The #EastAfrican celebrates 20 great years of regional reporting

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Can you imagine writing an article that makes a president so mad that he leaves his country to come tell you off?

Well it has happened. Nick Wachira who was an editor of the EastAfrican (2010 – 2012) said that one of their stories about Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni made him so mad that he travelled to Nairobi to tell off the editors.

The EastAfrican recently celebrated its 20th year anniversary. This is no small feat when you consider how many papers have folded within that period. Also it takes a special kind of publication to keep people interested even as more people go paperless and read their news online.

It has given the region all the important business and political news and it has also become a reference point for world leaders such as the American President Clinton. They have set a standard on breaking news in the region including exposes. Part of the exposes including the breaking story of Mobitela, and they have been a key source of fresh information on corruption and privatization in East Africa. They have carried exclusive stories on the investigation of the helicopter crash that killed John Garang and the successful games that ensured. Charles Obbo wrote a piece on Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, which reshaped the way the world views Rwanda. They have also reported on the Richmond scandal, which is Tanzania’s equivalent of Kenya’s Goldenberg.

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Some of the editors took a trip down memory lane to talk about their favourite moments.

The paper started in 1993 as an idea for a regional paper. Gerry Loughran was asked to come over from Scotland where he had settled to investigate the pros and cons. But was it feasible with the misunderstanding the 3 East African countries had after the breakup of the then East African Community? The idea needed research. Gerry and a team took on the challenge. They talked to business and news people in the three countries. A lot of money and time went into it, organizing focus groups, cocktail parties, face to face meetings, and discussion with Nation staff. It was found that there was a need for business and financial news.

Having done the research it was seen that this project would serve a niche that was hungering for well written business stories. After consultations it was decided to create a separate, upmarket weekly paper.

The paper was named EastAfrican because it was a regional paper. It did not have the word Nation because that would signal Kenya to the other two countries. The first two columnists to be hired are now famous in their own right but at the time they were little known. One of them was John Githongo who went on to become famous for his whistle blowing and anti-corruption stance. The other was Charles Onyango-Obbo.

Although getting circulation was a challenge at first, it was causing waves and people were noticing. After around 18 months, the International Press Institute said this of the paper “One of the best, if not the best of the regional newspaper in sub-Saharan Africa, is The EastAfrican, providing readers with sober, incisive news of issues and events. Such a newspaper is far ahead the political leadership of the region. The EastAfrican is a proof that commerce, travel, the environments, and culture tie the region together logically.”

The launch of the EastAfrican was planned to coincide with the revival of the East African Community. So it was there to report the process of regional integration and it has done a great job of keeping people informed on what was going on in East Africa.

According to Mbatau Wa Ngai, editor (1999-2003) the EastAfrican has also been instrumental in the reconstruction of Rwanda after the 1994 by telling positive stories.

The East African has been innovative, coming up with news angles that are unique and that have changed the way that business reporting is written. They have also come up with a different way of ranking business leaders and businesses. One of the things they have done was coming up with a survey of East Africa’s most respected company and CEO survey which was done together with PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Jaindi Kisero, the editor in the years 2005 – 2009, said that the East African is a niche publication that catered for an elite, high income crowd. The EastAfrican is meant for a sophisticated audience. The paper has emphasizes on hard edge and fact based reporting. The paper looks for business intelligence.
Nick Wachira, who was the editor in 2010 – 2012, said that he fell in love with the newspaper at first sight because it reported on business, high finances, and diplomatic power plays.

Congratulations EastAfrican on celebrating 20 years and changing how we think about business.

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