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On China Square dispute, only The Star told richer story

You heard about China Square, no? Nairobi’s trending supermarket on Thika Road started by a 37-year-old who has got everyone raving mad – except customers, of course – with cheap prices?

Yes, that one.

Last week, various media outlets told bits and pieces about the venture that now has government officials contradicting each other on policy, traders threatening revolt, and customers swamping the new supermarket at Unicity Mall near Kenyatta University to have a piece of the pie, anyway.

Only The Star told the most informative story of China Square.

The Daily Nation focused on the supermarket’s founder, Lei Cheng, alias Charlie.

Titled, “How chance visit to ‘overpriced’ Kenyan supermarkets birthed China Square”, the story by Simon Ciuru said that Cheng visited Kenya in September last year, was shocked by prices of Chinese-made products that he knew where cheaper, returned home in China, convinced suppliers, returned to Nairobi and opened shop in January. A month later, his China town, which rivals accuse of slicing prices by almost half, makes Sh10 million – on a bad day.

Sounds like a fairy tale, doesn’t it?

The story was single sourced, from an interview of Cheng only. That’s skewed.

Not surprisingly, the reporter was taken by his subject. Cheng said this, Cheng said that, he maintains this, he claimed that, blah, blah, blah.

The Nation found him “sitting unperturbed”. He was “not even bothered” by Trade Secretary Moses Kuria’s threat to have China Square’s lease bought out and his business shut down.

Kuria told the press that Chinese investors are welcome in Kenya, but only as manufacturers, not traders.

The story did not check or challenge anything Cheng reportedly said.

On its part, The Standard focused on Kuria’s move to have China Square’s lease bought out to shut down the business.

Titled, “Moses Kuria takes firm stand on Chinese investors, offers buyout for KU’s China Square”, the January 25 story by Betty Njeru sprinkled in foreign policy, after expounding on the story title, and then put a full stop.

On the other hand, The Star came in and added more meat.

The story title was narrow: “Foreign Affairs PS Sing’oei differs sharply with CS Kuria over China Square”. However, the paper told more.

After reporting about a later deleted tweet by Principal Secretary Korir Sing’oei that Kenya’s investment promotion and protection regime is equitable, non-arbitrary and non-discriminatory, a clear rebuke of Kuria’s position, The Star went beyond the basics reported above.

The story by Allan Kisia said that China Square was now the cheapest supermarket in the city, according to Kenyans on social media.

It told readers what the supermarket sells: stationery, furniture, home decoration items, cleaning supplies, hardware store and electrical appliances.

The story said traders from Kamukunji, Eastleigh, Luthuli Avenue and Gikomba are said to be planning a demonstration to protest against Cheng’s unfair, cheap prices.

And the story named former Interior Secretary Fred Matiangi as the boogieman. It’s Matiangi who issued permits to Chinese traders at the mall, The Star quoted a tweet by Kuria.

In the end, The Star may have run with a narrow title and characteristically spoken with too few sources, but it unwittingly told a richer story.

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