Yes, I’ve retired, but I’ll never tire reading The Guardian

10Feb 2016
Kiondo Mshana
The Guardian
Commentary
Yes, I’ve retired, but I’ll never tire reading The Guardian

ONE of the things I did soon after retiring from The Guardian Limited was to fill in a subscription form and pay the amount I was supposed to pay.

With that, I was effectively telling the world that I would remain a customer of The Guardian newspaper – in part as a loyal reader - for the rest of my life.

I didn’t want to be given free copies of the newspaper, which to me is like breakfast – as I always read it without fail, from as early as 3a.m.

Playback to early January 1995: I remember the day several of my colleagues (at The Guardian Limited) and I promised to make sure that the paper was born, even if it meant by Caesarean section. Alongside me, the team included Jerry Thomson (Managing Director), Fili Karashani (for the first two weeks or so the paper’s Managing Editor), Wallace Mauggo (founding Director Press Service Tanzania – PST, before soon swapping positions with Karashani), and some journalists and stringers based in Dar es Salaam or operating from upcountry stations.

The work environment in which we operated in the first weeks was not very conducive, as the paper depended on only two sub-editors who also served Nipashe. These were none other than Lucas Mnubi and I.

It was, to say the least, a very difficult start. We started preparing for the paper’s launch using typewriters. After being employed to help establish IPP print media outlets, we went through an entire year without actually producing a paper, only lining ourselves up for the task.

In plain language, we were receiving salaries without doing the job we were supposed to do! It was as embarrassing as it was infuriating.

We were all the more furious when Managing Director Thomson told us one day that it would take much longer for plans to produce the long-awaited paper to materialise “because you are unable to use computers.”

I saw this as a demonstration of blatant disrespect for Africans. Soon after, I sought audience with the IPP Executive Chairman so that I could I tell him that we had the capacity to prove our MD awfully wrong and plead that we be allowed at least to produce the maiden issue.

It was a daunting challenge getting to see the EC. It was not until two days later that I made it past his personal assistant and had fruitful talks with him – in the company of one of his high-ranking advisers as well as the PA.

I remember that day very well because it was one of those extremely rare occasions when I bypassed office protocol and ‘sued’ my MD and other bosses, charging them with ‘sabotaging’ company plans to get the production of the papers going while we were well set to do the work even without computers.

I told the EC point-blank that we were tired of lying idle and all we needed was a mere 15 typewriters to produce the paper.

The EC then asked me: “Are you sure that if I give you those typewriters you will produce a paper?” I replied: “I am sure.” He asked: “When exactly can you get started?” I asked him to give us a maximum of 15 days.

His response: “Go and tell your bosses that I am coming to see them, that they should get ready to produce The Guardian on the Wednesday of January 11, 1995.”

I was completely at a loss as to what I would tell my bosses with respect to my historic audience with the IPP Executive Chairman.

This was because I believed that they would believe that I had misbehaved with intent to have them censured. But I took heart and I told them about the incident.
They convened an emergency meeting and lambasted me as fiercely as they had energy to and time for. But I took everything in my stride and had not regrets for what I did because the two of us (Mnubi and I) and other journalists had seriously decided to ensure that The Guardian was born – whatever it took. But MD Thomson was far from impressed; in fact, he was so furious that that he turned red, condemning me for having contacted the EC.

One day – the Tuesday of January 10, 1995 – the EC came into the newsroom (we were operating from the current ITV/Radio One premises) and witnessed the writing of The Guardian’s first editorial comment, much like Mwalimu Julius Nyerere did on the eve of the launch of the government-run Daily News.

The EC told us briefly that it was his long-time dream that IPP would establish a media ‘empire’ and that he was happy having started Tanzania’s first privately-owned English-language daily newspaper.

He said he was impressed with the paper’s editorial guidelines which, in part, place a premium on respect for human dignity in its widest sense and underline the need for the media to ensure they go about their work as professionally as humanly possible.

We promised to abide by the advice and, as many observers will admit and as testimony appearing elsewhere in this issue of the paper shows, we have religiously kept our word to this very day.

The Guardian soon became a well-regarded publication liked and respected by a wide range of people, among them Tanzanian and foreign dignitaries, members of the business community, advertisers and scholars.

The Guardian boasts the fact that it has seldom run against ethical guidelines or found itself in trouble with the law, while it has been a frontliner in defending the rights of all people, irrespective of race, religion, gender, ideology or other considerations.

No wonder that, despite the cutthroat competition for readers and advertisements characterising the media landscape in Tanzania, the paper has few complaints and heartaches.

As noted, I started work at The Guardian Limited as a sub-editor. I thank God that, with His blessings and unswerving support from my bosses and colleagues, I retired while serving as Managing Director of The Guardian Limited.

During the 20-plus years I served the company, The Guardian faced no more than three court cases (all relating to defamation allegations).

In other words, it was only three times that I appeared in court as a defendant in connection with defamation cases facing the paper – and we won all those cases.

This is impeccable evidence the paper really cares for quality and professionalism. It is an experience I will forever cherish.

All said, though, I still have very fresh memories of that fateful day in 2012 when then Director of Presidential Communications, Salvatory Rweyemamu, directed all government ministries to blacklist The Guardian by denying it advertisements.

I was already MD of The Guardian Limited, and the move disturbed me a lot, particularly in that I saw completely no reason for the overly harsh decree.

However, we still found consolation in the fact that the paper was widely accepted and valued by many enough Tanzanians and other people to continue being blessed with the advertisements it needed to soldier on in dignity and, therefore, remain strong financially.

This is no rash bravado as The Guardian has scooped the East Africa Superbrand Award for three consecutive years. In fact, I once represented The Guardian Limited in receiving the prestigious award in Uganda when I was MD.

My last word: I know The Guardian newspaper inside out. It has done – and is doing – The Guardian Limited, Tanzania and journalism very proud. It has inspired me throughout. I wish it a prosperous future. As one of the thousands upon thousands of its admirers and watchers, I will become all the happier seeing it become a quotable publication across the globe.

And I know this is well within reach, especially given the seriousness, focus and determination of all those who have made the paper tick across its first two decades. Congratulations to the management and staff of this great publication. Even the sky should not be the limit for you!

•Kiondo Reuben Mshana has set up a journalism school in Dar es Salaam and is engaged in media consultancy.

Contact: [email protected]. Cell phone +255 715333186 or +255 784333186.