“Former Kass FM presenter Joshua Sang is set to make a comeback to the airwaves after landing a job at Emoo FM, a station owned by Mediamax Network Ltd.
Even though both the Kenyatta family and Ruto hold substantial stakes in the DMS Place-headquartered Mediamax Network – sources claim Ruto is the hitherto biggest shareholder even as he aims to consolidate media support around his 2022 ambitions.”
. . . The Kroll Report, for instance is available online for those curious about the rip-offs of the 1980s into the early 2000s. The Goldenberg scam report is in the public domain. Anglo-leasing scam is still fresh in the minds of many.
There are numerous other reports on misappropriation of public resources in parastatals, annexation of public land, seizure and transfer into private ownership of public motor vehicles, for instance.
However, for the first time a Kenyan chronicles the looting of national resources in a book, in a language, style and tone that is easily accessible to the public. This is not some report by an NGO or government watchdog, full of figures, graphs and illustrations to show the enormity of the theft.
No, this is a collection of narratives of daring, outrageous and unbelievable self-service by the Kenyan elite at the buffet of state and non-state resources.
These are tales that highlight how the Kenyan elite – political, economic, bureaucratic or even clerical – evacuated the moral high ground long time ago and thus don’t really care about the moralising about corruption; how they have behaved as a ‘members’ only club, irrespective of tribe or religion or political leaning; how they have gradually morphed into a powerful class that will use any means at their disposal to maintain their privilege; and how they have consequently impoverished the country.
Looters and Grabbersshould scare any Kenyan who reads it. For it begins at the beginning: with the land grabbing frenzy of the years after the end of colonialism. . . .
The annual war on corruption has been launched with fireworks but may prove once more to be nothing more than a damp squib. For all the threats and promises, what we are witnessing appears more like passing wind in a crowded room with everyone blaming someone else for the foul smell. Those with powers and microphones are demanding accountability and justice. Every arm of government wants justice to flow down like a river, but each of them wants to decide who is going to get wet. So the battle will most likely conclude with a cease fire as the windows are opened, the stench is released and normal services resume.
It is good to stand back and take the long view of proceedings. Most of the mega corruption scandals for the last 55 years are the handiwork of the political class and their cronies. Yet, these same individuals, families and gangs are now shouting loudest about ending corruption and bringing culprits to book. Isn’t that strange, almost funny if there were not so much at stake! But this should make you suspicious about what is really going on.
Failure to replace petty thieves with mega looters in our institutions of correction is entirely the fault of the Judiciary according to vox populi and the ranting classes. . . . Instead of baying for the blood of the mega thieves, the anger is projected onto the Judiciary and they are the new scapegoats to blame for the looting of the nation. Therein is another reason to be extremely sceptical about pronouncements on corruption.
What makes this all the more shameful and ridiculous is that the media have become enthusiastic collaborators in lynching the Judiciary. . . .
Yet painful as it is to admit, media houses have let the public down more than any other institution in their failure to pursue and investigate mega corruption. Investigative journalism is fast disappearing and most publications are more likely to give attention to love triangles than to the maize scandal. Entertainment is valued more than education. . . . .
Reporting truth to the masses empowers them and does more than anything else to democratise societies. However, in recent years we have witnessed editors, cartoonists and popular columnists axed from our dailies because they dared to challenge, expose and ridicule the government of the day.. . . .
If owners and editors permitted their best journalists to do proper, consistent, thorough and impartial investigations of the scandals we would rise early to buy our copies and the three arms of government would be worried.
1. I cannot and have not defended New York Times’ use of the particular photographof victims that has angered Kenyans.
Using that photo, especially while the attack was ongoing, was bad judgment in a number of respects that have been well explained by others.
2. My personal inclination from my own circumstances is usually to be somewhat defensive of the Times when they get attacked . . .
. . . as they frequently do, not because they are not regularly frustrating and imperfect but because they have been and continue to be a critical part of the wider media firmament in the United States. And newspaper journalism in the United States is suffering to our detriment and all professional news reporting is contested in our Trump era. (More about this later).
3. But, apologies are easy.
I understand that if the Times turned over editorial judgment to social media responders they would quickly be lost in the internet sea and cease to exist or be snatched up by a hedge fund and/or an ideologically motivated billionaire and/or have to publish listicles and soft porn to survive. Likewise they can never willingly let themselves be bullied by authoritarian governments so the grandstanding demands and threats from the Media Council of Kenya make the situation harder to address constructively and are not in well considered good faith in my opinion. But apologies are still easy. (And surely taking down or swapping out the one photograph would be a “correction” not some actual editorial diversion.)
4. Thus, I come around to seeing and feeling a humility and empathy problem.
Especially as time has gone by. The Times is not the Daily Mail nor The Sun and does not deserve to be the poster child for historical imperialism/colonialism devaluing black and brown bodies even if it has its own limitations and faults. But the Times made a mistake here and it was unforced and not anyone else’s fault. The tone deaf lack of responsiveness makes me more appreciative of the perspectives that I have picked up from friends in academia and journalism and other fields over the years that are more critical of the Times.
5. The individual reporter did nothing substantively professionally wrong.
The complaint is with the photo placed by the editors in New York not with the reporter’s story. The photo was by a Kenyan photographer through the Associated Press. So it is simply not her fault. In the moment of anguish with the attack it seems that she received a lot of the grief associated with this situation which was not her doing or in control. Having arrived at an understanding of the facts, there is apparently still a broad sentiment among many Kenyans, including many that I admire and respect, to deport her for being insensitive and seemingly a bit flip in responding. In other words, to me more of a moral question as to whether we think from Twitter that she has the personal traits we approve of as opposed to her actual writing.
Keep in mind that she is a corporate employee presumably. Without knowing the details of her individual situation with the Times, in general terms most American employees are subject to being fired at will, for any reason or no reason, without any legal right to severance as in Kenya, much less “due process”. I am a corporate lawyer [my experience in the world of Kenyan media and politics (and especially the New York Times) that has been the basis for this blog was “on leave” from that corporate career] so I know something about how things work. For a remote employee to say unilaterally to the public on social media that her bosses back in New York screwed up something that is in their job description and discretion and not hers is problematic.
The reporter/correspondent is supposed to say “I am sorry but I personally think my bosses have made a terrible mistake with the company product back in New York”? I do not know what I would have done in her shoes, and I can sit back at home and imagine doing better but realistically she was in a losing position.
I had a slightly analogous situation as an NGO employee in Kenya when my bosses back in Washington put out a press statement that the exit poll I supervised in the 2007 election showing an opposition win was “invalid”. I was in a lose/lose situation on my own in Nairobi. My threading of the needle in dealing with that situation has never been fully satisfactory to anyone so far as I know but not fully “toeing the line” has been life changing in some respects. I objected strenuously in private. In public when I was pressed by a reporter for Nairobi’s Star on whether the statement from Washington “reflected my personal opinion” I explained that “it was’t intended to reflect my personal opinion”–no surprise that the reporting when it hit the paper was that I had said that it “did not reflect” my own opinion. When it was faxed to Washington the president of my organization “hit the roof” per a phone call from my boss who had heard it from him. After I explained the exact choice of words, she ran interference for me and got him “calmed down” on the basis that I had been “misquoted”. Of course I knew when the reporter called me that I was likely to get get fired for diverging from my superiors and I did not have an opportunity to go ask my wife and kids.
I did some things privately during the interval to keep the exit poll from “going away” before it was ultimately released publicly in July but that was closely held and I have never written about that part of the story yet.
It was only post-employment that I felt that I could publicly express my own opinions related to my work. Ultimately I was quoted from published interviews in The Nation magazine and The New York Times itself (and written about by Kenyan media and and The Weekly Standard and RedState.com without being contaced or interviewed).
Fortunately, my temporary duty in NGO-world was ending in a few weeks anyway. My law job was waiting for me at home. I decided not to resign to keep the office together and I did not get fired. But I was on a short leash until my return to the States and I avoided being out and about or meeting politicians so I would not have to be chose between being openly insubordinate or dishonest. I am grateful that I had some room to maneuver in that pre-social media era.
7. Where do my Kenyan friends want this to end up?
Is “the Kenya we want” one in which foreign reporters for foreign newspapers get deported because they are perceived to be insensitive on social media? What are the ramifications of that? Just reporters? Etc.
Remember that the Times of London correspondent was detained at the airport and expelled by all appearances because he was investigating the Eurobond mysteries. No one filled those shoes. You are still on the hook for the debt and it turns out there seems to have been a secret problem with the SGR financing from 2014 that you are just reading about now.
This deserves to be reflected on and discussed–perhaps mediated–offline and in person, with a little space from the anguish of this attack, and this photo.
6. The peak of this for me is someone on Twitter who wanted to deport the photographer.
Fortunately the Courts in Kenya have now clearly and explicitly ruled against the Executive Branch’s power to deport a Kenyan in the Miguna Miguna cases. We all know the application of the law to the actions of Executive Branch is difficult and often contested as a matter of power rather than right–here in the United States also–so I think Kenyans would be wise to think carefully on this.
One of the most important lessons from today is how cowed Kenya’s media really is by the Government. This decision did not have to come as quite such a suprise if Kenya’s media had felt free–or been brave enough–to just cover the polling stations and constituency tally centres. But we went through this in 2007 (when results were broadcast then taken down), and 2013 when self-censorship was the order of the day.
Today, Kenya took a big step forward on the rule of law — a sign that perhaps the press can become in the future in fact as free as the Constitution provides and the West pretends.
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.
These are four five recent columns from the Kenyan papers on different aspects of the current malaise in public affairs. Each makes a general point which I think is of undoubtedly valid, but adds some perspective, analogy or point of fact that struck me as unique and particularly worthy of your attention if you missed it at the time:
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.
10:00am Friday at the Sarova Stanley in Nairobi InformAction and AfriCOG will launch a new online collaboration:
The website is a joint project between AfriCOG and InformAction and is an attempt to present in public all the evidence around the recent elections. Some of that is from the cases filed at the Supreme Court, but it will also include material and information from citizens, observers and others. Citizens will be provided a location to post /Number to send text messages in order to submit any information and evidence they gathered so that the complete truth on the recent elections can emerge.
Importantly, The People’s Court will be an accountability mechanism on the IEBC and the Supreme Court. Analysis of the Court’s decision will be posted on the website hoping to engender critical and constructive discussions on why they took the decision that they did, in the face of the evidence that will be presented.
The People’s Court gives the public unique access to all the evidence filed at the Supreme Court in the Civil Society petition challenging the election process.
By inviting citizen participation, we aim to make institutions accountable and uphold the high democratic standards of the constitution. We also hope that the website will be used as a forum for debate and opinion, celebrating freedom of expression in Kenya and our vibrant tradition of democracy activism.