Kenya’s top five media moguls
Kenya’s media industry has witnessed exponential growth in recent years with the creation of more newspapers, magazines, radio stations and TV channels. Although many Kenyans can claim to own a small radio station, magazine or shares in a listed media house, the real kings are few. Here are the men who can truly lay claim to being media moguls in Kenya:
1. SK Macharia
Owner and Chairman: Royal Media Services
Samuel Kamau Macharia, often referred to as SK, owns Royal Media Services, a group that for a long time was associated with mediocre content, but has emerged to become popular with listeners, viewers and advertisers. The group owns the dominant TV station in Kenya – Citizen TV – and 11 radio stations.
Macharia endured tough times during the Moi presidency, with his Citizen TV being forced to shut down transmission regularly. Macharia changed the station’s fortunes by poaching talent from competitors, introducing local programmes and broadcasting Mexican soap operas.
Royal Media Services has also carved a niche in vernacular programming with the group now owning nine local language radio stations namely, Inooro (Kikuyu), Ramogi (Luo), Mulembe (Luhya), Musyi (Kamba), Muuga (Meru), Chamgei (Kalenjin), Egesa (Kisii), Wimwaro (Embu) and Bahari FM (Swahili and Mijikenda).
As an astute businessman, Macharia has competed head on with the more established Nation Media Group and Standard Group. His strategy to target the common man – the low income masses in rural areas – has paid off, giving Royal Media Services massive popularity countrywide.
According to reports, Macharia was inspired to start the group after the 1992 general elections when – as a political adviser to one of the presidential candidates – he witnessed the power of radio. Their campaigns were active in urban areas, but in rural Kenya they were unheard of, given that the state-owned Kenyan Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) did not give coverage to the opposition at the time. Three weeks after the elections he applied for a radio broadcast licence, kicking off a long battle with the government.
Macharia is not new to controversy. In 2011 his estate was placed under receivership, for failing to pay a KSh.500,000 judgement sum issued many years ago that accumulated to over KSh.34 million. Last month the Communication Commission of Kenya issued a warning to broadcasters operating frequencies in certain areas without valid licences, implicating a number of Royal Media Services’ stations.
2. The Aga Khan
Founder: Nation Media Group
Though the Nation Media Group (NMG) is majority-owned by public shareholders, the group was founded by ‘His Highness’ the Aga Khan in 1960, who started Kenya’s Taifa and Nation newspapers to provide independent voices during the years preceding the country’s independence. He became Imam (spiritual leader) of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims in 1957 at the age of 20, succeeding his grandfather. The Aga Khan’s association with the NMG was institutionalised in 2003, and his shares transferred to the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), making it the group’s largest shareholder.
NMG is the biggest media house in east Africa and has expanded its operations into Uganda and Tanzania and is one of the largest companies on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE). The group publishes the Nation and Taifa newspapers and the regional weekly The East African. The group also runs NTV, QTV, QFM and Easy FM radio in Kenya, and NTV and KFM radio in Uganda.
The Aga Khan has spoken about his early days in the media industry, noting that at the time newly independent governments had to work with media, which had no African antecedents, even as both political leaders and journalists wrestled with massive debates about capitalism, communism and non-alignment.
“It was against this backdrop that I decided to create the first east African media group. I was 24, and had no background – whatsoever – in the media field. In Swahili I was kutia mkono gizani, or as we say in English, ‘the blind leading the blind’,” said the Aga Khan at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of the NMG. “What did we hope and predict for the group 50 years ago? We certainly aspired for its transformation from a loss-making infant enterprise to a profitable blue chip corporation, and then its transformation from a private venture into a public company.”
3. Patrick Quarcoo
Co-founder and CEO: Radio Africa Group
Ghanaian Patrick Quarcoo, often referred to as PQ, is the co-founder and CEO of the Radio Africa Group.
The group owns six Kenyan radio stations: Kiss 100, Classic 105, Radio Jambo, X FM, East FM and Relax FM. The group also runs the TV station, Kiss Television, which began with broadcasting in Nairobi but this year spread its wings countrywide and has grown its popularity by airing Premier League matches as well as local and Nigerian movies.
The Radio Africa Group also owns The Star newspaper, the third largest newspaper in Kenya. The paper was launched in July 2007 as the Nairobi Star, a 32-page tabloid style newspaper concentrating on human interest stories, but changed its name after it expanded distribution across the country.
The Star is arguably the most independent and outspoken newspaper in Kenya and – for this reason – has had its fair share of troubles with the government and the Media Council of Kenya, the industry regulator.
Quarcoo, who co-founded The Star in partnership with British editor William Pike, has said in the past that it was his grandmother who taught him about the significance of print media in Africa. “She had no real formal education, but she always used to say in Pidgin English ‘book no lies’,’’ said Quarcoo.
Though the group had been successful with radio, the launch of The Star catapulted it to a new level. “With radio, I was below the radar,” said Quarcoo in a 2010 interview. “Now people wake me up at 6 am to rant and rave, even about inside stories, especially on stories about state house or senior ministers.”
Before he became a media mogul, Quarcoo was a journalist reporting for a number of international media organisations, including the BBC World Service. Both Quarcoo and Pike have been associated with media houses in Uganda as well.
4. Chris Kirubi
Owner and CEO: Capital FM
Chris Kirubi is the owner of Capital FM, a Kenyan urban music radio station, which plays a mixture of hip-hop, RnB, rock, neo-soul, new jack swing, jazz, techno, dance and Kenyan music. Capital FM is popular among the upper and middle classes of Kenyan society. Kirubi, who is also referred to as DJ CK, bought the station in 1998.
“I didn’t just want to acquire the station solely for the financial dividends it was eventually going to give me; I wanted to love the business. I wanted to understand the business from the very basics,” said Kirubi in an interview with Forbes Magazine. “So I approached the managers and told them that I wanted to host a rock radio show. I asked them to teach me how to become a disc jockey.”
Kirubi also has varied investments in manufacturing, property, and insurance.
He first started in business by buying decayed properties in Nairobi, renovating the buildings, and then re-selling them for a profit. He currently owns various residential and commercial buildings in Nairobi.
Kirubi is very active on the social media site Twitter and regularly posts comments via his handle @Ckirubi.
5. Uhuru Kenyatta
Kenya’s Deputy Prime Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been linked with Media Max Network, a group which last year took over The People Daily, a newspaper previously owned by veteran politician Kenneth Matiba.
Media Max is part of TV Africa Holdings, which is owned by the Kenyatta family and bought STV from renowned journalist Hilary Ng’weno in 2007. The channel now transmits Al Jazeera.
In 2009, TV Africa Holdings took over television station K24 TV and the Kikuyu language radio station Kameme FM, both formerly owned by media entrepreneur Rose Kimotho.
Kenyatta was last year ranked by Forbes Magazine as the richest man in Kenya and 26th in Africa.
His other investments, together with the larger Kenyatta family, are in land, Brookside Dairies (Kenya’s largest dairy company) and a commercial bank in Nairobi.
Source: How we made it in Africa – D. Mulupi, June 27, 2012.