While six million Kenyans require food assistance and the rest complain of the high cost of living, it is boomtime for the banking industry. For the first nine months of 2022, ABSA posted a post-tax profit of 10.7bn. For the same period, NCBA did better still at 12.8bn, although it is not clear if that figure includes the 350m that they had failed to remit to the Kenya Revenue Authority. But KCB outshone them all with its post-tax profit of 30.6bn.
These, presumably, are the Kenyan banks that majority leader of the Senate, Aaron Cheruiyot, referred to as ‘cartels’ in a recent tweet on social media. The term cartels suggest monopolies who control sectors with the aim of maximising profits and eliminating their competitors. While the public would trust that CBK is overseeing the banks with due diligence, there is something very unsavoury about such excessive profits when just about everyone else is struggling to pay their bills.
The banks have so far not responded to the Senator’s call for President Ruto to ‘crush’ them. The other industry named in the crushing exercise – the Media – however, did not keep quiet. They quickly rushed to their own defense with one TV station devoting the first five minutes of its broadcast to issue a rejoinder. In a liberal democracy, when the government of the day threatens to crush media houses, that is a feather in their cap and a confirmation of their duty to critically report on the government’s performance. However, in Kenya one should not take these threats lightly at a time when more of the Kenya Kwanza energy and resources is devoted to fighting its enemies than poverty.
It is hypocritical of this same regime to demand a free and objective media when their real gripe is that they are getting bad press. Indeed, the criticisms and questions that media houses print are the same concerns that Wanjiku and Nekesa are expressing without ever reading a newspaper. If Kenya Kwanza want a more favourable press, then maybe they need to establish their own media outlet as Mr. Moi did with the Kenya Times.
But the response of the media houses is equally disingenuous. The print and electronic media outlets lost their bite long ago when they succumbed to self-censorship and became compromised by the benefits that invitations to State House press conferences presented. They can no longer prize themselves on independence, integrity and commitment to truth. In 2018, the top ten columnists in one newspaper resigned en masse in support of the Editor and Cartoonist who were sacked for contributing work that was critical of the Uhuru and Ruto administration. The print media has never recovered from that verdict and today the total sales of all the dailies is less than 100,000.
Media outlets have lost respect and income and this cannot just be attributed to changing readership patterns and the growth of social media. Many of us are old enough to remember waking up early to catch the first editions of The Weekly Review, Society and Daily Nation. Those who still purchase dailies is as much about habit as with expectation to be educated, inspired or informed. The once unmissable evening TV News no longer has the attraction or viewing figures of a decade ago.
That may be particularly harsh on the few investigative journalists who continue to produce works of excellence. The popularity of Spice FM’s morning talk show indicates that quality broadcasting still has an audience and a public responsibility. However, the majority of scribes are underpaid, corruptible and ready to submit or kill stories at the bidding of a politician’s handout. News for the most part is a compilation of political events and struggling citizens are sick and tired of such content.
The government may want to crush the media houses but many are already imploding from within with sinking standards and profits. However, the same government owes media houses 332m for the printing and distribution of ‘My Gov’ and Cheruiyot never said a word about that. But media houses and the political class have shared the same bed for over a decade and a divorce will now be both messy and costly.