Wednesday, May 2nd, 2018
Council of Governors chairman Josephat Nanok has opposed his party leader Raila Odinga’s push for a three-tier devolved structure.
The Turkana governor said on Wednesday the current structure should instead be nurtured for another 20 years before any attempt to change it is made.
“I don’t think there is a county that again wants its projects and programmes to be coordinated in another region. When we complete about 20 years, that is when such a debate can be thought of,” he said in Lokichar town in Turkana South.
Mr Nanok, who successfully defended his seat on an ODM ticket in the last elections, said the proposal to manage county governments in provinces does not make sense.
He said county governments had made a lot of progress under the current devolution structure.
“In Turkana, visible development activities have been initiated for the past five years compared to many years of marginalisation when we only had the central government and a provincial headquarters in Nakuru,” he said.
The governor said Mr Raila’s proposal has not taken into consideration the interests of residents of counties such as Turkana.
“Devolution has given residents an opportunity to have their say on their priorities and if there are challenges with the management of devolution they are able to solve them internally,” he said.
Speaking during the fifth devolution conference at Kakamega High School last week, Mr Odinga called for another layer to the current system, saying it would help make counties attractive to investors.
At the same time, Jubilee leaders from the North Rift have differed on whether to hold another referendum to push for changes in the Constitution.
Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi said lawmakers would shoot down any bill seeking to amend the Constitution.
“As leaders from this region, we will not accept constitutional changes. Kenyans want service delivery and we will ensure that the changes will not reach the floor of the House,” said Mr Sudi, an ally of Deputy President William Ruto.
Mr Ruto has opposed any changes to the Constitution.
But, speaking at a separate event in Moiben, Uasin Gishu Senator Margaret Kamar and area MP Sila Tiren termed as healthy the ongoing debate on Constitution change.
“The key issue here is what questions are going to be asked in the referendum. At the end of the day, it is not politicians who will decide but Kenyans will have a chance to decide whether they are for or against constitutional changes,” said Prof Kamar.
For his part, Mr Tiren said Kenyans should be left to decide the way forward.
“It is Kenyans who elected us … if they want changes, who are we to refuse? Let Kenyans decide on constitutional changes,” he said.
Reporting by Sammy Lutta, Stanley Kimuge and Dennis Lubanga
Heavy rains on Wednesday continued to leave a trail of destruction across the country.
More than 1,000 people were displaced after dams in Tana River County were submerged by the floods, spilling water into the villages.
Residents in sections of Galole constituency and larger parts of Tana Delta and Bura living near the dams have been forced to move to camps on higher ground.
Some of the bigger dams, constructed by the National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) in the county are overflowing into farms and villages.
NDMA County coordinator Abdi Mussa cautioned pastoral communities to be keen while grazing in flooded fields to avoid losing their livestock to some the unmarked dams.
Mr Abdi however said that most of the heavily flooded dams had been marked for residents’ safety.
Ndakaini Dam in Murang’a County which supplies water to Nairobi has recorded an increase in its water volume by 6.7 percent within the last 14 days with 44.8 million meters cubed on Monday.
“The dam is just a reservoir which we run to when the rivers lack water. With the ongoing rains, chances are high we will build higher volumes (above 60 per cent) by mid-July,” said the dam’s coordinator Job Kihamba.
In Kitui County, hopes of recovering bodies of five people who went missing after drowning at River Enziu in Mwingi East sub-county continued to diminish.
Private professional divers failed to recover their bodies in a search that has been on for the last two weeks.
“I wonder why for the last two weeks no one from the government side has come to the aid of these families. This shows lack of commitment from the government,” said an agitated Mwingi Central MP Gideon Mulyungi.
Meanwhile Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa has said the government has enough food to feed people affected by floods across the country.
Speaking in Mandera on Tuesday as he wound up a one week long flood assessment mission in the vast Northeastern region, Mr Wamalwa said the ministry would supply food in Tana River, Kilifi, Lamu, Turkana, Mandera, Isiolo and Marsabit counties.
“There is enough food in our national stores to feed the flood affected families across the country and the distribution shall start within the week,” he said.
He said there are over three million bags of maize in the national government strategic grain reserves that will be distributed.
About 15,000 people have been affected by floods in Mandera with transport paralysed. Mr Wamalwa said improved roads will ease transporting essential items for flood victims.
Schools in Homa Bay County incurred losses of unknown value following the ongoing rains, as families in neighbouring Kisii counted losses after their homes were logged.
Flood victims at Bandi area in Tana River County where they have build temporary shelters after being displaced from their homes. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP
In Kisii, at least 100 families were displaced by floods. At Nyataro area, South Mugirango three houses and a church were marooned by floods yesterday.
In other areas, the residents have been forced to move uphill to avoid being injured by falling houses.
In Bobasi sub county, the girls’ latrine at Isena Mixed sunk after due to heavy rains.
Some buildings in the school developed cracks on the walls exposing students to danger.
School Principal Henry Matonda said the entire school stands condemned owing to the cracks. He warned of a health crisis.
“Teachers and students may be scrambling for one toilet and we are only appealing for quick help from the constituency kitty to help us build new facilities,” he told the Nation.
County disaster chief officer Doris Nyokangi said they are doing everything at their disposal to reach out to those affected. She appealed to residents in flood prone areas to move to safer areas.
Houses in Kaptembwa, Nakuru County were destroyed by heavy rains. PHOTO | AYUB MUIYURO | NATION MEDIA GROUP
Homa Bay County Director of Adult Education Justus Muchwara said the rains have affected at least 39 schools in the last one month.
He said most of the affected institutions lost pit latrines as others had their dormitory, class walls and roofs damaged.
“Most schools lost important infrastructure such as latrines. Most of them are filled up or sunk,” he said.
“The affected schools are Sindo, Lambwe, Gingo, Seka, Gendo primary schools among others. The roof of an administration block at Misa Primary School was blown off,” said Mr Muchwara.
In Rachuonyo North sub county, learning has been temporarily paralysed in at least two schools after villagers turned them into temporary shelters.
Mr Muchwara said residents around Osodo and Kobuya Primary schools have camped at the institutions.
“2,238 villagers have moved into the two institutions together with their domestic animals. The floods have prevented 1,068 pupils in these schools from returning to class,” he said.
Mr Muchwara said the floods have destroyed property in Miranga, Kandiege, Kendu Muslim, Ombogo, Kobuya secondary schools among others.
In Suba North, at least nine schools have incurred damages due to heavy rains and strong winds.
The schools are Ogando, Nyasanja, Rapora, Masisi primary among others whose pit latrines were also flattened by the waters.
In Ndhiwa sub county, one dormitory was destroyed at Magina Girls High school.
Mr Muchwara appealed to residents around the schools to allow pupils and students to use their toilets in the meantime.
“Defecation will be a challenge in the affected school. I am appealing to villagers to assist pupils whose pit latrines have been filled up or damaged by rain,” he said.
Reported by Mary Wambui, Barack Odour, Magati Obebo, Boniface Mwaniki, Stephen Odour and Manase Otsialo
Forgive me.” Those were the two words that marked the climax of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State of the Nation address on Wednesday as he used the annual event to make a call for Kenyans to unite in the wake of a divisive and fraught electioneering period last year.
“If there was anything I said last year that hurt or wounded you, if I damaged the unity of this country in any way, I ask you to forgive me, and to join me in repairing that harm,” asked the President, who was sworn in for a second term in January this year after months of bruising political campaigns and two elections.
His one-hour-and-22-minute speech was met with an eruption of handshakes in the joint sitting of Parliament, and used words and expressions that advanced the spirit of the conciliatory tone that has characterised his speeches since March 9, when he made a peace pact with opposition leader Raila Odinga at Harambee House in Nairobi.
Although he did not answer a lot of questions on what the pact means, particularly on the constitutionalism of proposals to create special posts for the two of them once his term ends, he spoke highly of Mr Odinga and described their unity deal as an exemplar of statesmanship.
“When he and I met earlier in the year, we agreed to work together to strengthen the unity of our country. We hoped to emphasise then that collaboration comprises both competition and disagreement. We did not immediately solve all Kenya’s most pressing problems, nor did we see eye-to-eye on every proposed answer; it is important to emphasise that unity doesn’t mean unanimity,” said President Kenyatta.
However, he criticised governors, saying immunisation had fallen from 90 to 70 per cent since the devolution of the bulk of healthcare services, but was less harsh on the Judiciary, which he asked to ensure the highest standards of integrity and to remember that inter-dependence unites the three arms of government.
His unity and reconciliation message echoed throughout the speech, which also urged restrained politics.
“Neither peace nor unity is a given; we have to work for them,” he cautioned. “I say so because last year taught us that if we don’t put an end to unrestrained political competition, it will put an end to Kenya. You saw what happened. In the heat of the campaign, words of anger, malice, and hatred were spoken. Politics was no longer a debate between opponents on issues; it was a clash of irreconcilable enemies.”
He noted the loss of lives in political duels – and some in confrontations with the police – as well as the destruction of property, and repeated the call that it should not be allowed to happen again.
“All of us, and in particular we leaders here, will have to admit that last year we failed in our duty to preserve the unity of this country. And we must make amends. First, I pray that all of us will spend the days and weeks after this address repairing the bonds that frayed last year. Let us apologise for our words, and for the anger and malice that Kenyans heard,” he said.
“From Mandera to Maseno, from Mbita to Mvita, from Lodwar to Lunga Lunga, let us shake hands and embrace our neighbours, and let us celebrate the diversity that is God’s gift to us.”
When he called for everyone to shake one’s neighbour’s hand, the lawmakers took the cue and he had to stop his address as there were handshakes all round.
Embakasi East MP Babu Owino, previously one of the most vicious critics of the Jubilee administration, grabbed the chance to make a statement. He was seated on the government side, three rows away from where the President stood, and passed four MPs, walked down the aisle to the front of the chamber, and gave President Kenyatta a vigorous handshake.
As he went back to sit next to Jubilee-nominated David ole Sankok, previously one of Mr Odinga’s harshest critics, the House was in stitches.
In the first half of the speech, President Kenyatta highlighted the achievements of his administration since he took power in 2013 and the steps he is taking to address the concerns of Kenyans.
On the establishment of efficient working county governments, President Kenyatta noted that some individuals have been fraudulently diverting public resources to benefit themselves.
He said his administration remains committed to supporting the county governments, pointing out that so far the national government has surpassed the 15 per cent threshold for resource allocation to the counties as provided for in the Constitution.
Urging Kenyans to join hands in the fight against graft, he said that, last year, ill-gotten public assets valued at about Sh500 million were recovered and civil proceedings instituted for the preservation and recovery of other assets valued at more than Sh6 billion.
“We must all come together to fight this vice if we are to conquer it,” he urged. “The Government and the private sector must report fraud and protect whistle blowers without the slightest hesitation.”
A private hospital in Kericho County is fighting claims of negligence after a patient died in what relatives claim was a result of unnecessary surgery.
Family and friends of Ms Audrey Chesang’, 26, have accused Nursing Home of rushing to operate on the patient, who had only walked in for check-up, without giving room for thorough examination.
The first operation was done on March 30, the second eight days later, and the third on April 18. She died on April 27.
Her death has since ignited rage on social media with more people coming out with claims of negligence at the facility.
The deceased’s mother, Ms Rose Koskei, said the daughter called her from work saying she suddenly felt some stomach pains and that she had been admitted to the hospital.
“I rushed there to find her having been injected with pain killers. An ultrasound was done and doctors said they had found a cyst. She was taken for an operation that evening,” said the mother.
Eight days later as she resumed eating solid food, her stomach began to swell, prompting her to be taken through an emergency surgery for the second time.
The third operation was prompted by stool that leaked out of her wound; an indication that the intestines could have been tampered with.
“On the third operation, the hospital sought the opinion of another doctor who said my daughter had developed a serious infection and needed to be urgently saved. Since there was no alternative, we urged her to go back to the theatre,” Ms Koskei explained.
Her condition began to deteriorate and, on April 20, she was rushed to St Lukes Hospital in Eldoret where she died while at the Intensive Care Unit on April 27.
“My child is gone. I am praying to God to help us find justice,” she told the Nation at her Chepkolon home in Kericho County.
Reached for comment, the hospital’s administrator, Bernard Kiprotich, said the county government had taken up the issue.
“Much as we may want to respond, medical ethics do not allow us to divulge patients’ information. For that matter, we suggest that you talk to the department of health in the county government, since they have already taken the details from us,” said Mr Kiprotich.
Kericho Health executive Shadrack Mutai said they have begun investigations into the matter.
“A team drawn from my department and County Assembly Health Committee have met and studied the medical file of the patient. The team will visit the facility on a fact-finding mission,” Dr Mutai told the Nation.
Members of County Assembly led by Mr Paul Chirchir of Kapsoit and his Kipchebor counterpart Eric Bett said they will table a motion calling for a probe into the circumstances surrounding Ms Chesang’s death.
Ms Chesang’ was a Supplies and Procurement graduate from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.
President Uhuru Kenyatta anchored Wednesday’s State of the Nation address on unity and national reconciliation, turning it into a personal crusade by delivering a public apology for his mistakes of commission and omission, particularly over the treacherous and long electioneering period last year. Underpinning this is the desire to secure stability, enhance national cohesion, restore hope and inspire economic growth.
Arguably a powerful pitch in which he mobilised the joint sitting of MPs and Senators to show the way through the handshake with his rival, Mr Raila Odinga, the President must move beyond elocution to actualisation of the vision. It is clear what divides us: Exclusion, marginalisation, negative ethnicity, human rights abuses, electoral injustice, corruption and mismanagement.
Politicians have singularly failed to eliminate these despite lofty promises every electoral cycle. It is because of the disillusionment with the national leadership that elections are hotly contested and the people divided as politicians mobilise along ethnic and regional blocs.
President Kenyatta’s unity call was the continuation of a crusade that began in earnest on March 9, when he entered into a political truce with Mr Odinga. Since the historic peace deal, the country has witnessed relative calm and ushered in a sense of optimism.
But until last week, when the two appointed a team of eminent people to actualise their ideal of building bridges, little has happened.
The public was getting concerned that nothing tangible was forthcoming and that the handshake was turning into a PR disaster.
Even with the advisory team appointed, the roadmap towards national unity and reconciliation remains a mirage.
And they remained so even after Wednesday’s address. For, besides enumerating some of the economic and infrastructural achievements, there was nothing to show towards uniting the country and entrenching national values, which, if religiously adhered to, would end the festering social, political and economic malaise afflicting the nation.
The President and Mr Odinga must deliver tangible programmes to secure national unity and prosperity.
The World Press Freedom Day was introduced a quarter a century ago to shine a spotlight on the plight of a profession that is perennially under threat and yet it’s crucial to democratic practice and entrenching the rule of law — journalism.
The annual event, which is being marked on Thursday, offers media practitioners an opportunity to evaluate their work and celebrate achievements while taking note of existing challenges with a view to addressing them.
However, the day comes against the backdrop of low moments for the media in Kenya and other countries.
The local media are just emerging from a depressing period characterised by intimidation, harassment, physical attacks and sabotage. Journalists and media houses have been targeted in attacks linked to last year’s elections.
The 10-day shut-down of four leading private television stations for airing the mock swearing-in of National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga as the ‘people’s president’ and the beating up of journalists covering the return to Kenya of controversial lawyer Miguna Miguna exemplified the attack on media freedom in Kenya.
RANKED 96TH GLOBALLY
Little wonder, therefore, that Kenya has been ranked 96th globally in the media freedom index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.
Governments must undertake to put in place practical measures to safeguard freedom of the press.
Last week I travelled across part of western Kenya and deep into eastern Uganda.
My Kenyan travelling companion soon complained that the charcoal ban by governors in eastern Kenya, in a bid to stop the destruction of forests, had “caused serious problems for people who depend on charcoal”.
Then he added: “We have only been saved by charcoal imports from Uganda.”
I froze, because Uganda does not have surplus forest to cut for charcoal. In fact, its deforestation rates are higher than Kenya’s.
Indeed, later, as we were travelling in eastern Uganda, he remarked: “I am looking around, and I don’t see the trees Ugandans are cutting down to make the charcoal they are exporting to Kenya.”
The exports to Kenya happen as a result of failure to protect forests. Kenya’s solution to its environmental crisis is, therefore, likely to deepen Uganda’s.
Nevertheless, there were some other intriguing insights offered by this charcoal drama. Among other things, it illustrates how actions taken by county governors — not by the national government in Nairobi — can have an impact on neighbouring countries.
Further, it points to how survival responses have become regional issues.
Uganda, for example, has done well out of food exports to the region. In February last year, The EastAfrican reported: “In the past three months, Uganda has exported more than 28,000 tonnes of maize worth $14 million to the region, as countries such as Burundi struggle with the highest maize prices recorded in recent times.
“This year, Uganda has sold 13,312 tonnes of maize to its neighbours with the bulk going to Tanzania (7,240 tonnes), followed by Rwanda (3,566 tonnes), then Kenya (2,506 tonnes) as food insecurity reaches alarming levels across various parts of the region.”
Good business for Uganda farmers, yes, but to meet the growing regional demand, in several parts of Uganda, small-scale farmers have invaded wetlands in record numbers to grow rice and, in some areas, maize.
Soon, there might be an ecological price to pay.
This is a signal that we have reached a point where energy, agricultural (or food) and environmental policy in East Africa need to be made regionally to manage these unintended cross-border consequences.
In the countries, we see some rather bizarre developments.
As rivers and lakes dry up, are polluted or simply overfished, commercial fish farming is soaring, especially in Kenya and Uganda.
However, while in Kenya a lot of the fish farming, especially in the central region, is done in ponds, in Uganda it’s done along the shores of the fish-depleted Lake Victoria.
And while traditional farming was democratic, as most fishermen were generally poor but still access the waters, fish farming is for the well-off who can invest in cages, fish feeds and security.
This shift of power, has brought with it new forms of policing fish on land. The rich and powerful can mobilise the police to ensure no one steal and sells fish from their farms.
Working from the assumption that the catch has diminished in Lake Victoria, in some parts of Uganda near the lucrative fish farms today, if “fish patrols” catch a lowly peasant with a big tilapia roasting over the fire in his kitchen, he is considered to have stolen it and could be arrested.
To play safe, if some small fisherman catches a big fish, someone alleged, he throws it back into the water and only takes home to eat the tiny ones “that don’t look like they are from the big people’s fish farms”.
Additionally, if the small people want to raise fish, they are safer farming an inferior variety that can in now way be mistaken to have come from a big man’s pond.
And, talking of big men’s farms, Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni fancies himself as a cattle man. He owns two huge dairy farms.
Recently, some bold thieves went and stole all the wire mesh around his massive farm in central Uganda.
His Excellency was not too pleased. A battalion of the presidential guard was ordered to raid the vast second-hand parts market in Kampala called “Kisekka Market” to recover The Chief’s wire mesh.
The soldiers seized all second-hand wire mesh — both those that “resembled” the stolen one as well as those that didn’t look like they were related to it.
Don’t mess with the President’s mesh.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is the publisher of Africa data journalism site Africapedia.com and explainer Roguechiefs.com. Twitter: @cobbo3
This year’s World Press Freedom Day celebrations are being held in Accra, Ghana, on Thursday.
The global event, at which Kenya is represented, will highlight milestones and challenges that place countries on the global map on the status of media freedom, freedom of expression and access to information.
In the past year, the Kenyan media has experienced some of the most frightening events in its history. We witnessed journalists being brutally attacked by police officers as well as politicians and their supporters — as we saw at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Wiper Party headquarters recently.
Suppose this behaviour spilled into a hospital theatre, where doctors are carrying out a very sensitive medical procedure, or in a courtroom, where a high-profile case is being adjudicated. The world would be up in arms against attacks on doctors and the legal fraternity.
In the early 1990s, Kenya liberalised its airwaves and adopted a pluralistic media, setting the stage for a bold and authoritative press, a catalyst for good governance.
If the billions of shillings it controls and thousands of jobs it creates are anything to by, the media should be viewed not as a conveyer belt, only relevant at press conferences, but a vital ingredient in the baking of the national cake.
It is sad to see a government that was formed under the most progressive Constitution in this part of the world unleash a vicious crackdown on the media in proportions never witnessed even when press freedom was not guaranteed by the law.
In the recent past, local media has had to contend with hostilities from the State, politicians and business community seeking to operate, and thrive, in a ‘man-eat-man’ society.
Kenya is a signatory to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, United Nations Plan Action and African Union Charter on Human and People’s Rights, all which advocate for freedom of the media and of expression as well as access to information as fundamental human rights.
But it has shown no commitment to ensuring that all the international instruments are not only ratified but respected.
The unwarranted attacks on the media are often ‘justified’ by claims of the need to rein in a “rogue media” that does not adhere to the code of conduct for the practice of journalism as per the Media Act 2013.
At Teleposta Towers, the seat of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology, it seems the agenda of the media was thrown out of the window. In this government, media was lumped with ICT under one Principal Secretary.
Almost 55 years after Independence, the government does not have a media policy to ensure that the contribution of the ‘Fourth Estate’ is understood and harmonised with other relevant policies to promote the national development agenda.
The policy would be the ultimate answer to the government’s nightmares on how to relate with the media. The hostilities between the two entities can be avoided when the role of the media in a modern society is clearly understood as critical rather than being seen as an enemy of a mouthpiece of certain interest groups.
While we acknowledge that a dichotomy between the State and the media’s agenda is normal; the role of the media must be well understood, so that the State can concentrate on activities that have a positive impact on citizens.
Progressive countries have media policies, which are used for the common good of the public — where the media and the State are accountable to the public. In such an environment, the State can work with the media to promote its agenda in a civilised manner.
Getting your head shaved clean might be trendy, but it exposes you to the risk of getting infected with hepatitis, or even HIV, a new research shows.
The study, by South African researchers, revealed that most shaving machines gather blood from clean-shave haircuts, and could be contributing to the high prevalence of Hepatitis B in sub-Saharan countries.
They confirmed that hair clippers were contaminated with blood and blood-borne viruses, and Hepatitis B was detected with enough DNA copies to pose a risk of transmitting infection.
The findings were published in the South African Medical Journal last week.
Dr Zandile Spengane of the University of Cape Town said although HIV was not detected in the small study, the risk of transmission should be quantified.
“A history of haircut-associated bleeding as a result of clean-shave haircuts was an unexpected finding. The potential transmission of blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis B (HBV) and HIV is most concerning,” said Dr Spengane.
The study, Blood and virus detection on barber clippers, was done to investigate the prevalence of blood contamination on barbers’ tools, especially focusing on the presence of HIV and hepatitis B viruses.
Aerial maps were used to sample 50 barber shops from three townships in Cape Town, South Africa.
Basic demographic data was collected by getting a clipper from every barber immediately after it was used for a clean-shave haircut. The barbers were given a new clipper in exchange.
The methods used by the barbers to clean the clippers after use on each client were documented. Each clipper was placed in a ziplock bag at room temperature, after which the bag was sealed and taken to a laboratory for a virological sampling of the clipper.
“The hepatitis B and HIV status of clients was unknown. There are some confounding factors that could have contributed to our results, such as the skill of the barbers and the methods they used to cut the hairstyles,” Dr Spengane said.
She said the amount of time spent cleaning the clippers using the different methods was not measured.
“This is also a possible confounding factor and could have contributed to the results. A study with a bigger sample size could obtain results of better quality,” she added.
The study found out that the clean-shave haircut was the most popular, requested by 78 per cent of the clients.
Of the clippers collected, 42 per cent tested positive for HBB (a blood protein infection), confirming that blood was detected. None tested positive for HIV, while four 8 per cent tested positive for HBV.
The annual World Press Freedom Day, which is being marked on Thursday, is a key event. It provides the media fraternity and, indeed, those who believe in and cherish press freedom, with an opportunity to celebrate independent journalism and reflect on the challenges journalists and media institutions continue to face in the course of their work.
As the world takes stock of the happenings in the media landscape with a view to building on the gains while seeking a remedy in areas where crucial ground has been lost, Kenya finds itself in a not-so-savoury spot following the latest report by the globally acclaimed Reporters Without Borders lobby, which has ranked the country at number 96 on media freedom.
This illustrates the serious threats to journalists in Kenya, Tanzania (93rd) and Uganda (117th), falling standards of constitutionalism and challenges to the rule of law.
The Nordic nations of Norway and Sweden were rated first and second, respectively, in the index.
Coming on the heels of last year’s general election, one of Kenya’s most politically charged and highly polarising, the event finds the local media industry at a crossroads. The prolonged electioneering, compounded by the nullification of the presidential poll by the Supreme Court, not only tested the tenacity of the nation’s jurisprudence but was a litmus test for the media.
For individual journalists, it was a depressing period as they were routinely subjected to harassment, physical attacks, threats and intimidation by actors such as the government, security agents, politicians and political parties and their supporters. A number of them suffered psychological trauma and physical injuries that could have long-term effects.
Clearly, the security and safety of journalists in Kenya is under threat. This affects the quality of press freedom, an imperative that is enshrined in the Constitution. In essence, the actions of State and non-State actors threaten the freedom of the media, which is detrimental to constitutionalism, democracy and the rule of law.
And the tail end of the electioneering period proved to be no less painful.
Following the January 30 mock swearing-in of National Super Alliance (Nasa) leader presidential candidate Raila Odinga as the ‘people’s president’, a crackdown targeting the broadcast media ensued. In one fell swoop, four leading privately owned television stations were shut down by the government for their disregard of a directive not to cover the event live.
The 10-day shutdown cost the stations millions of shillings in lost revenues and denied 80 per cent of TV viewers their right to access to information as several editors and journalists faced intimidation and threats of arrest by State agents.
Journalists were again to bear the brunt of brutality of the State machinery when they were beaten up and kicked out of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on March 26 as they covered the return of opposition activist Dr Miguna Miguna, who had been deported following Raila’s ‘swearing-in’.
Images of television journalists curled up on the ground, bleeding but clinging to their cameras, spoke volumes about the vulnerability of journalists and the lack of respect by state actors for media freedom.
Hopefully, that will be the last such blatant violation of media freedom in Kenya.
Indeed, as a new team takes over at the guild following its elections a fortnight ago, it does so with the resolute determination to make the entrenchment of media freedom a key — if not central — plank of its multifaceted agenda.
As the foremost body for senior journalists in the country, the KEG undertakes to engage in open discussions with all players in the media industry, the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and others to place the issue of media freedom at the core of democratic governance.
We commit to professional standards, enshrined in our code of conduct and underpinned by fidelity to accuracy and verification.
Similarly, we ask President Uhuru Kenyatta to demonstrate his commitment to the rule of law by ensuring that the media operate in a conducive environment.
Two pieces of legislation offer immediate opportunity for the President. Two years later, not one government agency has complied with the Access to Information Act (2016), especially on regulations. Secondly, the Computer and Cybercrimes Bill has just been passed by the National Assembly to much outcry, especially on provisions on fake news, which may be open to abuse.
It is a prerequisite of free media that journalists be allowed to operate without undue influence by government, political or commercial interests. The government must not only commit itself to press freedom in word but in deed.