“Media Zombie” stirs as Kenyan legal process moves forward [updated]

[Update: here is the Sunday Standard, “How Raila’s poll petition may change the whole game”]

“The many questions IEBC needs to clear with Kenyans over elections.” The Saturday Nation

The “media zombie” awakes with a recitation of damning basic questions about the systems employed by the IEBC.

AfriCOG and other Kenyan civil society groups were left as lonely voices before the election while the public relations of the IEBC and the rest of the Kenyan Government, propped up as best I can see so far by the “western donors” (with money from taxpayers like me) and the “aid industry” peddled false assurance. I will have to admit that the situation is significantly worse than I had realized.

And then beyond the systems that were not even seriously in place, we have the specifics of bogus numbers coming out with election challenge petitions by AfriCOG and by the CORD campaign filed today. So much like 2007 only worse in terms of a mass “overvote” in the presidential race.

“Halt the Party, It’s not yet Uhuru”, Wycliffe Muga in The Star.

In the New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman notes the extreme pressure on Kenya’s judges:

The case is sure to be a test of Kenya’s recently overhauled judiciary. It is now much more widely respected, but some analysts have questioned whether all six Supreme Court justices will be able to withstand the pressure of refereeing such a high stakes contest for power. Even before the election, the chief justice received death threats, and analysts have raised questions about the independence of some of the other justices.

A few thoughts on Kenya’s presidential debate

Even though I’m committed to not attempting to “cover” the Kenyan presidential campaign remotely, yesterday’s debate was one of those big moments in various respects that begs some comment from anyone writing about Kenyan politics and governance.

As far as the election itself, I don’t expect a major impact from the debate or anything specific said. Most voters have made up their minds during the course of the two and a half years that the campaign has been the primary focus of Kenya’s pols. The biggest election variable I would expect would be turnout and neither of the two contenders who could actually win at the end of the day stumbled badly enough or scored enough points in this debate to have a dramatic effect.

Several things stand out for me, however. First is national pride. There is a sense of “joining the big leagues” and capturing an international stage as a modern democracy that Kenyans take pride in here. Sports has been the most similar national rallying point otherwise, and the London Olympics was a disappointment so it is good to see Kenyans have a point of positive recognition as Kenyans. Unfortunately, it comes so late in the campaign that the opportunity for this positive spirit to make a major difference in the preparation for voting and the more general groundwork for the election is limited. Tensions are already high because the realization is sinking in that the election is a big challenge and there will be some problems.

From talking to friends in Kenya and following things I do believe that there is some real value to the determination of many Kenyans to try to prevent the country from being perceived to make a negative spectacle of itself through violence and it makes sense to me to hope for some incremental benefit to this sort of positive pre-election publicity. Nonetheless, the overall amount of election-connected violence in the year before the vote was lower in 2007 in some respects, and people voted very peacefully and in large numbers. When violence occurred after the vote, the vast majority of Kenyans, especially those who actually voted, did not participate. So I don’t think you can measure the risk of violence by the overall sentiments of the population. Energy is much more wisely spent on preparation than prognostication.

A related point to me is that this debate simply shows the world the level of technological and economic development that exits in Nairobi, particularly in the media. The country was very much ready for this in 2007, and in some ways it seems more surprising that this didn’t happen in 2007 than that it did in 2013. More than anything it reflects, to me, the different dynamics of not having an incumbent seeking or planning to stay in office.

The second major impression for me was how the debate showed the disfunction of Kenya’s political parties at a national level. Without established major parties of some coherence other than as platforms for individuals, we end up with six candidates, then eight by court order at the last minute, and almost all the post-debate discussion centered on the contest for power among the individuals or the event of having the debate itself, rather than on anything of real substance about what one candidate believably could accomplish versus another. Congratulations are due more to Kenya’s media than to the political process or the candidates or parties it seems to me.

Some of the other things commented on widely were less significant to me, perhaps because my expectations of what could be possible in Kenya are higher. Martha Karua on stage was not a big moment in my book. She will rank significantly less of a factor in 2013 than Charity Ngilu did in 1997. Karua’s big moment in national leadership was her role as Kibaki’s lion(ess) facing off with Ruto at the Kenyatta International Conference Center December 28-30, 2007, and facing off with both the ODM side and Kofi Annan in the (generally unsuccessful) mediation afterwards prior to the February 28 post-election settlement signed by Kibaki and Raila. She is a strong capable female lawyer, but she doesn’t have an obvious constituency as a candidate for president of Kenya at this point and I don’t see her presence at the debate or her fortunes in this election as a proxy for the general status of women in politics in Kenya.

More striking is the idea of someone facing ICC trial for “crimes against humanity” this spring on stage on an equal footing and an understood stature as one of the two candidates who could become president. That to me is the greatest novelty of this debate.

[Update: See “What we learned from Kenya’s first ever televised presidential debate” at Africa is a Countyespecially for a fun list of tweets from watching the debate in livestream.]

Upcoming: Panel on challenges to independent media in East Africa

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.

Information and registration here.

News in the News

One more player is coming to the East African media marketplace.

Al Jazeera to open Swahili service (Daily Maverick):

This is big news for the East African media market, which is already the most vigorous in Africa, and is a huge step for the Qatar-based news outlet. Al Jazeera’s rise to prominence has been meteoric. . . .

Its move into the Swahili market is part of a strategy of global expansion, which includes plans for a Turkish Al Jazeera and a Spanish Al Jazeera. Its presence is likely to raise the standards of journalism in the region, as they’ll be able to pay proper money for content. Swahili is one of Africa’s most popular languages. It is estimated that more than 100 million people speak Swahili (even though only 5 million use it as their first language).

Anyone interested in the state of the media in Kenya needs to read a report from AFRICOG: “AFRICOG Investigative Journalism Fellowship Report on Media Corruption”. A lot of what I see in the Western and International media about the media in Kenya and East Africa in general reminds me of a lot of what was reported about Kenya’s “free public education” system until scandals surfaced. Simply superficial. Yes, on the surface, the media in Kenya is relatively free and relatively robust–but you don’t understand how life becomes “news” in Kenya without appreciating corruption and other influences beneath the surface.

A Closer Look at Journalism and NGOs

Karen Rothmyer has a “terrific and necessary” piece in the Columbia Journalism Review headlined “Hiding the Real Africa; why NGOs prefer bad news” about stereotyped images of Africans in poverty in the U.S. media and the influence of NGOs working on aid projects on this coverage (with comments from Jina Moore and I so far).  Linked is the full research paper for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.

Also at CJR is a review of Rebecca Hamilton’s Fighting for DarfurPublic Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide.

In The Star Andrea Bohnstedt explains that “Kibera Slum is Now the face of Kenya Abroad.”

In “Good News is No News, and that’s Bad News”, Terrance Wood writes at the Development Policy Blog that the media cover aid failures and problems, rather than success stories, and that this gives a misleadingly negative impression about the effectiveness of aid.

“Social media and the Uganda election 2011”

The Star launches on the web

Just in time for the election in Uganda, the Star in Nairobi has launched its website. The Star began as a competing daily to the Nation and Standard and to the other tabloids during my time in Nairobi. It quickly became a necessary political news read. Its launch on the web is a big step forward for Nairobi and Kenya as a regional media and communications hub, and a step forward toward a future of more accountability and better governance through greater openness. And a better media through competition.

The more outlets, the harder it will be for the Government of Kenya to suppress the news.

Upcoming–the new attempt to revive draconian regulation of the Kenyan media before the 2012 campaign.

Here are three columns that deserve your attention in understanding the current state of play in Kenya:

Jerry Okungu–“Kibaki Has Soiled Nominee’s Names”

Wycliffe Muga–“Kibaki’s Delimna Over His Legacy”

Mugambi Kiai–“Deconstructing ‘servant leadership'”

Covering Nairobi’s Police Executions, Media Freedom and Internet Access

Expressions Today, “East Africa’s Independent Media Review”, in its weekly “The Bulletin” feature,  takes a look at last week’s coverage of public extra-judicial executions by the police on Langata Road in Nairobi:

And finally, the unnamed citizen who pictured Flying Squad officers executing suspected thugs who had surrendered in full view of members of the public has done citizen journalism proud. When Nation got hold of the shocking pictures, the paper ran them on the Front Page and did a strong-worded editorial about the utter evil of extra-judicial killings.

It was a story that shook the country. At least Internal Security Minister George Saitoti said the concerned officers had been interdicted and will be prosecuted. But at the press conference, why didn’t reporters press Saitoti about the names? Doesn’t the public have the right to know their names, now that they have been placed under investigation (by the same Police Service, by the way)?

(Okay. Many Kenyans, terribly frustrated by violent crime, think suspects should be executed on sight. No. That is not the rule of law. Instead, the Kenya Police Service should have thoroughly professional officers who are well equipped and motivated and who can win public trust and collaboration to curb crime.)

Without those pictures, we would most likely never have known the truth about what had happened on Lang’ata Road. Except for Nation, all other media houses basically reported what the police said about the incident. And it was plain lies.

Here’s what The Star carried: “The three were part of a gang of six and they were killed in a fierce shoot-out with police, according to Lang’ata police chief Augustine Kimantiria. There was no fierce shoot-out.

Thumbs up to citizen journalism!

“Cry Me an Onion” looks at the state of press freedom and the Kenyan newspapers –not as free as some say he concludes.

Concerning three year prison term for Somaliland journalist on charges of libeling the Somaliland Chief of Police and head of Somaliland Electric Agency:

“This sentence has all the hallmarks of summary and punitive justice,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The court should have first established whether or not anyone was defamed and, if they were, a more measured and just penalty should have been imposed. Imprisonment is clearly disproportionate for defamation. We urge the courts to reverse this decision on appeal.”

The East African reports on a new study on internet access in the region:

According to a study conducted by TNS Research International in Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu from September to November 2010, out of a population of 40 million, about four million (10 per cent) have access to the Internet.

The study, titled “Digital Life” and conducted to establish people’s online behaviour and activities, found that in Uganda, out of a population of 33 million, about 3.3 million (10 percent) have a access to the Internet while Tanzania comes last — out of a population of 42 million, only 672,000 people (1.6 per cent) have had an online experience.

The study found that based on an adult sample in each of the covered EAC towns, an average of 45 per cent of the urban population have used the Internet, with Kampala having the highest number at 53 per cent; Arusha and Nairobi at 49 per cent; Mombasa at 42 per cent while Dar es Salaam has the least number of people using the Internet at 31 per cent.

The TNS study revealed that in Kenya, mobile devices and Internet cafes are the primary points of access.

The results of the study show that 60 per cent of Kenyans online use mobile phones as compared with those who use PCs at home (29 per cent); PCs at work (33 per cent); and cyber cafes (41 per cent), thereby indicating high potential for growth in the mobile Internet business in Kenya.

The Government of Kenya has announced, according to Business Daily, a revised lending program to support “digital centres” to increase internet access (referencing higher starting figures than what the TNS study found):

The government has released Sh320 million for set up of digital centres in Kenya, a move aimed at creating new business opportunities and boost Internet access in rural areas.

Investors seeking loans will be required to submit a business plan and have until February 25 to apply for the funds.

The money will be disbursed through Family Bank. An investor can borrow from Sh820,000 to Sh3.3 million repayable with an annual interest rate of 11.5 per cent in three years.

Funding glitch

Information permanent secretary Bitange Ndemo told investors to apply for the loans through Family Bank.

“Some people have been seeking favours from the MPs with regard to the loans, but this is not going to work since the procedure is that one must go through the bank.”

This comes weeks after a funding glitch hit the model digital centres, threatening five pilot centres started three years ago in Malindi, Meru, Kangundo, Garissa and Mukuru slums in Nairobi.

Nairobi and Mombasa account for 90 per cent of the 6.4 million people who have Internet access, according to data from the Communications Commission of Kenya and the creation of the digital villages —Pasha centres — is meant to expand the Net’s reach.

The centres, most of which will be in the rural areas, will be used for Government e-services, Internet access, computer training, vocational lessons, ICT retail, entertainment and gaming, typing and data entry, printing services, copying and scanning.

Don’t forget about the Standard raid . . .

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, ashiundu@ke.nationmedia.com

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.

Ugandan Reporter for Radio Simba remains missing a week after being “whisked away”

 

Journalist abduction (International Freedom of Expression Clearing House on allafrica.com) (See also Jina Moore blog)

IMG_5610_r1A Radio Simba journalist, Arafat Nzito, has been missing since 3 November 2010 and his whereabouts remain unknown.

Nzito, 23 years old, was picked up by plain-clothed men in a Toyota vehicle at around 2:00 p.m. from the Radio Simba offices.

He is a resident of Kitintale, Nakawa division, in Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.

Radio Simba’s chief news editor, Emmanuel Okello, told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that Nzito’s disappearance followed him receiving numerous phone calls about meeting some people in the station’s parking lot, about 30 meters away.

Nzito left his work half done and went to meet these people but he never returned to complete filing his news story. He did not return the following day either.

According to an eye witness who declined to be identified, Nzito was whisked away by four men in a vehicle with tinted windows at around 2:30 p.m. He first talked to them before he sat in the back seat in between two men. The witness did not notice the car registration number.