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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
New threat to Kenya vernacular radio
Radio studio
Broadcasters have to mind what they say
By Joseph Warungu in Nairobi

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi has again threatened to close down radio stations broadcasting in vernacular languages.

Speaking at a church function, President Moi said that unless the vernacular stations changed and became transparent by broadcasting in English or the national language Kiswahili, they would be banned.

He singled out for particular criticism Kameme FM - Kenya's only privately owned FM radio station broadcasting in one of the country's main languages, Kikuyu.

He said such stations could be misused to cause anarchy as happened in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide.

Liberalisation

For decades Kenya's only local source of news, information, and entertainment on radio came from a single supplier, the state owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC).

But in 1996, all that changed with the liberalisation of airwaves and the first privately owned FM station, Capital FM took to the air.

Daniel arap Moi
Moi: Vernacular broadcasts undermine national unity
Nothing unusual there Kenyans thought, as the station broadcast news and pop music in English, but about six months ago a new arrival on Kenya airwaves caused a stir.

Kameme FM, a privately owned station, identified a niche market among the Kikuyu community who live in and around Nairobi and decided to speak to them in their own language.

Listeners tuned in bemused by the new broadcasting concept and advertisers followed them.

Political fears

The money flowed in but before long politicians woke up to the political possibilities of an ethnic station with a captive ethnic audience two years away from a general election.

Suddenly accusations of propagating Kikuyu chauvinism and promoting ethnic divisions were thrown about.

Three weeks ago, President Moi had had enough and announced government moves to ban vernacular stations such as Kameme and the Hindi language Metro East FM.

There followed a huge public debate about the pros and cons of vernacular broadcasting, prompting the Information Minister Musalia Mudavadi to down play the president's threats over the weekend.

Transparency

But Mr Moi was not to be cowed and he has returned to the theme.

Vernacular stations like Kameme, reasoned President Moi, have to be more transparent by adopting English and Kiswahili to allay fears that like Rwanda's RTLM in 1994, they too could be used to cause chaos and ethnic hatred.

In response to Mr Moi's threats, Kameme quickly called a press conference and its Managing Director Rose Kimotho assured all that Kameme will continue to stay well clear of politics and stick to the terms of its license.

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