When media were accused of treating leaders like gods

Voice of Kenya (VOK) recording studio, 1962. [File, Standard]

When the media glorifies politicians to a point of treating them like gods, how should they cover him objectively when they are confronted by adversity? This, and the question of who and what should be broadcast on Voice of Kenya (VOK) was once a touchy issue.

Back in the single party days when Kenya solely depended on VOK for updates on what was happening across the country and the world, leaders went to great lengths to be in good books with the broadcaster.

The unlucky ones, who were reduced to appendages used as foot notes during bulletins as having accompanied chiefs or District Commissioners in pubic barazas, were not amused and accused VOK of lionising some leaders while belittling their opponents.

During a parliamentary debate on October 23, 1980, Kasanga Mulwa (Makueni) warned his colleagues of “over playing self-glorification", terming it a recipe for disaster. Mulwa left his colleagues in stitches when he narrated how Ghana’s first President, Kwame Nkurumah was deified and always referred to by the press as Osagyefo, or the Redeemer.

“Mr Speaker, you should have been in Nkurumah’s Ghana in 1965. He was a god and they used to say Osagyefo is coming...I remember when there was a bomb attack on Nkurumah, and some people were charged, it was difficult for witnesses to explain in court how they saw Nkurumah running away…”

Mulwa explained that a witness told the court that "he saw Osagyefo increasing the distance between himself and the bomb...I think we should not get to that extent."

The lionisation of the iconic leader was best captured by the New York Times when it wrote on April 22, 1972: “In Accra in the early nineteen‐fifties, the sight of this husky man with melancholy eyes, finely chiselled lips and a nimbus of frizzy hair could send throngs of British Gold coast tribesmen into paroxysms of adulation.”

Despite this idol worshiping, five attempts were made on Nkurumah's life before he was ultimately toppled in 1966 and had to flee to Guinea where he lived until he died of cancer at the age of 62.

Mulwa could not understand why whenever a story from Makueni was being aired by VOK the report always indicated that he was among the people who had accompanied the DC. Dr Julia Ojiambo too was unhappy with the state broadcaster which she said regularly gave a lot of airtime to chiefs and allowed misleading advertisements to be aired even when the listeners were being exploited.