Here is the new 2019 World Press Freedom index from RSF, with the United States down to No. 48 (!) and France and the U.K. at 32 and 33 respectively. Namibia at 23, Ghana at 27 and South Africa at 31 lead SubSaharan Africa. Burkina Faso at 36 and Botswana at 44 also outrank the United States.
Thus, five African nations are ranked above the United States for press freedom this year according to Reporters Without Borders. The United States continues to rank above all of the East African nations.
Here are the East African Community member rankings:
South Sudan 139
Elsewhere in the East and Horn Region: Ethiopia 110; Somalia 164; Djibouti 173; Sudan 175.
And other “development partners”: Norway 1; Germany 13; Japan 67; UAE 133; Russia 149; Egypt 163; Iran 170; Saudi Arabia 172; North Korea 179
Efforts to retroactively legitimize the 2007 Kenyan election and turn away from the questions of why election fraud was allowed to stand also help divert attention from the current questions of what the United States and Kenya’s other diplomatic “partners” will do or not do now in the face of the current retrenchment of hard won freedoms and democratic openness. Kenya is less free and less secure now than it was in 2007. When a few more years have gone by will 2002 still be a remembered as a turning point for democracy in Kenya or just a false “spring” producing only a temporary thaw in authoritarian governance?
Here is some good context from Freedom House from April of this year.
The broader phenomenon illustrated by Kenyatta’s actions [seeking restrictions on civil society and the press] is not just a matter of coincidence or independent imitation. Whether they are selling sophisticated technology to track down dissidents online or sharing legislative approaches that provide a patina of legitimacy for their crackdowns on political opponents, repressive governments are actively working together to push back against nonviolent movements for democratic change. Indeed, such authoritarian solidarity has arguably outpaced collaboration among the world’s democratic states, which are often feckless in mobilizing to defend their own values and assist likeminded activists under duress.
In East Africa, evidence of authoritarian contagion is growing. The governments of Uganda, once seen as a great hope for democracy, and South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and a recipient of hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign assistance, are contemplating restrictive legislation targeting NGOs.
However, the true regional pioneer of this approach has been Ethiopia. Under longtime prime minister Meles Zenawi, who died in 2012, the Ethiopian government issued laws on NGOs, the media, and terrorism that have collectively devastated the country’s political opposition and civil society. The most prominent democracy and human rights groups have been forced to abandon or radically scale back their work, and many of the leading activists have fled into exile.
Other leaders in East Africa and beyond no doubt observed with interest as the international community failed to mount any serious challenge to the Ethiopian government’s repressive actions. Donor countries declined to use their extensive development aid as leverage. Instead they meekly promised to monitor how the new laws were implemented. Whether out of consideration for Ethiopia’s role in combating terrorism in Somalia or fear that the country would turn to China as an alternative patron, the world’s wealthy democracies declined to challenge the Meles regime even after its legislation’s ruinous effects became apparent.
The citizens of Kenya, particularly those who opposed Kenyatta’s presidential candidacy or documented his role in fueling past ethnic violence, may now be paying the price for the international community’s hesitation to act on Ethiopia. It is certainly possible that Kenyatta—facing an international indictment—would have taken the same steps in the absence of a successful model for repression in the region. But his political allies might well have deserted him if they had reason to believe that Kenya would pay some meaningful price for antidemocratic initiatives.
One hopes that the United States and other democratic donor governments will draw their own lessons from these experiences, finally recognizing that the prioritization of security and macroeconomic concerns over democratic performance is a self-defeating strategy. In the long run, repressive states are less stable, less prosperous, and less friendly to democratic partners than open societies, and the spread of authoritarian practices can only damage the interests of Washington and its allies.
I hope everyone has had a good Christmas. I am grateful for a comfortable time with family, while saddened by news that a friend in Kenya lost a family member to a shooting by the Police. All of us interested in East Africa are watching South Sudan with great concern.
On Kenya, beyond the steady heartache of one more in the steady stream of police killings, as another year ends, I am struck by one point of clear change from my initial arrival in Nairobi in 2007 to now. The passage of the draconian 2013 Media Bill was a major setback for democracy. The bill seemed clearly unconstitutional when it originally passed parliament. After both Kenyatta and Ruto assured that they would respect the Constitution and the spirit of a free press, Kenyatta sent the bill back with proposed changes making it on balance worse, after which it was passed and signed into law.
Back in 2007 a far less noxious media regulation bill passed parliament just after I moved to Nairobi in June. U.S. Ambassador Ranneberger along with most of the rest of the diplomatic community representing leading democracies spoke out strongly against the threatened intrusion on press freedom. Kibaki declined to sign the bill and it was much watered down. While there was a certain amount of self-censorship the press remained relatively vibrant during the 2007 election campaign. Now that a more troubling law has actually been enacted the diplomatic community including the United States has been largely silent. While there have been protests by journalists and civil society, the Government has predictably brushed these aside, but has not faced open diplomatic pressure from donors.
For some years after the 2007 election debacle the United States was consistently promoting what we called “the reform agenda”. While all the parameters of “reform” were not specified, I think it is fair to say that at its core it was about the continued shifting of power away from a traditionally dictatorial presidency to develop democratic institutions. The original post-Cold War reforms were Moi’s acceptance of changing the law to allow non-KANU parties and the imposition of term limits which led to Kibaki facing Uhuru instead of Moi in 2002. The NARC coalition from that 2002 election finally came completely apart over the executive power issue in the 2005 constitutional referendum on the “Wako Draft” in which the “no” campaign gave rise to the Orange Democratic Movement. “The next big thing” was another effort at constitutional change to disburse and devolve power after the 2007 fiasco at the ECK, where the tallies were changed to keep power with the incumbent president and the country erupted in what seemed to many to be a potential civil war before a deal supposed to deliver a “sharing” of executive power. After a reform constitution was finally passed in the 2010 referendum, the “reform agenda” emphasis has been, in theory, on “implementation”.
The new Media Bill not only repudiates basic constitutionally enshrined values of a free press, but the changes from first passage to final enactment shift power from Parliament to State House. This is only one of the most conspicuous of many areas where the Jubilee Government is moving to re-centralize power with the Executive. May the “Reform Agenda” rest in peace.
In the meantime, the latest Ipsos Synovate poll released this week finds absolute majorities of Kenyans nationwide and in each “province” but Central concluding that the country is moving “in the wrong direction” with a higher percentage of Kenyans trusting the media than any other institution.
The news from South Sudan seems quite serious and disturbing. This is an area of special responsibility for the United States, and needless to say, I hope we are able to help.
Nairobi’s role for many years as the “back office” for international assistance to South Sudan has always given the Government of Kenya extra leverage through control of visas and work permits. My twitter feed indicates that the U.S. is recommending that Americans evacuate South Sudan as the current crisis swells with reports indicating 400-500 people may have been killed.
This brings to bear what I have called “the Nairobi curse” for Kenyans seeking political space, democracy and civil liberties of their own and hope for support from the international community. The thing you always hear, but never read, from internationals working in Kenya is “what if I can’t renew my work permit” because of some offense taken by someone in the Kenyan government.
Back in 2007-08 when I was East Africa director for IRI in Nairobi, we shared space with our separate Sudan program, which was much, much bigger than our Kenya program (and was IRI’s second largest program worldwide I was told, after Iraq). Under my East Africa office, our Somaliland program also got more funding than Kenya. Obviously there would have been repercussions from soured relations with the Kenyan administration. The same situation would pertain for NDI or other international organizations with large permanent regional operations based in Nairobi.
In my case, I arrived in Nairobi on the job in June 2007 expecting my work permit to come through within perhaps a few weeks of ordinary bureaucracy. With no explanation, it was not forthcoming until February 2008 during the late stages of the post election violence period. Thus, I did not have my permit issued yet when I was dealing with our controversial election observation and the issues about whether or not to release the exit poll that showed the opposition ODM winning the presidential race rather than the ECK’s official choice of Kibaki.
At some point that month I was summoned to an Immigration office at Nyayo House (where political prisoners where tortured in the basement during the Moi era) for no readily apparent reason and received the permit shortly thereafter. Of course Nairobi was a much more easy going place before the 2007 election than it is now. Nothing was ever said to connect any of this delay to anything to do with politics or the election and it may have been strictly a coincidence.
Fortunately for me, I was on leave from my job as a lawyer back in the United States, so being denied a permit and thus losing my job in Kenya and having to move my family back precipitously would not have been consequential for me in the way that it would have been for the typical young NGO worker. Everyone has their own story I am sure.
Earlier this year the Kenyan government announced, for instance, that it would start enforcing work permit rules for academic researchers on short assignments. Lots of room to maneuver for creatively repressive politicians.
The Standard reports that it has been enjoined from publishing stories regarding Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta and the purchasing of government vehicles. Uhuru sought the temporary injunction to protect his interests and reputation. Seems like a classic case of a high gov’t official using prior restraint to avoid challenge to his job performance.
This is to me another example of fact that the media environment in Kenya is not quite as free as international commentators frequently suggest. While there is quite a bit of reporting on corruption, the fact remains that it hasn’t dented impunity, and there is a great deal that is known but not reported, and many stories get started but never followed to conclusion.
After the paramilitary raid on the Standard Group in mid-2006, the US eventually made peace with impunity for this attack on the media. By the summer of 2007, then-Internal Security Minister Michuki–who famously said of the Standard raid that the Standard, having “rattled a snake” should have expected “to get bitten” for its reporting–was the featured speaker at the Ambassador’s Fourth of July celebration, talking of his recent security cooperation tour in the US. With this background for its critics in the Government, the press can’t help but wonder how far it can go.
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.
For readers in the Washington area, Tuesday morning from 10:00 – 11:30am, the Center for International Media Assistance, the National Endowment for Democracy Africa Program and the Solidarity Center will be hosting a roundtable discussion entitled “Independent Media in East Africa: Democratic Pillar in Peril?” Looks like an interesting event with a distinguished panel:
New challenges to independent media are emerging in East Africa. Recently passed anti-terrorism and information laws allow governments to harass and imprison journalists with impunity. Under these new laws, six journalists have been arrested in Ethiopia since June 2011, and Somali journalists are facing tremendous threats covering conflict and famine in their country. How do local media react when their fellow journalists come under attack? How can an independent press play its crucial role as a pillar of democracy and overcome challenges in places such as Sudan and South Sudan, Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, and Kenya? The discussion will also examine the development of unions and media associations as well as the international donor community’s role in supporting independent media in East Africa.
To me, the government-sponsored raid on the Standard newspaper in the spring of 2006 was a signal event in current Kenyan politics. Clearly anti-democratic and without excuse. Condemned strongly by the U.S. Ambassador at the time, Mark Bellamy and the other Western envoys in Nairobi. And yet almost boasted of by figures in government, with impunity.
This was part of the background I found upon arriving in Nairobi just over a year later. It was an elephant in the room when the Kibaki administration proposed a draconian law to restrict press freedom in mid-2007 in the lead up to the elections in December, and it was lurking when the government restricted coverage of the announcement of the presidential election outcome by the ECK on December 30 and then banned lived broadcasting thereafter.
Wednesday, the Kenyan parliament adopted a report calling for action on the matter, in particular finding that two key insiders, now-Enviroment Minister John Michuki, and Stanley Murage, a key figure in the Kibaki inner circle and senior presidential aide at the time, should be prosecuted.
By ALPHONCE SHIUNDU, firstname.lastname@example.org
Parliament has adopted the report on the Artur brothers without amendments and placed the onus for its implementation on the Executive.
Apart from the lone ‘No’ from Justice minister Mutula Kilonzo, the only Cabinet minister who was in the House when the report was put to a verbal vote, all other MPs including assistant ministers excitedly voted for the report’s adoption.
Mr Gitobu Imanyara (Imenti Central, CCU), who re-introduced the report in the House, moved debate and rallied MPs to adopt it criticised the Justice Minister saying “he obviously lived in another era” and not that of the new Constitution.
Mr Kilonzo had called for Parliament to stay the adoption of the report saying it “raises more questions than answers” and that it was a “comedy of errors”.
The report adversely mentions Mr John Michuki (former Internal Security minister and current Environment minister) for his role in shielding the Armenian brothers and even giving them a lead role in the raid of the Standard Group offices, printing press and KTN studios.
The Head of Civil Service Francis Muthaura, former special advisor to the President Mr Stanley Murage, former CID director Joseph Kamau, Ms Mary Wambui and her daughter Winnie Wangui, together with Mr Raju Sanghani and Kamlesh Pattni are all indicted as per the evidence adduced before the parliamentary inquest.
The report is explicit that Mr Michuki and Mr Murage “should not hold public office” and that they should be prosecuted for their role in the Standard Group raid and for condoning illegal activities of the Armenians.
The implementation of the report will be monitored by Parliament’s Implementation Committee, which as per its operation mode means the report has to be implemented within 60 days, failure to which sanctions are placed on the Executive, unless an extension is sought.
In comparison to greater Somalia, however, where insurgents banned viewing the World Cup and a near-powerless government continues to arrest journalists for negative coverage, Somaliland’s media scene appears robust. Journalists were allowed to move freely throughout the polling stations without hindrance, Associated Press reporter Mohamed Olad told CPJ.
The public and local press feared violence after two former ruling party officials alleged there had been vote rigging in favor of the opposition in five precincts, Abdi told CPJ. “But I was pleasantly surprised when I visited the offices of Radio Hargeisa,” Abdi said. “I found Radio Hargeisa staff actually complaining that the allegations were false and could lead to post-election violence.” Even Riyale supporters objected to the allegations and the two officials were arrested, Abdi added.
How has Somaliland kept the elections and its media coverage relatively peaceful? “They have learned from example—the bad example of their neighbors,” said Olad, who often reports in the war-torn Somali capital, Mogadishu. Somaliland has become a haven for exiled Mogadishu journalists fleeing the fighting in Somalia, where 33 journalists have been killed for their work since 1993.
Somaliland journalists told me they now hope government and media relations will improve under Silyano. Whereas Riyale was a former intelligence official and wary of the press, Mohamed said, Silyano was more open with the press as an opposition party leader. “But let’s wait and see,” a cautious Amin told me, as opposition leaders often change their spots once they attain power. A once-popular Senegalese opposition leader, Abdoulaye Wade, had promised upon his 2000 presidential election to decriminalize libel laws against the press. A disgruntled local Senegalese press, who had strongly supported his 2000 candidacy, is still waiting.