The courts may not know it, but who will become the next President of the Republic of Kenya is more or less a matter of life and death today. There is no question that this is an absolutely pertinent national issue. No one can – more importantly no one should try to— stymie public discussion of this matter.
We, the people, have given ourselves and our future generations a brand new Constitution. The man or woman who becomes the first president of Kenya under the new order is something that every Kenyan should seriously think and freely talk about.
So, the sweeping High Court order stopping public debate on the suitability of UK and Ruto for the highest office in the land in view of the grave charges against them at the International Criminal Court is very worrying.
Are UK’s and Ruto’s political lives sufficient reason to deny Kenyans their right to free speech?
The duo’s suitability to run has been contested in the courts, making it, legalistically speaking, subjudice. Justice Isaac Lenaola of the Constitutional Court stated that the court shall take stern action against anyone who violates the ruling.
But what about the Constitution? Honourable Judge Lenaola’s piece of judicial wisdom must contend with the right to freedom of opinion and of speech expressly guaranteed by the Constitution of Kenya.
As the Media Council of Kenya and the Kenya Editors Guild pointed out, the rights and freedoms spelt out in that most sacred national charter under the Bill of Rights cannot be abridged by any authority.
Freedom of opinion and of expression is essential to democracy. People are free to think (because they have brains) and free to express their thoughts (because they have the God-given means so to do). Democracy, the High Court must surely appreciate, is essentially about eternal contestation over the exercise of power in the management of public affairs.
UK and Ruto want Kenyans to elect them to the highest office in the land. The courts don’t want Kenyans to speak about that because a court case has been lodged precisely about that issue.
Simple: let the people talk; the court will make its own mind. It does not have to agree.
Does it really make sense in 2012 to suggest that the honourable magistrates and judges of Kenya’s judiciary are unlikely to reach just decisions merely because a matter before them has been extensively debated in public?
In any case Kenyans – at home, in offices, at the market, in restaurants, on the Internet, in matatus – are indeed discussing the suitability of presidential aspirants UK and Ruto. It is the question of the moment. The should stop talking because a High Court judge has issued a decree to gag them.
But whereas the High Court has no capacity to take action against every Kenyan discussing UK and Ruto, Judge Lenaola’s order will have a particular chilling effect on the media. The fear of flouting a court order – and being hauled to court for it – is likely to result in in-house censorship. Is that what the people of this country want? Was the court order issued in their interest?
The order is tantamount to extreme legalism. “Judiciary goes nuts…Courts now officially governing Kenya”, wrote Standard cartoonist Madd.
No politics from the pulpit
Gagging continues outside the courts of law as well. We commented here about Internal Security Assistant Minister Orwa Ojode banning politics at funerals. Well, what we did not say at the time is that those politicians making ‘political’ speeches at funerals are most likely the same people who the bereaved family approached for financial assistance to meet the expenses of that funeral. Why shouldn’t the politician take the opportunity to “say a few words” to politic?
After all, a churchman who stands up to speak at a political rally would most likely say something about the word of God. Nobody would complain about that, even though not everyone would enjoy the little sermon. But a politician should not talk politics at a funeral!
Now, this intolerance and assault on free speech seems to have gone “a notch higher”, as news reporters would say. In recent weeks there have been several news reports about church leaders banning political speeches in their hallowed shrines. There have been opinion pieces supporting this move as well.
Well, it is campaign time, sort of, and politicians know that many Kenyans congregate at various shrines for prayers. Those are great grounds to hunt for votes. What is wrong with that?
Fr Gabriel Dolan, a Catholic priest and respected human rights activist who pens a column for Saturday Nation, wrote that, if “a gang of politicians and a heavy duty media team arrived unannounced at our parish church some Sunday morning” he would “reach for the whip like Jesus and drive them out unmercifully.”
Really? That is strange, coming from a clergyman in Kenya. Is it not the same “gang of politicians” who helped build hundreds of the Christian shrines that dot Kenya? At that time they were most welcome to “say a few words”.
And why do clergymen and women find it convenient to share podiums and pulpits with politicians to champion certain political causes, for example opposition to the proposed constitution of Kenya ahead of the August 2010 referendum? Or in the current circumstances, host political prayers?
Why do the same churchmen and women participate in political prayer rallies for high profile suspected criminals accused of the vilest crimes known to man (and woman) at the International Criminal Court? We haven’t heard of any cleric condemning those political prayers, have we?
As a matter of fact, the campaign period is payback time for politicians whom many clerics are often very proud to be seen around with. And let’s face it, there are many influential men and women of the cloth in Kenya who double up as clandestine freelance political strategists and mobilisers for certain politicians in the areas where they preach the good word. That is why names of colluding clerics appear in reports on the post-election violence of 2007/8.
And isn’t it rather interesting that Fr Dolan would reach for his whip to chase away politicians from his parish church when, in fact, the world leader of Dolan’s church, the Pope, is a head of state, a politician? Every time a pope visits any country (he has been to Kenya three times) he is accorded the honours of a head of state.
A Catholic should be the last person to attempt to gag anyone in the name of separation of spiritual affairs from politics. The Catholic Church is the only religious grouping in the world whose headquarters, the Vatican, is recognised as a sovereign state, a political entity, in international law. The Vatican has official diplomatic ties with nearly all nations of the world, including Kenya, with duly accredited priest-envoys who present their credentials to the head of state of their new posting.
And yet the other week, a Catholic organisation, Jesuit Hakimani Centre, carried out a national survey which found that 64.5 percent of Kenyans want religious leaders to stick to spiritual matters. Please, send those findings to the Vatican.
The clamour for separation of spiritual and political affairs is not only hypocritical but also fictitious and unhelpful. Politics is essential to human life in society. It concerns power and the organisation of common affairs. People should engage in politics everywhere and all the time. They should be interested in the exercise of power and how it affects them.
Churches can play a very useful role in our country’s politics. If Politician X comes to look for votes in his shrine, it should be a great opportunity for Fr Dolan to lead his parishioners in taking the politician to task about his programmes and performance. Poor, hungry, sickly and despondent people can’t tithe – can’t even go to church, in the first place.
Don’t we hear of lamentations about the politician who only appears in their constituency at election time? Okay, when he or she turns up at a funeral or church service, that is the time to take him on about his politics and the issues of concern to the people. The same people listening to a sermon and kneeling in prayer are the voters.
And has all the ‘nyef nyef’ about separating politics from religion stopped a number of ambitious men and women of the cloth from seeking political office at every election?
Mutua’s lioness-antelope tales
Dr Alfred N Mutua EBS, the Government Spokesman, is back. People had missed him and his regular Thursday afternoon press briefings, which are aired live on the “leading national broadcaster”, KBC Channel 1.
The Bulletin welcomes you back (sorry, avails itself of this unique opportunity to express our singular and utmost pleasure at your return, after a well-deserved rest, to your distinguished office that is critical to the government’s service delivery to the people of Kenya at this critical juncture of our nation’s history).
One of the first items on Dr. Mutua’s to-do list last week was the urgent need to remind Kenyans about how lucky we are to live is such a beautiful and uniquely endowed nation.
“We are very lucky to have this great country of ours. Even though we are made up of many ethnic groups, we have shown for years that we can hold hands and live together as brothers and sisters,” Dr Mutua said while opening a new office of the Government Spokesman in Mombasa.
Great country where we hold hands blah, blah. Indeed. President Kibaki is now a Luo elder. Millions don’t go to sleep on an empty stomach. The post-election violence was a movie. Brother Kamlesh Pattni is leading people to Jesus. The Sinai fire happened in Israel. At the Attorney General’s chambers, all the top guys can hold meetings for a year in mother-tongue, as can those at the Ministry of Finance and its parastatals...
Dr Mutua had something to say about the media as well. He is, after all an accomplished journalist and renowned filmmaker.
“Following the last ruling of the International Criminal Court, wild allegations were made in local media that a meeting was held at State House, Nairobi featuring members of the outlawed criminal gang, Mungiki,” the Government Spokesman said.
He went on to point out that “youth who attended the said meeting on November 26, 2007 between 9 am and 12 noon and who are from different organisations, representing various tribes from our country, have come out openly and made it known that they are the ones who attended the meeting and it is clear to all that they are not members of Mungiki and do not fit the profile of Mungiki members.”
Very good. But, sir, those “wild allegations” were not made in the local media. Will you kindly read the entire ruling by the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC? Thank you. If you have any different view, pass it to your former boss, Mr Muthaura or post them to The Hague.
Back to the great country where we “hold hands.” Dr Mutua reminded Kenyans (whose memory is generally short) about “the story of a lioness that befriended an antelope, right here in our country and the whole world was surprised. If a lioness, with all its grace, long hours of sleep but agility in hunting, can befriend and protect its prey – an innocent antelope, then every human being can live in harmony one with another.”
Quite. In fact Kenyans have been living in accordance with the lesson of the antelope and the lioness all these years.
Being mindful of other people’s welfare is key to national unity, Dr Mutua reiterated.
“We must all protect the children of this country, including those yet to be born. When a mother is expecting, we all take care of her pregnancy, feeding her with proper nourishment so that her baby will be healthy and strong. That is the same way we should view our country. Let us take care of each other and remain united as a people.”
Sure. That is what we all do.
Well, that is only part of what the media did not find useful to report. We could be wrong but we believe the fat salary and perks totalling over Sh500,000 that Dr Alfred N Mutua EBS enjoys are a sinful waste of taxpayer’s money.
Reporting business news
The other week Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s wife, Ida, was reported to have called for the prosecution of the ‘Ocampo four’ at home instead of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
A report in the Nation quoted “sources” as saying that Ida had not consulted the PM before expressing her views in public.
That appeared to suggest that Nation, indeed Kenyan media, have sources even inside the homes of our country’s who-is-who. The media has its eyes and ears everywhere.
But is that so? Two news reports carried last week suggest otherwise.
There was the revelation by one Martin Kinoti Mkibiti, who is facing charges of incitement, that Nairobi’s Central Police Station is a den of immorality where the human rights of inmates are wantonly violated through torture and forced sexual activity.
“That is not a police station. It is sex zone. It is a torture chamber too. Police have drifted this country to the dark colonial age. They beat up suspects as if they are not human beings,” Mkibiti told the court, according to the Nation.
Does that tell us the media has its eyes and ears everywhere in the country? Nairobi is the base of all national media houses, yet no media house has any idea about the egregious human rights violations at Central Police Station. But Nation can quote “sources” as saying the PM’s wife did not consult him.
The other story is about the shenanigans in the banking industry. The shilling declined in value drastically last year, hitting an “all-time low” against the dollar in November.
But it was business as usual at business news desks around town. Nobody tried to investigate what was actually going on. The media only reported the arcane explanations proffered by the Central Bank of Kenya and by other financial analysts.
But last week, a parliamentary committee probing the weakening of the shilling established that the decline arose from certain banks involved in speculative foreign exchange trading against CBK regulations.
The parliamentary committee is convinced – and a CBK report tabled before it shows – that the depreciation of the shilling was occasioned by unethical trading in foreign currency by some rogue commercial banks.
How come business/financial journalists never got wind of this? Or is the media too busy running around after politicians and covering mundane corporate functions to effectively discharge their watchdog role in this regard?
Over to you, business news chiefs.
Star: trivia and the news
Journalists generally don’t make the news. They could occasionally. Well, last week the Star daily surprised us with two front-page news reports about journalists, both political editors.
First, the Star reported that police had attempted to seize its journalist’s phone. Apparently, the journalist had received an SMS from one Miguna Miguna alleging that there were some senior public figures plotting to murder Miguna.
Why the police did not go to find out from Miguna whether he sent such an SMS instead of going for the alleged recipient of the message rightly confounded the good people at Lion Place. Police could also go to the said Miguna’s mobile telephone service provider and get his SMS log. Yet we must believe Police Spokesman Eric Kiraithe who likes to go on and on about the professionalism of our police service.
Anyway, the Star or the journalist refused to surrender the phone. And then proceeded to do a front-page story about the incident.
Next was a story another front-page story about Citizen TV political editor Alex Chamwada being hired as the chief media man at presidential aspirant George Saitoti’s campaign secretariat. Some Star readers around the world would be forgiven for asking, ‘Alex who?’
It later turned out that Chamwada had actually declined the Saitoti offer. The Star reported this as well.
No problem. Journalists should make the news – front-page news even, in the Weekly Citizen and the rest of the River Road press.
But sometimes one gets the impression that the Star has not come to terms with its own image that it is a national newspaper read by “smart people.”
Standard’s Monday blues
And finally, Mondays are not exciting days, as many people know. There are weekend hangovers of all sorts to nurse. But things can only get worse when you pick up “your favourite newspaper” to find this kind of outrageous gibberish right there in the front page:
“A groundswell beneath Kenya’s political arena is determining the drift of debate on the Kibaki succession, and it is firmly linked to the indictment by the International Criminal Court of four Kenyans, and specifically, two former political rivals who are now united in adversity.’
What was that supposed to mean? It was the intro to the lead story in the Standard on Monday, 30 January 2012. Where, pray, does anyone find the energy on a Monday morning to read beyond that wobbly sentence?
There was yet another one on the front page: “Today offers the four high-profiled Kenyans committed to full trial at The Hague the last chance for appeal and they are doing everything to make it count.”
And then this one: “Calm returned to a Nairobi slum yesterday with hundreds of residents seen moving out fearing for their security following deadly clashes with riot police at the weekend.”
Calm returned to a Nairobi slum? How is that yet hundreds of residents were fleeing, fearing for their lives?
The story continued: “Trucks loaded with household goods were moving from the demolished houses in Mukuru…”
A resident told the Standard that, “We need to be assured of our security because from the look of things, we are not secure here.”
That is the picture of calm?
Monday or no Monday, readers want good journalism.