‘Standard’ was first published in 1902 before then was the ‘Taveta Chronicle’

By , K24 Digital
On Thu, 18 Jul, 2019 00:00 | 3 mins read
Taveta Chronicle offices at Mahoo, TaitaTaveta county, where the first East African newspaper was published. Photo/NDEGWA GATHUNGU
Jasmine Atieno @sparkleMine

Many Kenyans believe that the first newspaper published in the country was the Standard Newspaper.  The Standard was first published in 1902, but before then there was the Taveta Chronicle, an East African region newspaper started by the missionaries in what is now Taita Taveta county.

The Taveta Chronicle first appeared in the Easter of 1895 in Taita Taveta under the editorial eye of one Reverend A R Steggall, the superintendent of the church missionary society’s mission station at Mahoo, which means a happy place. Steggall helped free many slaves both from the German and British territories at that time.

The newspaper was the first periodical to be published in the British and Germany spheres of eastern Africa. It was printed on small octave sheets of eight to 16 pages. The press house, also used as a watchtower by missionaries, still stands today.  

Years later, the peace at Mahoo was shattered after First World War erupted in Europe and British colonial soldiers in Kenya incorporated Africans in their fight against Germans, the colonial rulers of Tanganyika.  Mahoo became a battleground and the printing press became a fortress for the British soldiers, making it  a battleground tourism attraction site today.      

The press used was known as the Number 2 model, after publishing quarterly, the newspaper was moved first by foot to Mombasa then shipped abroad. The newspaper was sold in London at £6  (estimated at Sh53,000 today’s prices). It was expensive since it held much information about missionary and regional affairs.

 Unfortunately, the last publication was in 1901.  “Production and distribution costs were too high. The printer broke down and spare parts needed to revive it were way too expensive for the missionaries, so that was the end of it,” says Battlefield sites Tour guide and manager Taita Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, Willie Mwadilo.

The Chronicles offered insight into life in East Africa at the end of 1800s. There are many stories of life at Bura Mission and on matters health, agriculture, trade and construction of the Uganda railway.

There is a full compilation of the newspapers from 1895 to 1901 at a mini-museum at the Sarova Taita Hills Lodge inside Tsavo National Park,  in case you are interested in this history. Indeed, there is much history and information about World War One to learn in Taveta.

Apart from Mahoo, with close views of the Mahoo hills, the Mahoo Fort and The Observation Fort, other battleground sites were Salaita Hills (which means bloodbath or site of ‘slaughter’) and Mashoti Fort, a name the locals drew from ‘no more shooting’.  Others are Mile 27 on the Voi Maktau military line (Maktau was drawn from ‘mark time,’ from the marching orders of the soldiers and Sniper Baobab tree, from where a German widow killed tens of British troops who tried to attack the Salaita hills.

Battlefield tourism has picked up in Taita Taveta, spear headed by Taita Hill Wildlife Sanctuary since 2014. Though overlooked by the county government, the product  has seen increased tourism arrivals to the many battlefield sites in the county. 

“Since 2014 marked 100 years since the start of the war in East Africa, we organised a commemoration, which was very successful. Ten ambassadors attended the commemoration and since then, it has become more and more popular…especially internationally,” says Mwadilo.

However, the county government has been reluctant to embrace this as a tourism product. “It is funny that wazungus (whites) are travelling all the way from Europe to know about Kenya when the only holiday interests that we have are the beaches and bush safaris,” adds Voi MP, Jones Mlolwa. 

The sanctuary has invested Sh6 million in battlefield tourism. In return, arrivals have been encouraging, with the British Army making it a yearly visitation programme.

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