I thought the film directors of The Daily Nation did a commendable job in capturing the mood and character of not only life within the Nation Media Group and newspaper industry in Kenya, but also of the country as a whole. The excellent shots of the hustle and bustle of Nairobi, the chaotic traffic, the buildings, the bus terminus, shots of police and bandit encounters, images of the countryside and of old men reading the Kiswahili version of the paper, tell a story of a beautiful country burdened by poverty, illiteracy and under-development. But it is also a story of a people determined to stay alive and enjoy the life they are leading.
Inside the Nation Centre, we see an ultra-modern business environment with computers, state of the art printing presses, complex decision-making processes by local managers, etc. We see them outside their offices enjoying life in the clubs, a game of golf and sampling the good life. Clearly, it is a country in which modernity resides side by side with the rustic, less cosmopolitan ways of life that most of us who come from there remember.
The directors take an observational approach to their documentary rather than trying to pass judgment on what they are witnessing. Unfortunately, that means that the viewer does not see the philosophical struggles and context within which the newspaper is being produced. While the viewer does get to see one of the newspaper’s sales managers graphically describe the poverty that exists, the politics that have contributed this poverty are not explicated in the film. In addition, the issue of press freedom is touched upon by the chief executive of the newspaper group, but it is not explored with the writers who are most directly affected. However, it was never the intention of the directors to present a treatise on the politics of the country and the conditions in which business is conducted there. In their own words, they just wanted to be the fly on the wall in the editorial rooms and printing presses, to see and record the process of producing a newspaper. They did that well, capturing some intense and some humorous moments.
Most importantly, the film makes the indisputable point that Kenya (and Africa at large) is far from being a lost cause. Its future lies within the abilities of its own people who need only a stable and enabling environment to work and make a difference.
The film does not ask the question of whether the political leaders are up to the task of being able to create such an atmosphere, but it does not have to. It does not require a genius after all to guess who is to blame for the endless nightmares taking place in most parts of the continent. Despite an environment that presents endless hardships for journalists, the experience of The Daily Nation gives hope that African newspapers can maintain a high level of professionalism and longevity, given the perseverance and ambition of dedicated journalists.