The colonial administration in Franco-phone, Anglo-phone and Belgian thought Africans press left to ‘barbaric’ Africans could turn nationalistic and be dangerous to their complacency.
Agood example is Nigerian governor Fredrick Lugard, in 1917, who felt threatened by the emerging elites and discordance, he thought of founding fathers and natives pressmen as “mission educated young men who live in village interfering with native council and acting as correspondents for a mendacious native press” as quoted by Francis Ugboajah in Traditional-Urban Media Model: Stocktaking for African Development.
The colonial governments discouraged ownership of press by outing heavy taxes on import of newsprint and printing machines. Governors had the power to seize and censor papers and required import bond from publishers.
These expense dictatorial power by governors to confiscate printing materials and fine libel at discretion, sadly, is still pervert over a half a century after start of African independence.
Ironically old guards who suffered in these draconian laws become steadfast persecutors of the pres for survival. Among these first African leaders who where scribes before becoming leaders are;
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana. Accra Evening News
Leading the Convection People’s Party which drove Ghana to the 6th March 1957 independence, Nkrumah established Accra evening News in early 1947 and became its editor. Writing in his autobiography he observed “I failed to see how any liberation movement could possibly succeed without an effective means of broadcasting its policy to the rank and file of the people”
Three years to its birth it was banned and its editors jailed by the governor Charles Arden-Clarke.
These jailing become an epitome of first African press which continued with the new governments becoming dictatorships which curtailing the press.
Sadly Nkrumah after independence built a citadel of power which hindered press freedom. Press the erstwhile agitators for the people become his mouth piece, Evening News once wrote in 1961;
“The man Kwame Nkrumah will be written of (sic) as the liberator, the messiah, the Christ of our day, whose great love for mankind wrought changes in Ghana, in Africa and in the world at large”
Nnamdi Azikiwe, Nigeria. West African Point
The Nigerain president till the infamous 1966 coup started West African Point in 1937 for nationalist purposes with a score of other papers which helped in gaining of independence in 1960.
Azikiwe noted that the nationalist press gave mental emancipation from colonialism and saw the press as “the most potent instrument used in propagation of nationalistic consciousness”
Julius Nyerere, Tanzania. Sauti ya TANU
Nyerere is perharps the brightest of founding presidents he started his public life as the editor of the party newspaper Sauti ya TANU which solidly identified with nationalist aspiration of Tanzanians.
Before independence the British governments Public Relations department was the only one allowed to pass news in Swahili. The governor with the power to prohibit reporting fined Nyerere with libel.
Worth of note is that his predecessor Benjamin Mkapa was also a scribe as the editorial boss of The Nationalist in 1960s and Daily News in 1978 before venturing into politics.
Patrice Lumumba, DRC. Independence
Patrice Lumumba’s Independence, a journal of opinion was born when Lumumba visited the Ghana’s All African People Conference in 1958 where he emulated the success of Accra evening News. Started with the support of his part Mouvement National Congolais (MNC) its critical editorial clout made the nation to erupt into chaos in 1960 independence which lead to his death.
His rival Joseph Desire Mobutu was a freelance journalist from 1956 after being discharged from the army before gaining power in DRC.
Jomo Kenyattaa, Kenya. Muiguithania
Translated from Kikuyu as work and prayer, Muiguithania a Kikuyu paper was started by Kenya Central Association in 1920 to counter land grievances made Kenyattaa to be the first African to edit a paper in Kenya.
Muiguithani has been developed into a blog with the same name.
His first vice president Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and Achieng’ Oneko purchased a press to publish Ramogi in Luo after a mythical ancestor in 1947. The press also printed Agikuyu in Kikuyu, Mwiatha in Akamba and Mulinavosi in Maragoli.
Equally in Swahili W.W Awori started Radioposta while Francis Khamisi started Mwalimu
Leopold Sedar- Senghor, Senegal. La Condition Humanine
The poet president and a staunch French assimile was the publisher and editor of La Condition humanine in 1950. The paper was a mouthpiece for his political party Senegalese Progressist Party. His fellow assimile Felix Houphert-Boigny of Ivory coast was the editor of Afrique Noire prior to independence.
Intrestingly the two as former French ministers wanted to remain in France sphere or form a confederation making their papers to be a means of political debate with minimum nationalist aspirations.
In contrast Guinea a former colony which wanted independence under Parti Democratique de Guinee (PDG) had their newspaper Liberte in 1950.
Wilcox Dennis in his book Mass Media in Black Africa: Philosophy and Control notes that these first African newspapers were fully utilized for nationalistic purposes and a chain in political organizations. Most lacked funds and were heavily restricted by colonial governments a trend which continued after independence.