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Origin, ownership, editors, content and style as The Standard becomes the largest in the region

By Biketi Kikechi | December 2nd 2018

Piles of newspaper are burnt during the Standard raid in March 2006 [Standard]


The Standard newspaper celebrates 100 years since it was first listed as a trading company, a milestone that has been achieved as it evolved into what is today described as Kenya’s boldest tabloid.


The newspaper based in Mombasa was started by an Indian merchant Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee in 1902, then registered as the African Standard, to highlight the interest of the Asian community and other social and governance issues facing white settlers and Africans or natives as they were called.

From the archives, it is recorded that Jeevanjee, who owned several companies that ventured into construction and road works among others, hired an English editor-reporter, W.H. Tiller, to oversee the newspaper’s operations.

The paper began with two pages mostly carrying commercial and social news, later changed into tabloid but that gone through many redesign as it changed ownership and management, the latest being the relaunch that took place last year.

Jeevanjee sold the paper to two British businessmen in 1905, who changed the name to the East African Standard, made it a daily paper and moved its headquarters from Mombasa to Nairobi in 1910.

By that time many Asian and White businessmen had moved to Nairobi, where the builders of the "Lunatic Express" railway line had decided to set up camp at "Ewaso Nai´beri"(Maasai for the place of cold waters) in 1899.

The Standard is therefore a sibling of the city of Nairobi, which like the paper started small with the pioneers not knowing that had sown the seeds of what would become the largest city and newspaper in the region.

The paper continued serving the interests of the white settlers as it reported mainly about both what was happening locally and at home in Great Britain, and also offering commercial opportunities for British businessmen to advertise what had been shipped into the country and available tenders.

Modern Standard Newsroom at the companiy’s Mombasa Road offices. [Standard]

It also covered the first and the second world wars and the conscription of the African Kings Rifles regiment to fight in places like Burma and others in the Far East.

After the second world when some Kenyans began agitating for change the colonial powers used the paper to paint freedom fighters as terrorists and kept the queens government abreast about the clamp down on the so called dissidents.

The British-based Lonrho Group bought the newspaper in 1963, only a few months before Kenya's independence. The paper changed its name to the Standard in 1977 but the name East African Standard was revived later.

Literature available says that In its early years the paper defended the interests of Kenya’s white settlers, but by the 1970s it had developed a more balanced approach to news reporting and had built a reputation for it editorial independence, writing and  exemplary editing. 

The paper strongly supported the Kanu government in the late 1970’s and 1980’s, because the chairman of the Lonrho group of companie, British billionare Mr Tiny Rolland was hobnobbing and cutting deals with the powers that be not only in Kenya but across East and Southern Africa.

After independence the paper retained the freedom to publish but was not allowed to criticize the government’s single political party or its leaders who were then also becoming increasingly totalitarian and making nonsense of the independence Kenyans had shed their blood for.

It was sold to Kenyan investors in 1995 and the in 2004 the name was changed back to The Standard. It is the main rival to Kenya's largest newspaper, the Daily Nation.

In 1989, at a time when Kenya was going into multi-party era, the Standard Group acquired the KTN Television Channel and now also runs The Nairobian, Radio Maisha and Standard Digital.

In late February 2006 The Standard ran a story claiming that president Mwai Kibaki and senior opposition figure Kalonzo Musyoka had been holding secret meetings.

Piles of newspapers are burnt during a Standard raid [Standard]

At 1:00 am local time  on 2 March, masked gunmen carrying AK-47s raided the editorial office of The Standard, and of its television station KTN.

They kicked and beat staff members, forcibly took computers and transmission equipment, burned all the copies of the 2 March edition of the newspaper, and damaged the presses at Likoni Road.

 At KTN, they shut down its flow of electricity, putting the station off the air. Initially, the government claimed no knowledge of the raid, but has since revealed that Kenyan police were responsible, and stated that the incident was to safeguard state security.

John Michuki, the then Interior Coordination Minister. He ordered the raid.[Courtesy]

"If you rattle a snake you must be prepared to be bitten by it," John Michuki said. Three journalists at The Standard, arrested after the critical story was printed, were released on 2 March on bail of 50,000 Kenyan shillings.

Among the notable editors who worked at the Standard, are George Githii, a controversial and uncompromising writer who was hired by Lonrho on July 28th 1982, but was fired the following day after writing a scathing editorial calling President Moi’s comments on detention without trial “spurious and untenable.”

The late Mitch Odero also served with dignity and was well respected in media circles both locally and beyond.

He stood for independence during the clamour for a multi-party governance system when it was taboo to be associated with any individual or group questioning or challenging the regime of the day.

Tough and independent minded Chacha Mwita who was also sacked for putting his neck on the line in the fight for media independence and the rights of journalists.

Standard Group PLC Headquarters situated along Mombasa Road in Nairobi [Standard]

Top editors at the Standard Group currently include Joe Odindo (Editorial Director), Kipkoech Tanui (Deputy Editorial Director and The Standard, Daily Editions) and John Bundotich (ME Weekend Editions) with Charles Otieno editing The Nairobian. The head of Radio Maisha is Tom Japanni, KTN Managing Editor is Ellen Wanjiru, while Standard Digital Managing Editor is Carole Kimutai.


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