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Outgoing MCL Boss Bakari Machumu Reflects on His Journalistic, Managerial Journey in a Wide-Ranging Interview With The Chanzo

He talks about the transformations he contributed to at the company and how he managed conflicting interests as a leader of an influential news organisation.

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After working in various roles for two decades for the leading print media company in Tanzania, Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL), Bakari S. Machumu, the company’s Managing Director, will step down on August 31, 2024, the company announced on June 3, 2024, raising questions about where he’ll go next.

In an interview with The Chanzo, Mr Machumu, who holds a Masters in Media Leadership and Innovation from the Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communication in Kenya, explained that his intention to retire had been in place for a long time and he now believes it is the right time to do so. 

The father of one expressed that he retires from the company without regrets. He has been an employee since 2004 when he joined the company as the Business Editor for The Citizen, the company’s English-language tabloid. He’s proud that his only daughter, Hope, is as old as his time at MCL.

“I am not leaving [MCL] with any regret at all because every leader who comes in plants certain things in you,” Machumu, who turned 55 in May, says in the interview. “When I joined [the company], perhaps people did not know me, but today, as I leave, people recognise that I have made a few contributions, so I truly have nothing to regret.”

Machumu’s retirement announcement coincided with the departure of the former director of presidential communications at the State House, Zuhura Yunus. This led some to speculate that Machumu could be her successor, but he clarified in the interview that that was not the reason for his retirement.

“It is just a coincidence,” Mr Machumu intoned. “I’ve always thought of implementing some plans that I kept postponing. I was finally able to decide [to retire]. People will talk, but I have different plans, and I cannot stop people from talking.”

Before becoming the Managing Director, Mr Machumu served in various leadership roles within the company. He joined MCL in July 2004 as the first business editor of The Citizen newspaper before he was appointed the paper’s Managing Editor in May 2006. 

Bakari Machumu, left, with his daughter, Hope, whose age equals the twenty years her father spent working for the Mwananchi Communications Limited (MCL). PHOTO | BAKARI MACHUMU/FACEBOOK.

He was again appointed the company’s Executive Editor in 2013, a position he held until 2020, when he became the company’s Managing Director, succeeding Francis Nanai, who left in mid-2020.


As the Managing Director, Mr Machumu was responsible for rescuing MCL from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which dealt a massive blow to the company regarding revenues, staff morale, and overall influence in Tanzania’s news market. 

READ MORE: Bakari Machumu: Discussion on Media Viability ‘Seriously Needed’ in Tanzania

“My main task was motivating the employees to believe they could succeed,” he explained. “I noticed a lot of fear, so I saw this as the first area to address by fostering inclusiveness. There was a general lack of confidence among people, a doubt about whether we could succeed.”

He’s credited with successfully engineering MCL’s digital transformation, earning praise from parent company Nation Media Group (NMG). He’s also credited for his efforts to expand, amplify, and consolidate the diversification of the company’s revenues, which were introduced by his predecessors, Mr Nanai and Mr Tido Mhando. 

These services include contract printing, Mwananchi Courier, hosting an incubation centre called Habari Hub, and expanding events journalism, like organising thought leadership fora, by launching a new campaign on women’s empowerment dubbed The Citizen Rising Women Initiative.

“Although we had begun this transformation under Nanai before I became the [managing] director, we expiated a digital transformation that established us as a credible institution both in print and online,” Mr Machumu said. “We now have a Rising Woman online platform for women and development, and we will unveil yet another digital platform in a few days.”

Bakari Machumu, right, greets President Samia Suluhu Hassan during the 2024 Rising Woman event in Dar es Salaam on March 9, 2024, in which the Head of State was the guest of honour. PHOTO | STATE HOUSE/X.

MCL also established a dedicated Business Development Unit that encourages companies and organisations to publish sponsored content with the company where their stories can be well told instead of just placing an advert in the company’s newspapers.

“In 2021, for the first time in many years, employees received a bonus, which boosted our confidence that we could indeed succeed,” Machumu says with pride. “We started changing our systems and embarked on a journey towards greater digital proficiency.” 

READ MORE: Practitioners Express Cautious Optimism for the Future of Media in Tanzania

“Although we had begun this transformation before I became the [managing] director, we initiated a digital transformation that established us as a credible institution both in print and online,” he added.


However, Machumu has faced some criticism from among his editorial staff and even readers that his approach to ensuring financial sustainability, which involves pandering to advertisers, including government departments, runs at the expense of the company’s failure to do hard-hitting journalism that for years it has been known for.

The Chanzo understands that some of the company’s journalists have been complaining about the lack of interest from their editors and line managers to do critical stories on the government undertakings, a situation they believe relates to the business model the company is currently implementing.

However, in an interview with The Chanzo, Mr Machumu said these allegations are unfounded, and the company is implementing several measures to enable it to fulfil its journalistic role effectively, including doing more investigations and other public interest stories. 

These efforts include partnering with the Tanzania Media Foundation (TMF), a nonprofit that supports independent journalism in Tanzania, which will involve equipping the company’s journalists with the necessary skills to undertake public interest journalism, including doing stories seeking accountability on the part of those entrusted with public offices.

Mr Machumu also thinks that people who raise these criticisms need to understand how media works. He points out that if a particular media outlet fails to raise enough money to fund its journalism, it will fail to meet its audience’s expectations and cannot guarantee its independence, whose value he thinks cannot be overemphasised.

“If you only provide a service, and you have skilled journalists who can do that, after a while, if you can’t pay them because the business fails, the service dies,” he theorised. “That’s what I believe.”

READ MORE: Here Are Common Mistakes Journalists in Tanzania Make

“So, to continue providing the service, I must run the media outlet as a business,” Mr Machumu elaborated. “A media outlet must be run like any other business. It must sustain itself, support its employees, invest in technology, and produce high-quality content. When you do that, everyone is happy.”

Conflicting interests

The issue speaks to the conflicting interests – owners, management, staff, regulators, advertisers, etc. – that strive for the attention and loyalty of a media outlet whose leaders must exercise utmost caution in managing them. This is a daily reality characteristic of all media outlets, and MCL is no exception.

At one point, for instance, the company had to make some decisions, including firing some of its journalists and editors, that some people associated with its failure to manage these conflicting interests properly, like in 2020 when the company ended its contract with its editor Neville Meena, one of Tanzania’s respected journalists, which some thought was politically motivated.

But Mr Machumu refuted this assumption during an interview with The Chanzo, noting that at no point has the company made an internal decision, like firing a journalist, based on external pressures or without following its internal policies, procedures and processes. 

Bakari Machumu, left, spends much of his free time reading and, most recently, playing golf, which helps him “exercise and strategise.” PHOTO | EDWIN BRUNO/LINKEDIN.

He said there are examples of the management and board going out of their way to protect the company’s journalists. He nevertheless acknowledged the existence of such conflicts in the newsroom and the challenges they pose to management.

“In a position like that [of a managing director], you cannot avoid conflicts,” Machumu admitted. “The first thing that can help you, which I did, is to try to understand the desires of those [groups of] people. Once you understand them and they understand why you are there, your purpose as a media organisation, and your work principles, it helps.”

Future of media

During the interview, Mr Machumu also touched on the issue of media viability in Tanzania, emphasising the need for media houses in the East African nation to undertake internal transformation, not just short-term changes, to stay relevant in the constantly changing landscape and ensure their survival.

READ MORE: Media Freedom and Climate Crisis in Tanzania

“The media industry [in Tanzania] could change significantly in ten years,” Mr Machumu foresees. “If the pace of change remains slow for the established mainstream companies, I mean if internal changes within those companies will not be significant, they will no longer exist.”

He believes new media companies stand a big chance of taking today’s mainstream media position if they do two things right: governance structures, which means an active board and management constantly ensuring they have systems that ensure effective management, checks and balances, and accountability on one end, and financial discipline, which will involve designing growth strategies on the other.

“So, I think if these [emerging] companies invest their efforts in these two major areas, they will be a threat [to the legacy media] because of [the former’s] dynamism,” Machumu said.

“They make decisions quickly,” he added, “but they shouldn’t forget that even these big companies were small in the past and were doing things rapidly.”

A Formula One enthusiast, Mr Machumu says he spends much of his free time reading and, most recently, playing golf, which helps him “exercise and strategise.”

He enjoys reading management and leadership literature, with On Making Smart Decisions, a 2013 compilation of ten mostly read essays on decision-making by the Harvard Business Review, now consuming much of his free time.

On Saturday afternoons, after church, Mr Machumu, a Seventh-day Adventist, relaxes with the gospel for about three hours until the end of the Sabbath. He says the routine helps him liven his spirituality, with the Ambassadors of Christ Choir serving as his favourite companions in the process.
Matonyinga Makaro filed this story from Mwanza. He’s available at

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