DECEMBER 10, 1988


December 10th, 1988, saw the foundation ceremony of the proposed NATION CENTRE by Mawlana Hazar Imam, a function which was attended by a host of senior Government officials and invited guests. Nairobi's Kimathi Street is to be the site for East Africa's largest dailies, Taifa and The Nation, and also of the Diamond Trust of Kenya Limited. Alongside these two main tenants, there will also be room for other offices, retail outlets, a coffee shop, a meeting room, and a fully equipped media centre with television broadcasting and recording as well as satellite facilities.

The Nation Group, Diamond Trust of Kenya, Jubilee Insurance Company and I.P.S. Kenya together form the Industrial Promotion Buildings, Limited (L.P.B.) which is the owner of this futuristic and modern building complex. Bearing in mind the commercial viability of this mammoth project, a worldwide search was made for appropriate architectural firms to design this building. After several considerations, contracts were awarded jointly to two firms - Henning Larsen (a Danish company, who have designed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) and Planning Systems and Services (a very successful Kenyan company with expertise of over twenty years in the design and erection of high rise office buildings).

This Centre will not only portray a modern landmark for Kenya, but will also be a reminder to one and all of the progress and achievement that we Kenyans have attained for a better, and more informed public at large.

Honourable Ministers, Chairman, Nairobi City Commission, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank Your Excellencies for your presence here today.

At this time of celebration marking Kenya's 25th Anniversary of Independence, it is fortunate, and we can be happy, to be gathered here on this site to mark a new chapter in the history of the Nation Group, the largest publishers in the country today.

With justifiable pride, the people of Kenya must be struck by the remarkable progress which this country has achieved since independence.

The history of the Nation Group is closely tied to these momentous twenty-five years. It was virtually on the eve of independence that the Group was born, and only three years ago, that it celebrated its own Silver Jubilee.

In the late 1950's, the need for a platform to enable the people of Kenya to debate in a public and responsible manner the emerging and important issues affecting their - and their children's - future was recognized. I was approached by individuals representing a wide spectrum of society, who asked me to consider establishing a newspaper. In response, I launched the company that was to become Nation Printers and Publishers.

It was my earnest hope to create a national medium where professional standards, and the ethics and the training on which they rest, would be upheld, where news would be clearly distinguished from views. It was to be, also, a medium which would eventually be managed by Kenyans and that, once its editorial and economic future were consolidated, would pass to their majority ownership.

Many of those targets have been achieved, partially if not completely. I salute Their Excellencies Presidents Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi and their Governments, and all the men and women of the Nation Group for having enabled these rigorous objectives to become a daily national reality of Kenyan life. I express to them all, and to our loyal readers my deep gratitude.

Equally, it must be with a genuine sense of pride that you and I can note that your independent press is one of the rare exceptions not only in Africa, but in the developing world. And hopefully this democratic freedom enshrined in your constitution will be further strengthened by the bill passed recently in Parliament relating to the potential role of the private sector in the broadcast media. The Nation Group has indicated its interest in participating in these developments.

Nation Newspapers has sought to uphold the legitimacy of the constitutional process, to reflect all aspects of national life, and to defend the country's economic interests, and its culture and its society.

One thing must also be said about the management and staff of the Nation: They are patriotic Kenyans, proud of their profession, proud of their country, and determined to promote its unity and its welfare. This pride, this patriotism has always been, and hopefully always will be, reflected in the pages of Taifa and the Nation. But, it cannot translate into the suppression of unpleasing news. And this is the essence of the quandary in which every journalist, in every publication, here and elsewhere must exercise judgement: so often the truth if published can cause damage, not publishing it, however, will do likewise.

In many developing countries, journalists are an underprivileged class, under paid, sometimes victimised and who are, as a result often poor ambassadors for their profession. It is one of my deepest hopes for the future that here in Kenya, the Government and all newspapers, including of course the Nation Group, will continue to enhance the journalists' profession, for it is only by harnessing to it the intelligentsia of the country, the well educated, the articulate and the best analytical minds, that the communications and printed media will improve the quality of their service to the country, and to readers outside it.

Kenya Litho, the commercial printing company in the Group, has also progressed significantly, buoyed up by the growth of Kenya's industrial sector. It is a national leader in the packaging and printing field, and has proved increasingly successful in expanding export markets.

Over the years the consistent record of profits of the Group has provided it with the ability to grow, while dividends to shareholders have increased, satisfying their legitimate expectations, a significant proportion of these profits has been reinvested in modernisation and upgrading.

The Nation Group, with its subsidiaries, is now one of Kenya's larger employers - with a total staff of 658 individuals - only 8 of whom are non-Kenyans.

In 1973, shortly after the Group's 10th Anniversary, the Kenyan public was invited for the first time to enter the company's shareholding. The placement of 40 percent of the Group's equity on the Nairobi Stock Exchange saw over 3,000 shareholders subscribe.

The next, and most decisive step of ensuring actual majority ownership of the Nation Group by Kenyans has just been achieved this week. The sale, through a Public issue, of a further two and a half million shares was substantially oversubscribed, adding no less than 7,500 new shareholders. Today, with a total of over 10,000 shareholders, the Group must surely be in a unique position on the African continent.

The fact that the vast majority of these shareholders will own portfolios averaging between 100-200 shares is a resounding confirmation of the interest and belief of ordinary Kenyans in the future of a free, independent and financially sound press in this country.

The attainment of this objective, in this Kenya's 25th year of independence, gives me particular cause for satisfaction.

The last 25 years have seen major changes occur in the concepts and levels of development of countries of Africa and Asia. Problems such as food self-sufficiency which appeared insoluble a quarter of a century ago, in much of the developing world, are now partially if not completely resolved, with some nations even being able to export food. The point I wish to make today is that those concepts of under-development of 25 years ago often no longer fortunately hold true.

I have asked myself what are the criteria at the end of the 20th century by which the world judges a country to have reached an economic, political and social status whereby it can be called developed.

Two criteria, when fulfilled, certainly seem to contribute to that definition: the first is the existence of a diversity of flourishing privately controlled printed media. The second is the ability of high-tech industries to survive and grow in the national economy, and to compete in the free world market with similar high-technology industries in other parts of the world.

Kenya qualifies under both headings: First, Kenya has no less than five daily newspapers and an increasing number of weekly and monthly publications.

Second, when the new Nation Centre on this site will be completed, it is our expectation that the Group will simultaneously have completed its technological transformation and up-grading process whereby its publications will be printed in an environment and with equipment which will be technologically as advanced as in any other part of the world. Kenyans, present here today and elsewhere, may take pride that two to three years from now the major printing and publishing company in this country will be operating at a level of technology second to none anywhere else.

So at this foundation ceremony of the Nation Centre we look to the future - Kenya's future in Africa and in the world with excitement and expectation. When completed, this sophisticated communications complex will house not only the Nation Group and its publications, but will also provide services to international and domestic media by making provision for broadcast and satellite facilities. The architecture itself, with the creative imagination of Henning Larsen from Denmark and Planning Systems and Services of Nairobi, will reflect this new era of global communications.

I believe that in their design, they have provided a building that will create attractive, light and refreshing working spaces, which will be as successful in ensuring a constantly inspiring and enjoyable experience for those who inhabit it, as they are in welcoming the visitor.

I would like to commend the owners of this particularly elegant new building. In commissioning it at a level of quality and design rarely seen in communication centers the third world, they are making not only a statement about the level of quality concerns which they have for their own institutions.

I congratulate the owners, the Nation Group, the Diamond Trust of Kenya, the Jubilee Insurance Company, Industrial Promotion Services, Kenya which this year is celebrating its 25th Anniversary.

At no time in history has the free transfer of ideas been more rapid. It is increasingly from space, not from earth, that man is informed or misinformed. There will be no shelter from this hail of messages. If today Nairobi is a major communications centre for sub-Saharan Africa, tomorrow the further growth of its media and hopefully their free circulation in other countries, will represent a power of enormous potential for Kenyans. They will have the means as never before to articulate and communicate intellectual excellence to other parts of the continent and to the world.

I look forward to returning to Nairobi to visit the Nation Centre on its completion.

Thank you.

Source: Africa Ismaili (March 1989)

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