand and, at the height of his denunciations, fund a Hollywood style film about a Libyan hero, Omar Mukhtar, in which the hero is played by Anthony Quinn. She captures his fascination but effective contempt for women but also some of the positive effects of his fascination – the allegations of his womanising are detailed but this is accompanied by a detailing of the progress women were able to achieve under his rule in terms of education and employment. The strangest of all the revelations in the chapter on his Strange World are those concerned with his crazed message to Madeleine Albright, the USecretary of State, to wear green when she’s on TV to show that she loves him or his obsession with Condoleezza Rice, who he referred to as his “African Princess”.

There follows a well-researched narrative of the rise and consolidation of the Gaddafi regime – with its rejection of parliaments, formal state structures and its interwoven system of Revolutionary Committees to both mobilise and watch over the population. Hilsum also charts the rise first of the secular and then the Islamic opposition to Gaddafi and his brutal suppression of the revolts, with first-hand accounts from witnesses of killings and of the infamous Abu Salim massacre, in which 1,270 political prisoners were killed.

From an Africanist’s point of view, the King of Kings of Africa is one of the most fascinating chapters. Again, we see the contradictory, almost schizophrenic, nature of his policies. But behind it all there is a logic and that is based on his view of the interests of his regime and his standing in Africa. He supported liberation movements in southern Africa when they most needed funds, weapons and training –for this he earned the undying gratitude of Nelson Mandela. For those bordering Libya or within what he saw as his sphere of interest in Central and West Africa, gratitude is not the word most would use for their feelings towards him – hatred, bitterness and contempt for his high-handed and mercenary policies would be nearer the mark. Here was a man who thought nothing of seizing the territory of neighbouring states (Chad), fuelling but then helping extinguish revolts by movements according to narrow self-interest and helping build up brutal killers like Foday Sankoh in Sierra Leone and Charles Taylor in Liberia, not to mention his support for Idi Amin in Uganda. Gaddafi’s manipulation of the Tuareg, of the revolt in Darfur and of movements like Polisario show the way that his self-interest perverted popular or resistance movements, undermined African governments and complicated the already tangled legacy of colonialism.
Of key interest to readers now, will be the clear, empathetic but balanced account of the rising against Gaddafi, its progress, its dynamics and the challenges that now face the Libyan people. There’s no wide-eyed excitement and optimism that with Gaddafi gone all will be golden. The splits, rivalries and fault lines of the rebel movement (if it can even be called a movement) are revealed, providing an understanding of the clashes and fracturing of alliances now taking place. What is fascinating, too, is the account of why the West intervened (with guilt over Rwanda and Srebrenica mixed with less compassionate motives) and the role of Gulf states, particularly Qatar in that intervention – with nothing held back on why those states supported intervention in the hopes of averting intervention to stop the suppression of their own popular uprisings.

This is a compelling and comprehensive account of the uprising, its context and its complexity, uncluttered by jargon or the “big I am” tendency that mars many first-hand accounts by journalists of the chapters in history they have witnessed and reported.

Lindsey Hilsum’s Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution is published by faber and faber, London, 2012. ISBN 978-0-571-28803-8

Region-building in southern Africa: can the SADC pick up the pace? Book review

Few would argue that, “with its relatively weak economies, widespread poverty and great inerqualities, region-building remains a goal progressively to to be aimed at” in southern Africa (p.297).  Or that the stress must be on it being a goal to be aimed at rather than one  that has been reached or even one which has seen significant progress.  That is the effective message of the very comprehensive  and tightly packed analysis of regional cooperation in Region-building in southern Africa: Progress, problems and prospects  written by Chris Saunders, Gwinyayi Dzinesa and Dawn Nagar and published by Zed.

The volume covers a huge range in great detail and benefits from contributions by diplomats and southern Africans closely involved in integration efforts, such as former Southern African Development Community (SADC) head Kaire Mbuende.  Chapters cover everything from the case for regional integration through governance and security to economic integration, the customs union, food security, fighting HIV/AIDS,climate change and relations with key partners outside Africa.

The main message of the book is rather a gloomy one, that southern African states have come together because they are in the same geographical area but do not yet share “a set of either common interests or common values” (p. 99).   Mbuende, from his experience as  Executive Secretary of the SADC for five years, laments the lack of any regional capacity building and the SADC modus operandi of giving sectoral responsibilities to individual states (p.41).    Landsberg picks up on this and points to the lack of institutional capacity in the SADC to rise about national interests and, particularly, to overcome rivalries and contrasting approaches to governnance, democracy and development.

The message is that unless the SADC can become more extra-national and build its own capacity and take for itself control of sectors such as customs, trade, transport etc on a regional basis, the Community will progress litle further.  In their introduction, the editors of the volume point to the key fact that little has been achieved in promoting trade within the region and South Africa, as the regional economic power, trades more with Europe, China and the United States individually than with the whole of the SADC region.  China’s role seems particularly key here and it is good that there is a chapter devoted to it, but it is sadly the least effective in the book and seems superifical and lacking in serious analysis of problems as well as positive sides of Chinese investment and trade.  There is no real discussion of the flooding of southern African  markets with cheap manufactured goods often sold at a loss that then undercut local products and decrease rather than increase economic development in the region in thelong-term. Similarly, the influx of Chinese unskilled workers as well as skilled workers means that projects often fail to provide employment for local people.  This is a failing and the chapter doesn’t come up to the standards, for example, of Chris Alden’s more realistic and balanced examination of Chinese investment  in and trade with Africa (China in Africa, Zed Books, 2007).

But overall, it is a very useful volume with clear and sobering assessments of the limits to region-building in the southern Africa – for those interested  in the prospects for regional community-building this book will provide a lot of food for thought.

Chris Saunders, Gwinyayi A. Dzinesa and Dawn Nagar (ed), Region-building in southern Africa: Progress, problems and prospects, London, Zed Books, 2012,  ISBN 978 1 78032 178 3 (pb).

Kenya: challenges facing the media with elections on the horizon

By Keith Somerville

In its review of the media in Africa in published in 2011, the Africa office of the International Federations of Journalists lamented that while out that the final communique of the African Union summit in that year spoke of the need for the rule of law, good governance and the encouragement of democratic practices as shared values across Africa it didn’t mention a free media.  The IFJ emphasised that despite a concerted effort by media stakeholders and civil society groups to lobby AU leaders and African heads of state to include press freedom, it was missing from the communique and that for the heads of state “press freedom, freedom of expression and access to information for citizens, are not yet values they share” .  The Federation also pointed out that in the year preceding the report 12  African journalists had been assassinated, 5 killed “accidentally”, 34 jailed and hundreds intimidated, threatened, physically attacked or forced into exile.  Many more had been censored, bribed or sacked to ensure that damaging or critical stories weren’t broadcast or published and that governments and major political movements were able to control the content of the press


In this environment the development of a strong fourth estate in individual countries is uneven and beset by obstacles and frequent setbacks.   Taking the example of Kenya, in some ways it show aspects of a thriving press, courageous and talented journalists and a striving for greater press freedom and freedom of information, but journalists will face major challenges  in the current year – challenges that, if overcome, could lead to advances in media freedom. If the challenges prove too hard, there could be an effective decline in the quality of the press and the worsening of the environment for reporting, publishing and broadcasting freely and for the benefit of  Kenyans.

Kenya – harassment, hate and the hustings


Even under the autocratic rule of Jomo Kenyatta and then Daniel arap Moi and the Kanu party, the Kenyan press enjoyed somewhat more freedom than its counterparts in much of Africa.  Benefitting from newspapers set up under colonialism to serve the colonists but continuing to operate after independence with foreign ownership, Kenyans were able to get more of an idea of how they were governed than in states where the media was totally under state control.  That’s not to say that the press was free but it had a certain leeway and operated as much under a system of self-censorship as under direct state restriction, though criticism of the government was severely limited. The printed media was dominated by the Nation Group (owned by the Agha Khan), which published the widely-read and authoritative (within the parameters described) Daily Nation, and the Standard group owned, then, by the British-based Lonrho multinational, which published the Standard.

Broadcasting, until the end of the one-party era, remained under state control and the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) was (and to a lesser but still significant extent still is) the mouthpiece of the state – something criticised heavily by media observers and the European Union election monitoring team during the December 2007 elections.  It was only after the formal legalisation of multiparty politics that the press became a forum for lively political debate.  Lacking a history or experience of press freedom, this debate was often unfocused and unstructured and a new factor came into play, which remains dominant today – media outlets came under the control of politicians and leading businessmen, often through proxy or covert ownership.  The Standard was sold by Lonrho and is now owned by a group of Kenyan businessmen. Since 2002 it has has been viewed as an opposition newspaper – when Lonrho sold the newspaper the first chairman of the new Standard board was Mark Too, a close relation of Moi and the paper is now regarded as part of the Moi family’s business empire

Politically motivated ownership of newspapers and other media outlets is widespread though often hidden.  Many media observers I’ve met and consulted in Nairobi believe that the controversial Kalenjin leader William Ruto, indicted by the International Criminal Court  for crimes against humanity relating to the 2007-8 post-election violence, is behind the Kalenjin radio station Kass FM and that Uhuru Kenyatta (also indicted on similar charges by the ICC) is behind K24 TV and Kameme FM radio.  Senior journalists and executives at Kass and Kameme deny the links with Ruto and  Kenyatta.

During the 2007-8 elections, the press and broadcast media were relatively free to reflect the political debates, but the European elections monitors, human rights groups and the BBC World Service Trust, who all studied the elections and media behaviour concluded that they but there is evidence that they failed to provide equitable coverage of political leaders and parties. Different media outlets expressed clear preferences for candidates or parties and the selection of stories was far from impartial Journalists in Kenya have told me that politicians use their influence in stations owned by proxies or allies to control coverage or will bribe or threaten journalists to cover certain stories or politicians and ignore others.

As Kenya approaches a new election season, there is little indication that the situation has improved.  Elections have been scheduled for March 2013 but President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga (who were rivals in 2007) can’t agree on the date and there may be a challenge in court to the timing.  Kibaki, supported by the Nation group in 2007, can’t stand again under the constitution and it was expected that Uhuru Kenyatta, in an alliance with William Ruto, would stand in his place against Odinga – though it’s never been clear what Ruto would get from such a deal. In such a case the media close to Kenyatta and Ruto would undoubtedly vociferously support them and coverage would be as partial as five years ago.  Odinga is likely to get support from the Standard, not because Moi wants to see him as President, but because Moi’s competition for support of the Kalenjin community in the Rift Valley with William Ruto would lead him to support whoever opposes Ruto.

The other key media issue likely to emerge is the use of the media – particularly vernacular radio stations – to broadcast inflammatory political messages that could inflame tensions and lead to violence, as after the 2007 elections.  Kenya has a number of vernacular stations – the most important being Kameme FM, Inooro FM and Coro FM (Kikuyu),  Chamge FM, Kass FM and Rehema Radio (Kalenjin), Ramogi FM and Lake Victoria (Luo), Mulembe FM (Luhya) and Mbaitu FM (Kamba). In 2008, Kass, Inooro, Kameme, Romagi and Lake Victoria were all accused at various times of broadcasting hate message at supporters of rival political groups and at members of other language communities.  One result is that Joshua arap sang, main presenter and editor-in-chief at Kass has been indicted by the ICC and the charges relate partly to his broadcasting at Kass.

In February 2010, the chief government media officer, Alfred Mutua, told the author that the government was unhappy about some of the material broadcast by vernacular stations but could not act under existing laws and without incurring accusations of stifling radio broadcasters critical of the government.  But later in the year the government-appointed National Cohesion and Integration Commission warned a number of stations about hate broadcasting during the referendum campaign on the constitution – Kass FM was among the stations warned.

The results of the Sang trial at the ICC could have major effects for the Kenyan media if  the charges are pressed and he is found guilty of broadcasting hate speech as part of the wider charges of crimes against humanity.  This could lead to pressure for legislation to rein in vernacular stations.  But of wider importance is the highly political nature of the media at election times – when Kenyans have to work hard to put together a clear picture of the candidates and what they really stand for from the flood of highly partial material published and broadcast.  The election will not just be a test of politicians and their policies, but also of the health of the media and it be an opportunity to see if those who own or influence it have learned the lessons of 2007-8.


Keith Somerville, lecturer in Humanitarian Communications, University of Kent, Canterbury, and founder/editor of A