[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you are holding a copy of this newspaper today (www.peopledaily.co.ke), you owe it to the fallen pro-democracy icon Kenneth Matiba. His vision – coupled with varied political frustrations – was what gave birth to Kenya’s fourth national newspaper in the heady days of early 1993.
Twenty-five years on, the publication that started as a weekly is still going strong, having undergone transformations to become Kenya’s fi rst free national newspaper.
In the ebb and tide of time, the paper has both hosted some of the best names in the Fourth Estate across Kenya’s geographical frontiers and far beyond at various stages of its development.
Way back in early 1993, when The People Weekly hit the streets propelled by the slogan ‘Fair, Frank and Fearless’, the radical publication came about as an an idea mooted by Matiba to expose the inside doings of then authoritarian Kanu monolith.
It so happened that shortly after the first multiparty elections of December 29, 1992, Matiba sent his aide with an advertiser’s message to the sales section of a national newspaper, to express his rejection of Moi’s victory in the poll. The newspaper rejected Matiba’s advert without offering any explanation.
In his biography: Aiming High, Matiba writes that it was after the experience he had with the management of the top publication that he came up with the idea of starting an indigenously-owned newspaper to speak for the “downtrodden Kenyan people”.
He argued that it was difficult for him to fathom how the views of the ordinary citizen could ever be given an ear by those in power if a person of his stature – having served in senior public and corporate positions— could be denied a chance to express his views and opinions by way of advertiser’s announcements.
From that simple question was born The People Weekly newspaper. Over the last two and-a-half decades, the publication has churned out some of the most eye-catching and captivating headlines to have graced the Kenyan journalism arena.
The paper has been part and parcel of the democratisation process in the country, walking in tandem with the political class then going by the sobriquet ‘Young Turks’ and the civil society as well as the religious fraternity, to vigorously challenge previous regimes and crusading for a system of social justice and a call to probity and accountability in the governance structures.
Among the notable names that have passed through the stable of the publication are founding editor Bedan Mbugua, the late Editor-in-Chief George Mbugguss, Dennis Itumbi (director with Presidential Strategic Communications Unit), David Mugonyi (head of Deputy Presidential Press Service) among a talented list of who-is-who in Kenyan media and communications circles.
In 1999, the paper turned a new leaf when it transformed from a weekly to a daily newspaper, walking through myriads of labyrinths and rough edges.
In 2009, The People changed ownership from the hands of the Matiba family to the current proprietors, Mediamax Network Ltd.
As Kenyans mourn one of their most revered heroes of the Second Liberation, it shall always be etched in their minds and the history of the country that Matiba gave them something to forever remember him by, a daily newspaper that now has the widest print reach in Kenya.
– This article was originally published in PD (People Daily) newspaper.