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Congrats, Kalekye, you’ve your work cut out at Broadcasting House

You obviously know the road to the public broadcaster, KBC, is named after independence hero Harry Thuku. Lakini why?

Thuku is one of Kenya’s pioneering journalists. He worked for the Leader newspaper before founding the national Kiswahili daily, Tangazo, in 1921.

The publisher and editor-in-chief of the unforgettable Society weekly, Pius Nyamora, reports that, “Thuku used Tangazo, meetings, and congregations to preach African and racial unity. He was so popular that his arrest by the colonial police on March 14, 1921, attracted a crowd estimated at 7,000-8,000 Africans around a Nairobi police station where he was held. Thuku was found guilty of possessing libelous publications and detained from 1922 to 1930. Tangazo could not continue publishing without him.”

Journalist Thuku was held at Kingsway police station, now Central police station, where generations of University of Nairobi “comrades” like to “speak” to Gava – but not so quietly.

Alafu, upon learning of Harry Thuku’s arrest, one of Kenya’s fiercest women liberation warriors organised a protest march to secure his release. Let’s leave it to The Standard to tell the story:

“As the day wore on, the crowd got increasingly agitated. At some point, a woman called Muthoni Nyanjiru leapt to her feet, lifted her dress over her head and dared the men to hand over their trousers to the women if they could not free their leader. As a result of her action, women ululated and the crowd surged forward.

“The police opened fire and Muthoni Nyanjiru was among the first people killed. After what has come to be known as Harry Thuku riots, over 100 people lay dead, though the British authorities gave the official figure as 21.”

That’s the location where Agnes Kalekye is now boss. Media minister Eliud Owalo appointed her managing director of Kenya Broadcasting Corporation on Friday, May 17.

Kalekye wore two hats prior to her KBC appointment. She was the chief operating officer of The Star newspaper, which is read by “smart people”, according to the marketers at Lion Place. She is also chairperson of the Media Owners Association.

Kalekye speaks and writes well. Her firm statements on media freedom are a matter of public record. Now, she is going to play a very difficult game.

The national broadcaster has for the longest time suffered from state neglect and poor management. Kalekye takes over from Samuel Maina, who was sacked in December. But Maina is not yet in court to state his side of the story. Why isn’t CS Owalo asking Director of Public Prosecutions to arraign him?

Anyway, the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation always has bad books. It is not just about what Auditor General Nancy Gathungu reports in her annual filings. Speak to workers at KBC and you get a painful picture.

Over two years into the administration of President William Ruto, there are no clear indications KBC is undergoing the reforms it desperately needs.

So, what’s Kalekye’s call on Harry Thuku Road (or should we say Muthoni Nyanjiru Avenue?)

Last July, CS Owalo announced a Sh340 million plan to revamp KBC. The next month, the Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua held discussions with Fu Hua, president of the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, on strengthening partnerships with KBC.

We want to reboot KBC into a vibrant and objective agency in informing the people of Kenya,” the public broadcaster quoted Gachagua as saying.

Are these plans on course, Kalekye?

We stated here last year that KBC struggles with low funding from the exchequer, fierce competition in a liberalised broadcast industry, and the disruptions of the Digital Age.

But state audits also point out multimillion-shilling contracts, partnerships, procurements, and even hiring, at Broadcasting House that are shrouded in inexplicable opacity.

The picture that emerges from audits is one of a run-down public institution staffed by hordes of tired, poorly equipped, and demoralised professionals who have long given up on the value of the work they do beyond a monthly pay cheque.

Congratulations, Madam MD Kalekye! In a country where top media perches are dominated by men, your appointment is a powerful vote of confidence on women in media leadership.

No expectation of miracles. You will work hard. KBC is a public institution and delivery of its mandate entirely depends on Gava’s funding, support and oversight.

But, Kalekye, you are the new Muthoni Nyanjiru on Harry Thuku Road. You must win.

See you next week!

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