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Memories of Standard’s bold World War coverage

By Renson Mnyamwezi | Dec 4th 2018 | 5 min read
A contigent of the Kings’s African Rifles standing outside the Tsavo Railway Station during World War 1.[Standard]

The East African Standard now The Standard was the largest newspaper in the British East Africa during and after the World War One.

Historian and researcher James Willson reveals, the newspaper reported comprehensive news starting from October 17, 1914.

The war that pitted the British and Germans ended in 1918.

“There were all sorts of activities going on during the war. The newspaper reporting was unique and it published what was actually happening on the ground because there was no censorship during the war,” said Mr Willson who is also an author.

“The newspaper was giving the country good presentation and local content as compared to the Reuters that only reported international news briefs.

Local coverage was quite good and there were pages with lots of photographs and local stories in contrast with international newspapers,” he said.

His remarks come at a time when the Standard Group is celebrating its centenary in December, 1 this year at Sarova Taita Hills and Salt Lick Lodges in Taita-Taveta County.

In an exclusive interview with The Standard, the historian pointed out that the newspaper was distributing local news with wide sort of coverage activities in the East Africa region.

“The front page of the newspaper concentrated on local war news with details of the conflict. The EAS was getting a lot of information of the war compared to the other papers. There could have been liaison between the British allied forces and the newspaper reporters,” said Willson.

The researcher says the newspaper was distributed and sold in major towns through the Kenya Railways.

“It was a spectacular business community, colonialists, upcoming businessmen who were buying and reading the newspaper. Those in access with the newspaper used to share information with others. The newspaper was printed in Nairobi,” he disclosed.

Kuwait soldiers reading East African Standard Newspaper September 1961 [Standard]

“The EAS was the pioneer newspaper and its news was reaching its audience very fast as it captured events of the war, which Kenya was not party to. It is my favourite newspaper and I like its style of reporting,” says Willson.

He says newspaper writers were Asians, two Africans and Britons. The EAS was started in 1902 in Mombasa, serving the Indian civil servants, the business community and the colonialists.

Records show that the newspaper was established as a weekly by Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee, an immigrant businessman from India.

The Standard’s founder, Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee sold the paper to two British businessmen in 1905, which changed the name to the East African Standard.

It became a daily paper and moved its headquarters from Mombasa to Nairobi in 1910. At the time the newspaper declared strongly colonialist viewpoints.

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. It was sold to Kenyan investors in 1995. In 2004 the name was changed back to The Standard.

The Standard Group evolved and acquired the KTN Television Channel.

Televisions broadcasting KTN and KTN News at a TV shop in Nairobi.[Standard]

It is the oldest newspaper published in Kenya. The group also runs the Kenya Television Network (KTN), Radio Maisha, The Nairobian (a weekly tabloid) and Standard Digital, which is its online platform.

The author says, The Standard is one of the largest newspapers in Kenya with a 48 per cent market share. It is the oldest newspaper in the country and is owned by The Standard Group.

Willson adds, the Taveta Chronicles, printed on small octave sheets with up to 18 pages, was being edited by Rev Albert Remington Steggall, the superintendent of the CMS station at Mahoo.

Historian James highlighted the Chronicles with the rich history of Taveta and Coast region in general, which were neglected after Kenya gained her independence in 1963. Taveta Chronicle, Willson says, was printed quarterly and the quality of paper was generally good, but occasional indifferent types of ink and warns rollers caused blurring of the type to occur.

“The annual subscription of the paper cost one pound including post charges,”he says.

It was printed at a house on top of a hill in Mahoo in Taveta on a No. 2 ‘Model’ press costing about £6 in London at that time.

EXPRESS BUILDING-MOMBASA; Express Building along Mombasa’s Nkurumah Road where the Standard Media Group started over 100 years ago.[Maarufu Mohamed,Standard]

However, the publishing of the newspaper ceased due to financial difficulties. Thereafter, the press machine broke down in 1901 and the editor went on his oversees leave.

The Chronicle mainly captured the CMS affairs, offered details on mission statistics, education development in inland Kenya, news of the neighbouring Roman Catholic and Lutheran missions in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania among other important issues to the missionaries.

It also recorded the movement and arrivals of officials in the immediate area from the British and German protectorates.

“Many of the later editions of the paper had articles commenting on the policies and practices of the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEA Co) and then Protectorates colonial administration,” reads an article written by Willson.

He says since the CMS were the first people to settle in Taita, they were better placed to comment on the temper and attitudes of the local populace once a colonial government representative arrived to set up an administration centre.

“History, development of road, railway and communication networks was well captured in the Chronicle,” he says.

In his book, Willson says Africans were hired as porters to deliver the published Taveta Chronicle to other church mission centres in Mombasa, Rabai and other parts of the country.

“The journey from Taveta to Mombasa took about two weeks,” he says.

The author says, the earliest of the mainstream newspapers were the African Standard, Mombasa Times and Uganda Argus published in 1902, a year after Taveta Chronicle seized being published.

Willson says the Taveta Chronicle is actually the first newspaper in Kenya, started on the Easter of 1895 by the Church Mission Society station at Mahoo near Taveta, Kenya-Tanzanian border.

In his book titled The Guerrillas of Tsavo, which highlights the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway and the African involvement in the World War I, the author says the first newspaper and the first airstrip in Kenya were at Mahoo in Taveta town and Maktau in Mwatate Sub County respectively.

“Taveta Chronicle was the first periodical published on the East Africa mainland. Those that followed were the weekly East African and Ugandan Mail and the fortnightly official gazette of East Africa, published in 1899,” he says in his new book.

The facts, have now however, been captured in many history books.

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