Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

A Social History of the Media: Reflections from the Kenyan Context

Written by: on November 15, 2012

This week the first railway line was opened by the president of Kenya. The last railway line was built in the 1930s.  The new railway line has been built for commuters from the city center in Nairobi to the main international airport, 30km away. As I read the chapters on new processes and patterns, on the media that was developed in the west in the 20th century such as locomotives, I realize that these are still very new and recent media in my context as ships, mail, telegraph, radio and camera. They were introduced by the colonialist as the divided and ruled the colonies in Africa. The missionaries are the ones who made these new media assessable for the local native people. They used them to preach the gospel and at the institutions of learning that they established. Those who become Christian found incentives with access to these new fascinating ways of communicating. The media was meant for education of the natives and provide information as the missionaries continued with their work. Entertainment especially among first converts to Christianity was discouraged. Guitars and drums were discouraged from the church or the home. The piano was the only ‘sanctified’ media to be used in church and the ‘loud speaker’ outside of the church for evangelism.

These debates of appropriate media in the church were a divisive issues even the 1980s. As media increased with new establishment of churches outside of the colonial/mainline churches, new media was used in churches with new younger leaders who were not corrupted by the narrow view of founding African church leaders. I cannot put blame on them; information was not as accessible as it is today. There was not much research done to understand the power and role of media in society and the church.

Computers are still inaccessible to many people in the society I live in. During the 2009 census in Kenya, data collected included information on availability of electricity and television. Questions on the accessibility of computers and internet were not asked, they would be negligible. Kenya, like many African countries are struggling with feeding it citizens, lack of good accessible health care and education and enquiring about access to new technology will not be at the fore front of the priority of many institutions, including the church. Few urban churches are streaming the Sunday services. This is not the norm though. There is not much choice of information. Indeed there is much misinformation due to the dominance and control of the government in regulating media content. The radio has become the source of information. During the Rwanda genocide of 1994, the radio was used to transmit messages of hate and to inform the militia groups on the process of the genocide. The radio too was used to announce the end of the war and keep the people informed on the progress of reconciliation.

Kenya does not produce any media technology such as radios, TVs, phones. Yet it consumes a lot of the communication gadgets. It is almost a dumping ground for fake phones. The mail is still being used but it is not being utilized as the west does by integrating it with cyber-economics. The online buying systems have not taken root. The sad issue to note is that most of the rare metals used in the manufacture of media technologies are mined in Africa, yet the people whose land store such great treasures and wealth do not benefit from these rare metals. Labor laws are flouted, children are made to work in the mines are safety levels are not conducive for human labor. The toxic wastes are enormous and most of the land is left bare and barren after the mines have exhausted the minerals.

The continent of Africa has a long way before they catch up with the west. The church’s role is still not clearly defined and research of the proper use of new media for education and information is still lacking or underdeveloped. All is not lost in the interconnected global world and looking forward to Africa being a participant not a spectator in the information age.

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Joy Mindo

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