Wednesday, July 23, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
July 22, 2008

A few years ago, at the height of NARC coalition squabbles in Kenya, the Kibaki regime considered The Standard Media Group a threat to its well being and national security. In its wisdom, the then Internal Security Minister ordered the invasion of its newsroom, TV station and printing press in the dead of the night.

As hooded goons of Caucasian complexion forced their way into the printing press five kilometers away to burn copies of the Standard that were leaving the warehouse that night, another group was busy at the KTN and Standard newsrooms in the Central Business District yanking cables and carting away loads of computers on to their vans. What they couldn’t carry away were the target of ruthless destruction.

When it was all over, the TV signal was damaged beyond repair, causing the broadcaster to go off air for nearly 18 hours!

In the middle of public condemnation of this arrogant attack against press freedom and malicious destruction to private property, John Michuki, then Minister for Internal Security called a press conference to confirm that indeed the goons that caused havoc at the Standard Media Group were government security agents. He warned other media houses to heed that example reiterating that “if you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it!”

Unfortunately for Kenya, the Standard raid was not the first and neither would it be the last. Earlier on during Moi’s last days in office, Royal Media suffered the same fate when government security operatives ransacked and vandalized the broadcast outfit in broad daylight in the full glare of the public.

Just before the Standard saga, Kenya’s First Lady invaded the Nation Media House in the dead of the night to protest at the Group’s persistent negative publicity against the First Family. In the process, she ripped off a camera from the hands of a Standard reporter injuring the journalist in the process.

Soon after the Standard raid, Waumini radio station, a Christian broadcasting station also had the rare opportunity of being visited by thugs with similar intentions. Despite reports to the authorities, no single prosecution has taken place against any suspects, raising speculation that the regime was behind all these criminal acts.

Late last week, it was the turn of Tanzania media fraternity to taste the bitter pill of state terrorism. Editor and publisher of one of the most radical newspapers in Tanzania, Mr. Saed Kubenea who publishes Mwanahalisi, had a rare visit from the Dar Es Salaam Police Commissioner last Saturday afternoon in the company of his officers. They had come to search his office, newsroom and private home to obtain bank documents believed to have been obtained from various banks implicating an array of influential personalities involved in a series of scandals that have been doing the rounds in the Tanzania press of late.

In a rare show of solidarity, the entire Tanzania media fraternity comprising of Media Owners Association, Editors Forum, the Media Council, Tanzania Journalists Association, the Media Institute of Southern Africa and FEMAT, called a press conference in the center of Dar es Salaam to express solidarity with Kubenea and to reassert their independence as members of the Fourth Estate.

According to The African, a Tanzanian English daily, it has now been confirmed that the search warrant the police officers used to search Kubenea’s offices and residence was genuine. It was issued by the Kusutu Resident Magistrate’s Court in Dar es Salaam.

The police maintain that they were looking for confidential information from bank accounts held by individuals and suspected to have been obtained illegally by the publisher.

At the joint media press conference, Tanzania Editors’ Forum chairman confirmed that the raid on Kubenea was not the first one. He had been attacked before by goons believed to be state security agents. In her words, this second episode was confirmation that the government was bent on gagging press freedom through intimidation to stop journalists from investigating and exposing scandals.

Scandals in question that involve high ranking government officials some of whom have lost their jobs include Richmond Power Generation Company contracts, the Bank of Tanzania External Payment Arrears, Bank of Tanzania Twin Towers Contract and the fraudulent sale of government owned Kiwira Coal Mine to Tan-Power Resources Limited a company owned by Benjamin Mkapa, his family and political friends. These scandals have of late caused several casualties in the Cabinet including the late Central Bank Governor Balali who died abroad recently.

What the journalists said at their own press conference was quite telling. They were wondering how, with so many scandals flying all over the place including revelations in Parliament, if all of the leaks were the work of journalists thieving! They question the speed with which journalists were harassed by the government security agents yet nobody was bothering to arrest and charge powerful people mentioned in the same scams.

According to Tanzanian journalists at the press conference, donors based in Dar es Salaam were getting concerned at the high level of official graft wondering aloud whether it was a good idea to continue giving Tanzania aid money.

On the harassment of journalists, they were incensed by the government’s eagerness to treat journalists as common street pickpockets yet the real culprits of this social vice slept soundly undisturbed. The editors resolved to declare that they would defend their rights against any threats to the best of their ability including their role as members of the Fourth Estate without fear or favour.

The Media Council of Tanzania in lending support to the press, warned the government that in trying to gag the press, it would end up gagging the public and denying them vital information on official corruption which as tax payers , the public was entitled to. It noted with concern that despite the latest harassment of Kubenea, no charges had been preferred against him or his publishing house. Ironically, though the Media Owners Association was heavily represented at the conference, it had no prepared statement, saying that as an organization, its members had not met to deliberate on the issue!

On their part, Tanzania journalists claimed that Kubenea and Mwanahalisi were being crucified because they had unearthed corruption in the government. They warned journalists that are fond of hobnobbing with government functionaries and corrupt politicians to be careful lest they fall victims of their own conflicts of interest.

They instructed the Media Owners Association of Tanzania to immediately send a protest note to the Minister for Information and to demand that the minister publicly apologizes to Mr. Kubenea and the Media fraternity in general.

The meeting was told that it was becoming apparent that the arms of government had conspired against the Fourth Estate to deprive it of its freedom to conduct its business. The media must therefore be prepared to fight this threat from the Executive, Parliament, the Judiciary and the Police Force.

They vowed not to report cases of corruption to the police before using such stories as had been demanded by the police saying that they were neither members of the Police Force nor subordinate to law enforcement officers.