Shortly after I arrived in Kenya in mid-2007, Kenya’s parliament passed a media regulation bill which faced a storm of international diplomatic criticism as well as domestic protest.
President Kibaki at the time backed down and sent the bill back to Parliament where it was ultimately somewhat watered down. New legislation passed last week goes much further than what was dared under the first Kibaki Administration, in spite of the new constitution. This time there doesn’t seem to be much reaction from international governments–we give our aid money quietly and tiptoe so as not to step on important toes since we have been aggressively accused of imperialism and racism for not intervening to stop the ICC prosecutions of The Now Elected for the mayhem after the 2007 election–but the international media is much more aware of these issues than they were in 2007.
And if the media bill has been put in some limbo, it has been followed by the introduction of the Jubilee bill to assert more state control over civil society and restrict and channel foreign funding to non-governmental organizations. The Uhuruto team had not shown its cards on attacking the media during the election campaign, but civil society was always a known target. See Attacks on Kenyan Civil Society prefigured in Jubilee Manifesto, my post from March this year. More freedom for the media and for civil society means more restraints on politicians in control of government. Restricting civil society can help maximize the opportunity to control the media, and vice versa.
Kenyans are confronted once again by the hard choice of whether they are willing to challenge their “leaders” in governmental power to maintain their individual freedoms as citizens.
Uhuru Kenyatta stayed with KANU throughout his life through the formation of TNA as a vehicle for his presidential campaign in this year’s race. Other than running in elections himself, he has not given much indication over the years that I am aware of being concerned for opening the democratic space and by running as “Moi’s Project” as the KANU nominee in 2002 he chose the old banner. Of course when you are one of the richest men in Africa, and your mother is one of the richest women, because of what your father took for himself and his family when he was the one-party ruler, you find yourself with plenty of freedom of speech and freedom to politically organize regardless of the details of the system that confront the small people.
In the wake of the Westgate attack, and the desire of the government to avoid scrutiny or challenge, I am reminded poignantly of what Kibaki said when he first ventured out thirteen days after he
had himself sworn in for his second term:
Kibaki made his first trip to a trouble spot, addressing more than 1,000 refugees in western Kenya, many of whom had fled blazing homes, pursued by rock-throwing mobs wielding machetes and bows and arrows.
“Do not be afraid. The government will protect you. Nobody is going to be chased from where they live,” Kibaki said at a school transformed into a camp for the displaced in the corn-farming community of Burnt Forest. “Those who have been inciting people and brought this mayhem will be brought to justice.”
He indicated he would not consider demands for a new election or vote recount.
The election “is finished, and anybody who thinks they can turn it around should know that it’s not possible and it will never be possible,” he said.
Perhaps for those Kenyans that feel sure that the government will always protect them, there is no need for these things of a free media, civil society, the questioning of elections. Kenya could just go back to the Chinese model of the one party state. Kenyans who prefer a freer, more empowered citizenship as a matter of values, or who don’t feel they can count on the government to always protect them will have to decide to engage to protect those rights which are of course expressed in law in the new constitution. See “CIC (Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution) says new media law unconstitutional”, Daily Nation.