Who am I?Where am I?

11 January 2009

Kenyan Communications Act of 2008

As I have traveled the world, there have been numerous opportunities for me to sit back and think about what it means to be American. Though I have lived overseas continuously since 2002, no matter where I go, I am defined by Americanness. For six years, people have asked me about George Bush, Iraq, September 11th, and why Americans don't play football or cricket. Now I am being asked about Barack Obama, the economy, and why Americans don't play football or cricket. But what does it mean to be American? After reading about the Kenyan Communications Act of 2008, I have grasped part of the answer. Somewhere, inherently ingrained into our being, Americans value freedom. We may have misguided leadership that tries to impose our rights onto others ala Iraq, but at the core, Americanness on some level means having personal rights.

After reading about the recent passage of the Kenyan Communications (Amendment) Act of 2008, one of the fundamental rights that Americans value is freedom of the press. Generally speaking, the American media is inherently biased, not in how it covers a story, but in what it chooses to report. (A case in point would be covering the exploits of Somali pirates and the hijacking of ships while not covering the root cause of the problem which is illegal fishing and the dumping of toxic waste in Somali waters.) However, with the internet, satellite dishes, and other modern forms of communication, informtion can be gathered, processed, and discussed on a large scale. Nobody will limit my right to say whatever I want to say. I can say that George W. Bush is the worst President in American history. I can say that George W. Bush is my hero. Regardless of my position, I will not be thrown into a United States prison for writing what I think.

This is perhaps what is so disturbing about Kenya. Kenya has largely been seen as the most developed country in East Africa, and perhaps along with South Africa, Ghana, Botswana, and a select few other African countries, as being a stable bastion of democracy on the continent. This image was further burnished by the election of Mwai Kibabi in 2002, in an election that saw KANU, the party that had ruled Kenya since independence, trounced in a landslide election. Five years later, Kibaki's election was controversial and resulted in ethnic violence which left over 1000 people dead and thousands more displaced (many of whom are still internally displaced persons...IDPs). To be fair, Kibaki has done many good things, including the aboltioin of school fees. Moreover, Kibaki has allowed ministers to run their departments (and thus introduce much needed reforms) rather than concentrating so much power in the head of government.
However, his enthusiasm for reform has dissipated as his government has become increasingly unpopular. This has culminated in the Kenyan Communications Act (Amendment) 2008. This bill essentially vests in the government the power to regulate the media within the state of Kenya. There are two main points of contention with the current bill. The first is that the state has the right to seize broadcasting equipment if the Internal Security Minister deems the usage of such equipment to be neccessary during a "State Emergency". The second issue is that letters can be seized and opened if the Internal Security Minister deems the contents to be a threat to the government of Kenya. Currently, a debate rages about these two issues. Media outlets have written to Kibaki's government to ask him to reconsider some of the provisions in the bill. http://www.eastandard.net/InsidePage.php?id=1144003450&cid=418&

The interesting thing to me is the fact that these provisions have already been enshrined in Kenyan law for ten years. They were originally part of the Kenyan Communications Act of 1998. Thus, Kenyans have already been denied their political voice for years. Was this not a problem during Daniel Arap Moi's government, which was one of the most corrupt in African history in terms of money stolen from the country's coffers? Were these provisions not a problem for the media during Kibaki's first term when Kibaki was popular with the media?

I think that the answer is quite clear. The media is feeling the pinch of criticizing Kibaki's government and is justifiably fearful that the government will use these old laws in an attempt to curb their freedom and independence. This would be a travesty to democracy in Kenya and lurch Kenya ever closer towards being another autarchic government where the people's freedoms are limited. If this law is not amended, it will be a sad day for Kenyan democracy. Therefore, it is important that this Amendment exclude provisions which allow for freedom of the press.
Richard the Nomad
P.S. Someone please tell the government of Kenya to clean the Statehouse website. http://www.statehousekenya.go.ke/ I tried to download a picture of Mwai Kibaki for this blog and it gave me a virus. Eish. Thanks Kenyan government!


Anonymous said...

Living in Brazil, a country where there's nothing but corruption (of a single person and social entities), I don't believe much in politicians. An example: when I went to Europe in 2002, Lula had just been elected our president. All my European friends were very happy ('cause he's poor, "left" party, etc) but I've always known he's a "fake", if we can put it this way. My Brazilian friends and I have never been so unemployed as after he became president. His family steals money from poor people, he says he didn't see anything, he doesn't know about it, and nobody is punished. Education level is the worst of all countries, about all topics in a list made by the OECD. More people die here in the traffic than those in war countries. Traffic is the 2nd cause of death in BR (if not the 1st) - and so on...... About Kenya, I didn't know it's such an important country in Africa. It seems like their president started like ours, people believe he'd be good... and then he disappointed his nation with things like that ammendment. Well, we don't have anything like that ammendment working here (although they want or at least wanted to do it too), but some reporters don't have the right to interview politicians or even step into the buildings they work ('cause they don't even go to work and the reporters show it), this is not freedom of press or speech. They've been sued several times for showing the truth. Or the reporters can choose to sell their souls, stop doing their jobs and becoming "friends" with those politicians, pretending they're free to speak, saying only good things about them (and most people are dumb enough to believe...)
Oh well.. I see things that most people here don't... so if you ask me about politics.. I'm too skeptic about it all.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, being an African myself I have little faith in any politics and what the incoming president always promises the people. Be it democratically elected or fought to get into power E.g Current Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni. This is alla front put on for the international world and worse they are electecd by the people they lied to, to gain the votes... they turn into 'snakes'. The saying goes 'A Leopard never changes it's spot'.

What I am tryin to say my friend is that, African Politics will always be corrupt although, God help me ..Oh how I wish that this will one day change and maybe my offsprings or yours will be around to tell the tale...

At the moment, I really have little faith in African politics and what the western world call freedom of speech...is it????


Yve said...

Jameni! Nom! Haha! Anyway, two years ago, had you asked me who the Kenyan Minister for information was, I would have told you I don’t know. That was because I was less bothered by Kenyan affairs and more interested in international developments. However, that changed three years ago. An experience I had, awakened my sense of Kenyanness that had for long snored in the bed of ignorance. Anyway, when I think of what makes me Kenyan, there are of course some things that are characteristic of Kenyans, but for me its more of a good feeling that I cant really explain. I don’t know whether that’s what you would call a sense of patriotism? Or belonging? Or identity? Search me.

Anyway, the 2002 elections in Kenya ushered in an era of a new political dispensation. A poll conducted by an international research agency after that election revealed that Kenyans were the most optimistic people in the world at that time. I can remember much later when former President Bill Clinton was asked about the one living person he would most like to meet, he mentioned he would like to meet President Kibaki since by introducing the free education programme, he would have changed more lives than any president will in one year. Kibaki has indeed done a lot in this country in terms of streamlining different government departments, reviewing policies and a host of other political baggage that has hung on Kenya’s back since time immemorial. The coming in of the Kibaki administration also ushered a new dawn for the press. The once gagged press underwent an almost sudden metamorphosis that injected a new sense of vibrancy and limitless press freedom that helped propel the country into a more open society. A lot happened between 2002 and 2007 but I will talk abit about that later. The freedom that Kibaki had granted the press came to haunt him after the 2007 elections when he was depicted extremely negatively as having rigged the elections. Pictures of how Kenya was burning together with Kibaki’s hurried swearing in were splashed on television screens not just in Kenya but the world over and Kibaki’s once positive image crumbled overnight. It was indeed a sad day for Kenya. At some point there was a directive from the Minister for internal affairs preventing the press from airing live news. That is why am actually not surprised that Kibaki assented to that notorious bill. But again am surprised! He should know that the press is very powerful and the press maketh and breaketh a man. Kibaki as a person and these are my own personal opinions, is very amicable and modest. An African president who agrees to share power is unheard of. Having watched him speak over the years and the great things he has done for this country, I have nothing but respect for him and so I will give him the credit he deserves (of course excluding the fact that he rigged the elections). I however have a problem with the people surrounding him. That’s a whole different story altogether.

The communications bill you talk about Nom introduced yet another season of Kenyan political theatrics. This is Kibaki’s last term and he knows he has nothing to lose by gagging the press. Assenting to the bill was a real miscalculation on his part. He forgot that his successors have everything to lose when they join the campaign fray that is already heating up for the 2012 elections (or even before, who knows? The possibility exists). Having been given a really negative image after the 2007 election debacle it is understandable that Kibaki would go ahead and assent to that bill in the hope that by gagging the media, the state will have seized control of one of the major instruments of power and tilted positive public opinion to their side by giving a total blackout to negative press coverage. ODM, which also happens to have formed a grand coalition with Kibakis party seized the opportunity instead, came out and supported the media and advocated for an amendment of the contentious clauses in the bill. In addition, some MPs allied to the ODM faction went ahead and ordered the press to give the state a total blackout. In other words they were being strategic while Kibaki’s henchmen were digging their own graves. What does that say about politicians? They are strategic. That’s obvious. They are all the same the world over. Every politician will play his card according to how it suits him at a particular point in time. Wasn’t the media instrumental in marshaling support for the opposition (who Kibaki happened to be a part of) during the dark reign of Moi? And what does he do now that he is in power? See? Who has recently become one of his closest allies? Isn’t it the same Moi he bundled out of power in 2002? Politics is about being strategic and if anyone is looking for morality in politics, am afraid there is none. Politics is a game of musical chairs. I hardly like it but I instead try to understand it. And hopefully do what I can to make changes, however little. Dear S (anonymous writer), do not lose faith. You see, Obama has also promised a lot that he will not be able to deliver. He can only deliver some. Of course you can’t compare him to Museveni or Kibaki, or may be you canJ coz they are all politicians. By losing faith you admit that you are resigned to your fate and have no strength to do anything. The mere fact that you have contributed to this blog is sheer evidence that you have not lost faith and can still do something even if its through writing. People power can indeed do a lot and a practical example would be what happened to president Ferdinand Marcos in Philippines. Or is that stretching it?

Anyway, now that the media has demonstrated the strength of its influence to Kibaki, Kibaki and company have reconsidered their positions; he has ordered the Attorney General and the Information Minister to look into the contentious clauses. If he knew he would back track, why did he sign it in the first place? Having to face the 2012 elections, these politicians have no choice but to painfully make friends with the media. I support press freedom and more so because lately our members of parliament have been a source of national embarrassment. Not with the hefty pay package that they don’t want taxed. That is just one among the many issues they want to wish away by gagging the press. The press has enjoyed a lot of growth and freedom over the recent years and it should be left to flourish. We want to know about all those under-hand deals that politicians are executing behind closed doors and also want them to account for taxpayers’ money. After all, they have already exhibited disturbing symptoms of greed and craftiness. The press has indeed done an outstanding job on covering (actually uncovering) some of these issues.

Right now am thinking about the caliber of politicians in Africa along with the African independence political parties. Why is it that some of these parties have failed to live up to people’s expectations? Politicians can be so upsetting such that at times I normally look for a reason to laugh. I can remember the recent bandying of words between Mugabe and Gordon Brown over the humanitarian crisis posed by the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. Mugabe wondered why the West was calling for an invasion of Zimbabwe instead of sending doctors and medicines. Haha! Then he added that he had just heard that thousands and thousands of pigs had perished, so must there be a war because of that epidemic? He went ahead and said that Brown’s thinking needs medical attention because; can we say that Britain needs to be invaded since there had an outbreak of mad cow disease? Former president Moi used to speak in the same fashion. These dictators can actually make you believe the sky is green. After a while their words become so sweet to the common man’s ears. Recent polls show that majority of Kenyans do not support the media bill. If the government is prudent it will listen and make the necessary amendments. They should read the public mood. We don’t want to take a walk down memory lane. It’s a shame.

By the way I’ll remember to inform the government spokesman to pass your message to the State House website manager. He’s one interesting character. He’s the only government spokesman I know who not only lies on behalf of the government but also shoots action packed movies. There is nothing wrong with producing or directing movies but if you speak against the same content that you churn out, what does that say? Volumes.


Anonymous said...

am also African but the fact remains that African Leaders are always power hungry and wants to fulfill their needs not the people who voted for them.This act has really made majority of Kenyans not happy and the Government of Kibaki unpopular as my observation since i was in nariobi for aweek during the Amendment of the Act,and kenya might go back to the post election periods.

ckay said...

AAARGH! WHAT A COUNTRY - much has been said by Yve .....

Seems like long ago but its just yesterday I decided that - enough was enough! See no evil, hear no evil! By that I mean: No more Prime Time News, No more newspapers (apart from entertainment pull-outs) & no more surfing of Kenya-based political sites!

Why? You asking! aha!

We live in dangerous times. A whole 45 years after independence, we are living very dangerously and we should be ashamed of ourselves because despite our past experience, we still allow ourselves to be taken advantage of by blathering venal satraps and their cronies who are well past their expiry dates, who could have lived and died unknown had we stood our grounds and rejected their campaign period promises.

We Kenyans sure are slow learners. We failed to see through the lies that were peddled in 2002 and later in 2007 and that are being peddled now - using our hard earned cash. The few who are rich are getting richer and the majority who are poor have only one way to go - down - while the old liars and their younger relatives are living in luxury amid this squalor.
When the few who are courageous enough try to ask why, they are condescendingly encouraged to fight, some rounded and put in police cells. "Those who want to fight can continue fighting", we are told are told during national days, which should be auspicious occasions when we should be celebrating our sovereignty while wearing our patriotism and national pride on our sleeves!

But do we have any reason for being proud?

National pride comes from within and cannot be forced upon us. We have listened to enough speeches and insults thrown in between.

We have been promised peace, stability, economic growth, financial independence, good communication networks, proper medical care, clean & safe drinking water, whole confectionery hypermarkets standing up in the sky.... and all these, we are told, can only be possible when we pay tax, which will be the measure of our independence! The waheshimiwa's (respectable politicians) who have promised us all these are non-taxpayers. What does that tell you? To me, for it to make a little sense, they must be foreigners(non-Kenyans)!

Well, we have consistently done our bit and what have we received in return?

We still sleep hungry because food has become a luxury, our roads & rail network are still depleted, we still have varied ways of dyeing because proper & affordable medical care is still a daydream, if not a nightmare and basic needs are still out of reach for tens of millions who work their body parts off to make ends meet while for the dullard political class, their cronies and families live in luxury!

Do we have hopes for tomorrow?

It is difficult to tell whether we are out of the woods or whether we going deeper into the jungle where we might be tormented and eventually devoured by the Grand Coalition. It is a real zoo out here. In fact, it could be even worse than a zoo because in the jungle that we are being pushed, there is no one to protect us from the bestiality of the Grand Coalition ogre. Things can only get worse when there is no light at the end of the trees.

Actually, we might not get out of this jungle unless we, the suffering, decide to do away with those who through retrogressive laws want to take us back to the days of hunting & gathering. Read the Kenya Communication Act of 2008.

Do you think I have painted a bleak picture of the future as we know it, or think we do? The present seems even worse because we have numerous cyclones of powerlessness to the extent that we are akin to a people in the rudderless vessel that can only lead them to doom unless they realise the danger they are in and take control of their own lives.

Anonymous said...

Kenya is a country in East Africa that we’ve all looked at as being more developed than her two neighbors i.e. Tanzania and Uganda.
We’ve always seen her as a centre of peace though we can not rule out cases of injustice as well spelt out in the mail about Press Censorship-Kenya's Communication Act 2008 on this blog.
It is so clear; Kenya has come up openly with the Press Censorship bill which we all have seen as being unfair to the Kenyan Journalists and all people at large because this all means that there is no freedom of speech and press but the question here should be; IS THERE ANY FREEDOM OF PRESS IN THE WORLD AS A WHOLE? IF THERE IS, AT WHAT PERCENTAGE?

Leaving Kenya aside and looking at Uganda which is Kenya’s neighbor.
Uganda is a country which has the National Resistance Movement (NRM) as the ruling party and H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni as the president.
There are several other political parties e.g. Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), Democratic Party(DP),Uganda’s People’s Congress (UPC),CP,People’s Party(PP),etc.These are all opposition Parties.
I don’t support the Kenyan Press Censorship though amendments are/have been made but I’ve liked Kenya for coming up and letting it’s people know where they should stop in terms of Reporting and writing about anything mainly concerning the government but giving an example of Uganda where we have observed seizure of the monitor publications, arrest of journalists like Andrew Mwenda and arresting some vocal members who have been on talk shows of Radio stations saying that they are inciting riots among people. When these people are arrested, they are taken to secret places where they are tortured and the public does not hear about/from them till 2-3 days or at most public riots begin in demand for the release of these people. Later when they are brought out, they are prosecuted by the courts of law, imprisoned or some times bailed out with a certain fee…….I truly don’t know if this is right or wrong but all I know is that there should be Freedom of speech world wide and just because this is lacking in Several ways and Areas, this is why we all see THROWING OF SHOES AT GEORGE BUSH……this is a sign of the raging anger in the heart of this journalist.
I know many would love to stand out of the crowd and shout out in the name of Freedom of Press but at the end of the day, all discussions are laid to rest because of the great fear of what will happen to them if they stood out…..this is so unfortunate.
We are all under silent dictatorship and yet I see the few who rise up and stand because of the pressure from a group are always made to sit down and surrender.

Zimbabwe under the rule of Robert Mugabe has faced it all with many journalists moving to the neighboring South Africa in search of Freedom of Press, speech……who is listening here?

I believe in Freedom without breaking any country’s law. The world should not be a cage. It should be a place where we all can rise up and freely spread out our hands without hurting any one…..JUSTICE and FREEDOM should be the foundation of every law that is set for us to follow hence PEACE prevails.

Yve said...

Ckay, I hear you. I hear you. Very well put. I like the fact that you are engaging! Anyway, I think that you will agree with me that over the last few years there has been an ever-increasing sense of consciousness among wananchi (citizenry). Even the old woman in the village knows her rights and has increasingly made demands of the ruling class. Mhmh… but our waheshimiwas (“honourables”) seem to be far removed from that reality. Can you remember the statistics on the retention level of the old guards in the last election? They don’t seem to have grasped the message yet. I think the best power we have is that we have the benefit of knowledge and have succeeded in demystifying them so far. That clearly comes out in your reflections. So, when will politicians change? Probably in never-ruary. We don’t expect that to happen so we can only continue to transform ourselves. The road is long and we have continued to swallow the bitter pill of democracy (whatever democracy means-that’s also relative) in the hopes that things will change. Well, we can only sustain that spirit and maybe…mhmh…just maybe one day, probably ten generations later, we will find ourselves. But someone has to initiate the process. And I think what has been taking place in Kenya over the last few years is already a part of that process. That is to say the good, the bad and the ugly. But for sure, you have hit home Ckay.


ckay said...

Yve, funny thing is that this waheshimiwas will not stop at anything!

To begin with, foreign affairs minister has the audacity to appear on a national tele screen & yap of how he & five other waheshimiwas will be leaving the country for Obama's bash! (Like an infant, all he has between his ears is enjoyment of what he's not sowed) .... and who at his age & calibre would use the term "bash" for such an auspicious occasion? irks!

Second, Don't you think that the sky-rocketing food prices plus shortage has been stage managed? If so by who & why?

Mine is a one sentence answer:

Yes, by the govt, to divert the media & citizen's concentration from the Ugly staring eyes of the Media Bill to other inconsequential but weighty matters!

Need i say more? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me !

chris said...

Ckay, why don't you believe when i tell you're in the wrong profession? You're a critic!.

I feel you, I feel you! its a high time us Kenyans stop viewing Kenya like its the 53rd state of the USA. Obama is their's not ours. Keep educating us gal.


Janice said...

Bitterness is what is boiling inside our hearts, and we're the ones to change things. ckay please watch today's PM News. I understand there's a new corrupt kid on the block.


Anonymous said...

With the Kenya communication act, most people were hoping the bill will not be signed as it was. Now that it is done and gives the state powers to invade media houses, seize broadcast equipment, control broadcast content, even taking a station off air, freedom is gone. I do hope it wont happen again like it happened in 2006 when offices of a local news paper and TV station were raided and equipments sized. Kenya is not the only one around here. When i used to work as a correspondent in one media house in Tanzania, there was so much crap writers were forbidden to talk about. Threats used to come around from unknown people. The government was suspected for that. Press freedom is what we hear about in most African countries but doesn't exist in reality.