Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]

Five Years After the Kenyan Government’s Raid on the Standard and Two Years After the Oscar Foundation Murders, Impunity Reigns and a “Local Tribunal” for Post Election Violence Remains a Pipe Dream

As I have previously written, I have to miss the frenzy of reading the Wikileaks diplomatic correspondence, but the Kenyan newspapers are full of articles related to a few of the cables newly leaked.  Much of this is Kenyan politicians dishing on each other to curry favor at the U.S. Embassy, and probably in some cases news to Kenyan voters who don’t have the same access to their leaders as Americans do.

One of the main impacts of the leaks in Kenya, that I would not necessarily have realized, is the degree to which the well-publicized cables give the Kenyan media cover to report facts that are quite well known but that they would not otherwise dare print for fear of libel suits and official displeasure.  Certainly much of what Kenyan politicos tell the Embassy they will have told reporters, or reporters will have learned independently, but couldn’t report until the State Department’s internal “news bureau” was stolen and partially put out on the internet.

Some of the material dates back to the Government’s raid on the Standard media house on March 2, 2006.  Enough of this outrageous incident (really series of incidents) has long been well known that in any country with leadership at all serious about press freedom and the rule of law there would be some people in jail.  Nonetheless, total impunity for each and every player in all of the multiple criminal acts remains the status quo.  While U.S. Ambassador Bellamy was sharply critical at the time, there is no indication that this has been on the public diplomacy agenda since.

It is in this context that observers of the Kenyan scene have to realize that the notion of a Kenyan “Local Tribunal” that would try the kingpins of the Post Election Violence identified by the Waki Commission report was always a pipe dream.

We have a recent report on the killing of former Foreign Minister Ouko, said to have taken place at State House in Nakuru–no action.  We have the circumstances crying out for investigation in the murders of civil rights activists Oscar Kingara and J.P. Oulo–two years have gone by today with no action.

While I agree completely with the notion that as a wholly conceptual matter, a Kenyan tribunal rather than the International Criminal Court would be the best place to try the suspects for the Post Election Violence, it is also quite clear that that was never going to happen.  The will is simply not there–the Government of Kenya has a well established policy of impunity which has served the interests at stake very successfully for many years.  It will not change of its own accord, or through simple persuasion or jawboning.  A “Local Tribunal” in Kenya, if there ever were such a thing, would be a platform for deal making to preserve impunity, not a court of law.  Because the United States is not a member of the ICC, it may well be that we are not so credible as leading advocates of the ICC as the appropriate venue for the election-related trials–nonetheless, I think we should stop indulging political frivolity in the context of these grave crimes.

Related Post on local tribunal.

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.