The Standard: A Repository of African Sports History

By Sikes, Michelle | African Research & Documentation, January 1, 2011 | Go to article overview
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The Standard: A Repository of African Sports History


Sikes, Michelle, African Research & Documentation


An Exceptional Enterprise

On 15 November 1902, Asian entrepreneur Alibhai Mulla Jeevanjee launched the African Standard in Mombasa with the support of editor and reporter W.H. Tiller (Kahaso, 1995). As a contractor for railway supplies, Jeevanjee had become wealthy through the construction of the Kenya-Uganda Railway (Patel, 1997). According to one account, "Ever an enterprising man...Jeevanjee conceived of the idea of starting a newspaper in Mombasa. In due course, the African Standard was born" (Kahaso, 1995).

The newspaper continued to publish weekly reports despite changing its headquarters, ownership and title within its first ten years as a press. Jeevanjee, who had little experience as a journalist, soon sold his paper to two British businessmen. New owners Meyer and Anderson then in 1905 renamed the paper the East African Standard (Odonde, 1995). Five years later, after the seat of government moved from Mombasa to Nairobi, the newspaper's headquarters followed. The East African Standard became a daily service and through successfully competing with or absorbing its rival newspapers, it established itself as the colony's leading newspaper (Carter, 1968). Until independence, it served as the "voice of European settlers" and for many years, it was the only large circulation English daily (Carter, 1968; Ogonda, 1992). Significantly, the East African Standard (hereafter referred to as The Standard) forged an unbroken streak of reporting for over one hundred years, "from pre-independence, through Uhuru, to post-independence" (Tetley, 1995). Presently known as The Standard, it is Kenya's oldest, and second largest, daily newspaper.

Why should the establishment and the history of The Standard matter to scholars who are interested in the history and politics of sport in Africa? As this article will suggest, Kenya's oldest newspaper contains a wealth of source material through which to study sport in Kenya. The ubiquity of sports in newspapers is easily recognised; however, historians have not investigated its place in African media. Nor in this context has the sports section as a specific genre of journalistic writing been examined. The assessment of The Standard as a source, which comprises the remainder of this essay, could be extended to other public news sources across the continent, making it a useful exercise to share with researchers of African sport and African history. The history, censorship, authors, production and content of this newspaper will be discussed. In addition, it will consider what this source has to say about aspects of life as a female athlete in Kenya: namely, how age and gender impinge on athletic participation. In short, a discussion of sports coverage within The Standard demonstrates the range of historical evidence contained within African news sources and suggests that it would be fruitful to use print media to investigate the sports history of African countries.

It should be noted from the outset, however, that The Standard, as well as Kenya's most popular major daily newspaper, The Nation, is an exclusively English language publication. Newspapers in the vernacular, although they are not the focus of this paper, certainly deserve further attention. During decolonisation, many African leaders strove to replace European political structures with indigenous institutions, including the press (Faringer, 1991). As Fay Gadsden (1980) has pointed out, the period between the end of World War II and the declaration of a State of Emergency in October 1952 saw in Kenya an unparalleled growth of an African vernacular press. Although many of these papers lasted only a short time, during the post-war years Africans started more than forty newspapers (Gadsden, 1980). In short, scholarship on the history of print in Kenya has yet to take note of the representation of sports within its vernacular press (Scotton, 1975; Gadsden, 1980; Frederiksen, 2011) and this area could provide possibilities for future research.

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