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Hilary Ng’weno, veteran journalist and historian, dies at 83

Veteran journalist Hilary Ng’weno, best known as the founder of the iconic Weekly Review news magazine. he passed away on July 7, 2021.


Another giant of Kenyan journalism has left the stage. Hilary Ng’weno, best known as the founder of the iconic Weekly Review news magazine, passed away on Wednesday after struggling with a degenerative disease over the past three years.

A short message sent out to his former colleagues announced that the legendary journalist “died at home in the bosom of his family”.

He died just 10 days after marking his 83rd birthday.

Last December, Mr Ng’weno was the recipient of a lifetime achievement award at the third Annual Convention of the Kenya Editors’ Guild. The citation noted his immense contribution to the development of Kenyan media, and also his role in the training of some of the best journalists Kenya has ever produced, although he was not a trained journalist, having studied physics at Harvard University.

He joined Nation Media Group upon his return from studies in the United States, and in 1965 at the tender age of 25, had risen to become the first African editor-in-chief.

However, he quit after just a couple of years on issues of principle around editorial control and direction during a period the proprietors insisted on British expatriates keeping an eye on things from behind the scenes.

He however retained a relationship with the Nation, penning daring satire that touched liberally on then taboo political subjects.

Weekly news magazine

In 1975, he founded the Weekly Review, a ground-breaking weekly news magazine that for the first time introduced expert political and economic analysis for Kenyan readers.

Before Weekly Review, however, his foray into independent publishing was Joe Magazine, a must read in the 1970s with its blend of political satire, cartoon strips and wacky humour, and the iconic ‘lead character’ character Joe Kihara.

Other titles in what would become a large stable included Rainbow, a children’s magazine, and The Financial Review, which later branched into an independent publication.

Kenya Times

There was also an excellent broadsheet, the Nairobi Times, modelled on quality papers such as the New York Times and Times of London. It was later reduced to a tabloid, and eventually sold to the then ruling party Kanu to become the Kenya Times.

Mr Ng’weno, who was always referred to by his colleagues as Hilary or HBN, was also a pioneer in independent broadcasting.

In 1986, he caused waves with “Usiniharakishe”, a TV drama aired on the then TV monopoly, the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation. The drama was banned after just two episodes for a daring explore the subject of teenage sex.

He followed up with “Tushauriane”, the first quality local drama to air on Kenyan TV.

Independent TV station

HBN went on to launch one of Kenya’s first independent television stations, STV, once the State monopoly was broken in the late 1980s. It was later bought out by the group now known as Mediamax, which is associated with the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family business empire.

The flagship Weekly Review folded in 2001, but HBN went on to produce, write and direct a series of award-winning documentaries on Kenyan politics under “Makers of a Nation”, a series made in conjunction with Nation Media Group.

Even in retirement, he continued to give his best in the service of Kenyan journalism. A key contribution was donating his invaluable archives to the Centre for East Africa Media Research at Moi University, which bears his name.

He also recently set up a YouTube channel streaming his documentaries, some of which had never been previously aired.

HBN is survived by his widow, Fleur, and daughters Amolo and Bettina.

The family has requested that no visitors gather at his home because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Funeral plans will be announced later. –