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Kudos media for championing devolution, writing first drafts of counties history

Do you remember NTV County Edition? Nation Media Group dispatched its news crews to report from one county every weekend. The teams laid out detailed and unique news and analysis that most Kenyan audiences were probably seeing for the first time.

NTV news anchors and reporters – sometimes resplendent in local attire and greeting their viewers in area vernaculars, enjoying local delicacies or joining in celebrations – brought out a whole new level of freshness to television journalism.

At the 8th Devolution Conference held in Eldoret last week to celebrate 10 years of county governments, NMG won the Tai Award for championing devolution. The award is dedicated to media houses. Cape Media (owners of TV47) and Royal Media Services took position two and three respectively.

Tai is a category of the Devolution Warrior Awards, an initiative of the Council of Governors and partners that seeks to highlight and celebrate the efforts of individuals and institutions that have shown exceptional performance in promoting, protecting, and championing devolution in Kenya.

If today Kenyans have a better understanding of county governments and actively participate in their running, it is in part because the media picked up the devolution story and ran with it.

The Standard Group launched a special weekly, touted as “Kenya’s first national newspaper of unrivalled quality, specifically targeting the counties ushered in by the new Constitution.” Unfortunately, the publication later folded.

In the past decade, practically every major media house has scrambled to provide targeted coverage of the entirely new phenomenon of devolved government.

Devolution has transformed news content. Previously, all the important national news happened in Nairobi. Still does. The Green City in the Sun – as it once was – is the country’s capital, seat of national government, hosts the most important public and private institutions, home to the international headquarters of two UN agencies, and is one of Africa’s richest and busiest business hubs.

But devolution created multiple news hubs and newsmakers away from Nairobi and other cities.

“Progress has been made since 2013 with devolution transferring massive resources from the centre to the grassroots, which resulted in impressive development as new major towns sprang up in all the headquarters of the counties,” the Daily Nation wrote in an editorial on August 17 (p.14).

The Standard editors wrote that, “So far, it is clear that devolution was a great idea. It has brought resources and power closer to the people, and the regional governments have recorded many success” (August 14, p.12).

“Feeder roads in villages and small towns that were never thought would be opened are now accessible for motorised transport, with some upgraded to bitumen standard. This improved connectivity and accessibility within and between counties has boosted economic activities in the rural areas.”

Other devolved functions like health and agriculture have witnessed impressive developments as well.

The media has been at the forefront documenting all these achievements, providing useful information Kenyans need to make critical personal and collective decisions.

Even when the media has highlighted glaring failures of county governments, such as widespread cases of “devolved corruption”, the scourge of ghost workers and the like, the coverage has always been informed by a clear desire of the Fourth Estate for devolution to succeed.

Numerous capacity building sessions and other forms of training have been conducted for journalists to improve their understanding and coverage of devolution. These commendable initiatives continue.

In January, Media Council of Kenya CEO David Omwoyo and the Council of Governors ICT and Knowledge Management Committee chairman, Governor Wisley Rotich, signed an MoU to enhance collaborative capacity building of county communications and media staff, improve relations between county governments and journalists, and to develop training curricula on devolution for the media.

But devolution has also created new sites for media repression. Sometimes reporters have been harassed for doing their work or denied information by the new cadre of regional bosses and their overzealous handlers. Or scribes have abandoned their professional ethics and been co-opted into county “eating” sprees.

But, overall, so far so good. Devolution is a major milestone on Kenya’s journey to maturity as a democracy through dispersal of power and resources. The media remains a critical force in this journey. There is much to celebrate, and much to improve as we embark on the second decade of 48 Governments, One Nation.

See you next week!


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