Nation Media Group (NMG) principal shareholder Aga Khan could be considering divesting from media business in Kenya, a move that could see him sell off his vast interests in print and broadcasting industries in Kenya.
His Highness the Aga Khan holds a 44.7% stake (or about 84.1 million shares) in the group, through Aga Khan Development Network Foundation, which he chairs.
Already, there is word that President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family could be interested in buying Aga Khan’s shareholding in NMG, which is listed at the Nairobi Securities Exchange. People familiar with the matter say the Kenyatta family is in talks with Aga Khan over the issue.
In what could point to a possible realignment in media business, the Kenyatta family, which has significant interest in Mediamax Networks – which runs People Daily newspaper, K24 TV station and a host of radio stations – is in the process of offloading its stake in the company’s TV and newspaper divisions. In Mediamax, the Kenyatta Family will be left with Kameme TV and the radio stations, which could combine well with the Nation newspapers and TV to have an all-platform media house.
The stakes in K24 TV and People Daily are reportedly being snapped up by Deputy President William Ruto, who has been a silent shareholder in the operation and is keen on expanding his footprint in media.
His Highness the Aga Khan, who is also the spiritual leader of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, is expected in Kenya early March in a visit that will be used to, among other things, crystallize talks with the Kenyatta family on the fate of Nation Media Group. Aga Khan in March 2015 visited State House and had talks with Uhuru on Kenya’s business environment, among others.
It is not clear whether the Kenyatta family is angling for the Kenyan business alone (which has Daily Nation, Business Daily, Taifa Leo, The East Africa and NTV) or together with its regional subsidiaries. In Uganda NMG owns NTV Uganda and The Monitor newspaper, while in Tanzania it has Mwananchi and Citizen newspapers.
Initially, NMG was considering selling off only its broadcast business, which has not been doing so well. The group has been struggling in the broadcast category. At some point, in spite of low returns, the group over invested in TV and radio – ending up with two radio stations and two TV stations, with flagship of this segment being NTV.
The two radio stations – Nation FM (formerly Easy FM) – and QFM as well as the other television station, QTV, were shut down in June 2016 as part of restructuring to weed out non-profitable businesses that were draining its resources. This has left Nation with NTV as the only significant investment in broadcast while its radio was moved online.
Aga Khan has a presence in a number of sectors in Kenya including education through Aga Khan schools, health (Aga Khan Hospital), banking (Diamond Trust), insurance (Jubilee Holdings), Hospitality (Serena Hotels), security services through SENECA as well the infrastructure and industrial development arm through the Industrial Promotion Services (IPS).
Even by international standards, NMG a formidable stable of businesses which turn in profits every year. Aga Khan’s decision to divest from media in Kenya could be informed by the reduced revenues in the industry over the past few years with competition growing.
The government of Kenya also centralized advertising through the Government Advertising Agency (GAA), which publishes a weekly newspaper with its adverts distributed at a fee by the big daily newspapers. This, together with the rise of digital media, has eaten into traditional media revenues.
In 2016, profit after taxation dropped by Ksh500 million to Ksh1.68 billion. In the half year to June 2017, the media house reported a Ksh825.6 million profit after tax, which was a marginal growth of 5.12% from Sh785.4 million in the same period the previous year. Nation Media Group has undergone a painful restructuring over the past two years that has trimmed both its business and staff.
The NMG share price has been on a downwards spiral since January 14, when it was selling at an average of Ksh114, a pointer to anxiety among shareholders over the financial health of Kenya’s largest media house. According to Reuters analysis, the share has hit a high of Ksh125 in last one year and a low of Ksh73 during the same period. Friday, it closed trading at Ksh102.
Tight control of private media by the government of President Uhuru Kenyatta has also frustrated media owners, climaxing in the recent shut down of four TV stations for nearly a week for defying an executive directive to cover the January 30th swearing in of NASA leader Raila Odinga as the People’s President.
With falling revenues and few options to grow the company, Chief Executive Joe Muganda was forced to leave at the end of January before the end of his contract, leaving the company in the hands of the Group Finance Director Stephen Gitagama, who is now acting as CEO. Aga Khan’s visit is likely to give direction on the company’s leadership.
If the Kenyatta family buys the Nation, it will have a firm control on national agenda and opinion, as Daily Nation is the widest circulating newspaper. It will put the family in pole position to overtake former President Moi’s family, which owns Standard Group, Kenya’s second largest (TV, radio and newspaper). The other big media house is Royal Media Services, owned by Samuel Macharia.