Sunday, January 4, 2009



By Gakuu Mathenge

When he ignored local and international concerns on the Communications of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2008 to sign it into law on Friday, President Mwai Kibaki deliberately turned to syntax to justify an improper act. His Government resorted to propaganda to portray media practitioners, human rights activists and lawyers — among other critics — as too ignorant to understand depth and potency of the venom in the new law.

He portrayed thousands of experts opposed to the law as too ignorant to comprehend the intricacy of his decision or too haughty to care for the purported good aspects of the new law and its role in fulfilling the Vision 2030 dream.

We all want the country to prosper. We want a better future for our children, an environment that attracts investors, and a people who stand for the national good. But this can only be achieved with good laws, which is why we are upset with the President’s decision to assent to a Bill that negates the very basic of aspirations of our country.

It is unfortunate that the President claims that section 88 is not part of the amendments passed by the Parliament in December, lack of quorum notwithstanding. This is the ominous section that empowers the Minister for Internal Security to storm media houses and confiscate broadcast equipment.

It is curious for the Head of State to twist the truth, ignore salient issues and popular appeal and make Kenyans believe he is making a credible argument.

It is alarming if he innocently believes or has been made to believe that the draconian law he has assented to is his New Gift to Kenyans.

As stated by the President, section 88 belongs to the Communications of Kenya Act of 1998, established to direct telecommunications and two-way radio communications.

However, when the Minister for Information and Communications purported to amend the 1998 Act to include the broadcast and new information technology sectors through a new Bill, he left its most draconian section intact.

The nexus between the two laws is unnerving, except to the President and self-styled experts on moral turpitude, new media, the Rwanda genocide, responsible journalism and pornography and media laws and ethics.

Kibaki conveniently ignored the many areas of concern about these bad laws, including the Internal Security minister’s immense powers to interpret, decide and impose a state of emergency in concert with ‘friendly’ appointees at the proposed Communications Commission of Kenya.

The destiny of this country should be left to neither a conniving Presidency and Judiciary nor pliant and conspiratorial Parliament, which in the Kenyan case represent a confluence and flirtation of diabolic interests the democratic majority have been trying to overturn since 1963.

This low point in Press freedom, hence democracy itself, reminds us the incompleteness of Kenya’s journey to true democracy. It teaches the need for eternal vigilance and jolts Kenyans to the reality of leaders who ascend to power preaching democracy but nurture authoritarianism once on the throne.

The new media law is a sad chapter in the history of the nation and will, definitely, be a major blot to Kibaki’s legacy and that of the key pillars of his administration.

At a time when most regimes in the world are busy expanding the horizons of democracy, it is unfortunate that we are reducing the gains we have painstakingly made.

However all is not lost. We take solace in the assurance that Parliament may repeal the new law when it resumes.