How Joe Kadhi shaped journalism in Kenya


Veteran journalist Joe Kadhi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

"A lively and well-read old man."

Those are the words of the director of media training and development at the Media Council of Kenya Victor Bwire on veteran journalist and media trainer Joe Kadhi, who passed on Thursday.

“A great researcher and writer. The lessons, life skills, case studies, books, trips, training sessions, mentorship and nyama choma sessions… Thanks mwalimu and Rest in Peace,” Mr Bwire wrote on his Facebook page.

Journalists and communication practitioners echoed his thoughts on Kadhi, who spent his life in the newsroom, universities and training outside schools.

So keen on media ethics was Kadhi that he had book reviews, newspaper cuttings, and downloads on the subject.

Kadhi usually had a flash disk hanging around his neck, whenever he was conducting a training or giving lectures.

Kadhi was a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s School of Journalism, Addis Ababa and the United States International University (USIU-Africa), where he trained and mentored journalists.

Kadhi joined Baraza as a reporter in 1960 before moving to Mwafrika, a Kanu-funded publication as an editor in 1962. He joined Nation Media Group in 1964 as a reporter for Taifa and Nation newspapers.

In 1970, Kadhi started Joe Kadhi asks why? column – a commentary on social issues, which he stayed on even after becoming a managing editor.

He obtained a diploma in journalism from the University of Nairobi in 1971 and eight years later, in 1979, was appointed managing editor of Daily Nation.

A year later he moved to the Sunday Nation in a similar capacity before he was elevated to assistant group managing editor, where he served from 1988-1991, working closely with his boss, George Mbugguss, who was the group managing editor.

He retired from Nation Media Group in September 1991 after serving the company for a continuous 23 years and joined the University of Nairobi as a lecturer.

Mr Kadhi’s popular phrase on leaving the newsroom was that as the media lost an editor, the School of Journalism got a lecturer.

However, his newsroom life wasn’t that smooth. He had run-ins with the government of President Daniel Moi in the early 80s.

Macharia Munene writes in Historical Reflections on Kenya Intellectual Adventurism, Politics and International Relations (UONP-2012) how Kadhi would not shy telling off the government.

He cites a publication in April 1981 when the Nation challenged Kanu’s wisdom in stopping Oginga Odinga from contesting for the Bondo parliamentary seat.

Not happy with the publication, the ruling party accused the newspaper of assigning itself the role of unofficial opposition party and threatened the media house with dire consequences.

Shortly, thereafter, he and his colleagues were arrested after publishing an unsigned Kanu statement on doctors' strike as anonymous.

The party was mad by what it deemed as a suggestion that its leaders were non-persons.

He was picked up by assistant commissioner of police Joginder Singh Sokhi in the evening and held over the weekend at Lang’ata Police Station, alongside John Esibi (sub-editor), Philip Ochieng’, chief sub-editor, and reporters Gideon Mulaki and Pius Nyamora.

On media ethics, Kadhi says in one of his publications that as the managing editor and the person responsible for writing editorials — a newspaper’s position on a subject — he was required to avoid the bizarre and the offensive, and to always maintain a standard of decency and good taste.

“Nation editorials always supported the principles and objectives of the Kenya government. I was, however, free to criticise government policy both in the editorial columns as well as in my personal column called ‘WHY? Asks Joe Kadhi,’ provided the criticism was really necessary and remained objective and responsible”.

Mr Bwire said he is grateful for the opportunity to learn, work, stay, interact and enjoy Kadhi’s generosity and humility.

The legend

Sadly, though, the MCK official says he tried so much to get the universities he was associated with to consider Kadhi for an Honorary Doctorate to no avail.

John Oywa, a journalist who now works for Kisumu County, mourned Kadhi as “The Legend” who taught him how to write features and saved him from “some hardliners”.

Boni Odinga, Bozo Jenje and Shamlal Puri, all journalists, honoured him as a journalism legend while cartoonist Paul Kelemba alias Maddo said Kadhi was “a remarkable entity”.

Blamuel Njururi, who worked with the departed at Nation Media Group, said Kadhi “created current breed of professional journalists and media personalities”.

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