Kimaiyo’s move against press a step in the wrong direction
“We must know all the facts and hear all the alternatives and listen to all the criticisms. Let us welcome controversial books and controversial authors. For the Bill of Rights is the guardian of our security as well as our liberty”. These words in celebration of free speech were uttered half-a-century ago by John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the vivacious 35th President of the United States of America. They reflect the “free world” view of civil liberties, and ring as true today as they did then.
This libertarian spirit impressively oozes right through all 264 articles of Kenya’s Constitution. Article 19 firmly declares, with neither ambiguity nor equivocation, that the Bill of Rights is an integral part of Kenya’s democratic state, and “the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights belong to each individual and are not granted by the state”.
Article 21 places a fundamental duty upon the State and every State organ “to observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights”. The only restriction is the ex press limitation clause in article 24.
Against this constitutional shield, moves by the Jubilee government to muzzle the media would have sounded quite hilarious, if they were not so tragic. The utterances and actions by police boss DavidKimaiyo must be a tacit reflection of the thinking at the highest echelons of the executive.
Security agencies firmly trained their fury on Standard Media Group’s CEO Sam Shollei and KTN journalists John Allan Namu and Mohamed Ali, who had been summoned to answer charges for “unlawful sending of misleading messages”. Their crime? The KTN investigate series on the fatal Westgate goofs, aptly titled “Zilizala la Westgate” and “Wolves at Westgate”.
Misleading messages? Puliiiiz! Even elementary school kids know how the security honchos wrangled, fumbled, fangled and bungled as dozens of lives perished. And there is equally nothing new in the revelation that while not a single terrorist has been sighted, dead or alive, there have been lots of sightings of goodies eerily disappearing through the hands of uniformed fellows, whose brief was to protect everything, including “bottles of water”.
This see-no-evil, hear-no-evil tune is chillingly spreading to Parliament. While the joint National Security and Defence committees are still conducting their inquiry, the chairmen, Asman Kamama (Tiaty, URP) and Ndung’u Gethenji (Kieni, TNA) somehow found sufficient evidence, on their own, to pronounce the military “Not Guilty” of looting!
I serve on the National Security Committee, and I am utterly dumbfounded and scandalised by this cheap, callous and mischievous gerrymandering with such a grave matter. The plot is thickening even further, as government prepares to ram through the National Assembly the Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill, whose defining feature is to snatch the media regulatory mandate from the Media Council (Media Act) by placing regulation of broadcast media under a “Communications Authority of Kenya” controlled tightly by the Cabinet Secretary for Information.
I am strongly opposing this Gestapo-style legislative posturing, tyranny of numbers or not! In this battle, I find solace in Mahatma Gandhi’s teaching that “an error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it. Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.”
The Jubilee government better wake up to the reality of article 34 of the Constitution, which casts in stone guarantees for freedom and independence of electronic, print and all other types of media. Of course with the caveat that this freedom does not extend to “propaganda for war, incitement to violence, hate speech, or advocacy of hatred”.
You do not need the permission of David Kimaiyo or Uhuru Kenyatta to enjoy them. They inhere in you! We must all jealously guard against those stuck in a time warp and still nostalgic of bygone despotic eras that we scattered to the four winds. As Rodger Baldwin acknowledges, “silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below.”
Writer is Budalang’i MP and Chair of Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee