Edward Kisiang'ani: The man who returned to bite media hand that lifted him

PS State Department for Broadcasting and Telecommunications Edward Kisiang’ani in a previous press briefing. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

I am not sure if his email address is still [email protected]. Perhaps he may have changed it to mirror the red-carpeted mahogany-panelled stately office that he now holds.

Before he became Principal Secretary at a ministry that wields State power over the media, which he now whets his appetite to kill, Edward Kisiang’ani, PhD, loved to be seen and for him, media was the place to aid his fetish for a podium to speak.

He also loved the phenomenon of people reading his writings – his thoughts. Owing to that truth about him, Kisiang’ani eagerly sought out the media. The senior lecturer of History’s demeanour would swiftly change whenever he saw journalists at Kenyatta University, seeking to impress them with his intellect.

Fact is that the gods blessed him with a learning mind – a good one at that and he would use it with relish in the presence of the media. It did not matter whether the writers and broadcasters had come to the university he taught to interview him or on other journalistic work, he would trace them and have a chat.


Extroverted, talkative and awkward, he once told a Standard journalist that when he joined Kenyatta University in 1980, girls frowned at him because of his accent. That he had come from the rural areas of a far-flung district on the slopes of Mt Elgon and so his manner of speech was laced with heavy mother tongue influence.

“But I compensated with my quick brain during debates and was no laughing stock anymore.”

That accent remained even when, 10 years ago, he was a resident analyst on KTN’s Checkpoint, a political television show then run by one of the country’s television glamour girls. He would latch onto political concepts, his mind running like the pages of Encyclopedia Britannica or one of the collections in the Harvard libraries as the gifted man of letters created relevance from great political concepts with happenings in the country.

Before he walked into TV political discussions, where he would complete his debut with Opinion Court on K24 five years ago, he starred in news story interviews where he related the theories from world-famous political treatises, adeptly connecting them with the wars in the new Narc administration, a big running political story two decades ago.

That was the time I met him.

Two books were his favourites. The one referred to as the oldest military treatise in the world, The Art of War by Sun Tzu said to have been written years before Jesus, and the other one that is an intellectual testament by the man from Florence, today a province of Italy, Nicolo Machiavelli, The Prince. The book was originally a letter to the ruler of Florence in 1529 ‘Lorenzo the Magnificent’ of the Medici family who reigned during the Renaissance age in Europe.


The BBC said in a 2017 documentary that Lorenzo did not get the letter and that Nicolo died without having published it – he’d be surprised today to learn that his letter is a world-famous book, The Prince, and has turned into a bible of political strategy.

Whenever I sought him out for an interview for KTN’s bulletins, Kisiang’ani would pull out one of those books from his shelves and flip through the pages. In The Art of War, he loved Sun Tzu’s thought that a good general is the one that wins without shedding blood, and the other thought of knowing your enemy; if the enemy is the choleric and angry type, provoke him; if he is the calm, cheeky type you must lay in wait. He would relate that with the political wars in Narc, describing President Kibaki as a keen student of Sun Tzu because of his silent manipulation of the LDP wing – that Kibaki never uttered a word even as Raila and his loyalists bitterly complained about his dishonouring of an earlier gentleman’s agreement.

After dispatching the malevolent letter on March 7 directing all government agencies to exclusively air television and radio adverts on Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), journalists who knew him two decades ago have been wondering whether the great man of learning is looking like a general who can win a war without spilling blood.

The letter he signed will henceforth deny a lifeline to the two television stations that built him – KTN and K24. The two stations propped up his image. One wonders, is the PS looking to learn from his hero Sun Tzu?

Looking at last Wednesday’s statement by the Kenya Media Sector Working group, the well-educated man is looking to be a general who leaves the field with bloodied hands as he stamps over dead bodies to grab a bloodied crown.

“The letter violates the principles of media freedom enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution, undermines free market principles, and creates a hostile environment for media investment... we condemn these actions in the strongest terms possible and call for immediate action to protect media freedom and democratic principles,” said Zubeida Kananu Koome, President of Kenya Editors Guild.

She added, “By forcing government advertising through a single State-controlled channel, the government effectively restricts the reach and influence of independent media.”

The Kenya Union of Journalists Secretary General Eric Oduor said in his statement, “KBC’s editorial line has historically mirrored the government’s position, leaving little room for critical perspectives or investigative journalism. This directive is a deliberate attempt to stifle dissenting voices, control the public narrative and, ultimately, weaken the democratic fabric of the nation. A healthy democracy thrives on a plurality of ideas and viewpoints, not on a singular, government-sanctioned narrative.”

Today, Kisiang’ani is gradually turning into a Cesare Borgia, one of the powerful ones cited in The Prince who loved using the dark power of the state; the bloodshed way and the chopping off of heads, to rule by instilling fear.

As he plots and schemes to destroy independent media, all media that aided his walk upwards are forced to reflect about whether the man that has read history to the highest levels still remembers some of his thoughts, which he espoused to his audiences. We must ask ourselves whether the spirit of malevolence he espouses today is borne of the dark books of power he cited in his broadcasts and writings.


We must ask whether a good brain has the ability to temper the thirst for power with reasonableness. Today, the PS is contradicting the man of letters that the independent media nurtured.

At his office in 2007 while he was Director of the Kenyatta University alumni, he told me on camera about the value of being bad. Chapter 17 of Niccolo’s The Prince; Cruelty and compassion and whether it is better to be loved than feared or the reverse. Niccolo says that a Prince must want to have a reputation for compassion rather than for cruelty. Nonetheless, he must be careful not to make bad use of compassion. Because men are ungrateful, fickle, liars, deceivers; they shun danger and are greedy for profit, it is therefore better to be feared than to be loved.

I heard Kisang’ani’s name from a colleague lecturer at KU, even before The Sunday Standard gave him a column to put down his thoughts every week.

I called him and we met in 2006. He was a friendly, likable fellow. He’d talk and talk again; political history of Kenya and how Kenyatta betrayed Jaramogi. He’d talk philosophy, education in general and even man talk. 

In one of his articles in The Sunday Standard in August 2009, Kisiang’ani declared the running drought in North Eastern Kenya and crop failure across the country a problem caused by a wretched leadership that was clever by half.

In his learned mind’s estimation, the problems that the country was facing would be sorted out quickly by a competent leadership. The man of letters would latch onto US political history, fish out Franklin Delano Roosevelt and place him on The Sunday Standard pages enumerating how in a matter of weeks after he was sworn in, he launched programmes that ended the Great Depression in a few months.

Wrote Kisiang’ani thus; “It took the genius of President Roosevelt to restore the peoples’ confidence in the ability of the government to bring change. Not only did Roosevelt bring hope to miserable citizens but also advised Americans the only fear they needed to conquer was fear itself.” This article was published on Sunday August 16, 2009.

Earlier, on July 19, he had reflected about the faltering dream of Saba Saba. Kisiang’ani went after the throats of the Jomo Kenyatta and Moi administrations – grabbing and squeezing them as he discussed the absence of political space.

He hallowed the Saba Saba dream as a godsend. Kisiang’ani wrote; “I have learnt that there are fewer reformers in political leadership. Those who we glorified in the 1990s have become conmen... by 1990, the combination of Jomo Kenyatta’s 15-year dictatorship and Kanu’s 24-year intolerance had driven the country to the brink of despair. I remember the justice system hardly protected the poor... poor planning, nepotism and tribalism had profoundly undermined our sense of nationhood... the government onslaught on intelligentsia was decisive and brutal. Under Kenyatta and Kanu, critics of government, including university professors, suffered long years of detention without trial, imprisonment or exile...”

He looked into the benefits of the 1982 attempted coup, bringing out a thread of freedom fighting that climaxed with the July 7, 1990 Saba Saba rally at the historic Kamukunji grounds. He cited former Cabinet ministers Charles Rubia and Kenneth Matiba as heroes of the second liberation.

He wrote, “The overwhelming public support for Saba Saba demonstrations forced the government to deploy armed police backed by ruthless dogs to disperse crowds. The leaders of the movement, including Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Gitobu Imanyara, Masinde Muliro, Martin Shikuku and James Orengo, were either detained or imprisoned or put under house arrest.”


As he wrote in 2009, Kisiang’ani wondered whether there were any lessons that the country had drawn from such history and was worried that the dream had died only 19 years later. When he got into the gist of his column, he asked three fundamental questions; what did the proponents of the Second Liberation advocate? Where were the valiant sons and daughters of Kenya who patronised the reform movement in 1990, and had we as a country achieved what the Saba Saba spirit stood for?

Let us therefore, using the very paper that built him, The Sunday Standard, whose pages he graced for years, and which he now seeks to kill, ask him this question: If the governments he brutally criticised then had killed the revenue stream of this paper by withdrawing adverts, would the world have come to know of Prof Edward Kisiang’ani? When we gave him space, he was just Edward Waswa Kisiang’ani.