Monday, February 2, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Africa News On Line
Nairobi, Kenya
February 2, 2009

2008 ended on a fast pace for Kenyans. There was hunger and anger all over the place. As hundreds of Kenyans died while 10 million people faced starvation, thousands of tons of maize had found their way into Sudan; courtesy of the political class. Yes, Kenyans were so enraged that they heckled President Kibaki during his Jamhuri address for doing nothing as they faced starvation.

Along with soaring food prices was the chagrin with MPs for refusing to pay their taxes even as ordinary Kenyans were taxed to their bones. Kenyans were at a loss how they could sustain the lavish lifestyles of a group of people with their meager earnings when in fact the same 220 people had refused to pay taxes.

As the media led the onslaught on MPs over taxes, the same MPs thought it was time to teach the media a lasting lesson. They passed a law that would forever put the media on a leach. They had in law empowered the government to shut down media houses at will should it deem the particular media house to be a threat to national security or not following the prescribed code of conduct prepared by the government.

As soon as this bill was passed into law, it did the trick for the august house. Soon the reaction of the media against the law was fast as furious. They immediately forgot to agitate for the MPS’ salaries. They turned their guns on Kibaki in the hope that he would reverse the law.

As usual, Kibaki took them for a ride again. In the dead of the night, Uhuru Kenyatta took a few government friendly media owners to State House to present their grievances. In that meeting Kibaki took the opportunity to order Amos Wako and Information minister to reexamine at the law. With that midnight meeting, the media war against the government was lost; at least according to one senior member of the Media Council of Kenya.

Soon after, various government voices including that of Parliament were very telling; that the media law was irreversible and that the industry had better get used to it and toe the line.

Before the media was able to digest the implications of the media law, new newsworthy scams in the oil and tourism industries not to mention the National Cereals Board took center stage completely burying, almost forever any mention of MPs salaries or media law.

And now, with Amos Kimunya returning to the cabinet even before the Cockar Commission findings on the Grand Regency are made public; with the government fighting tooth and nail to meet the Waki Commission deadlines, it would appear like our media as it is set up today; is incapable of keeping up with breaking news. Reporters and editors are stretched beyond their limits. Or is it just lack of staying power on a particular story?

And now with two devastating fires breaking out in Nairobi’s Central Business District with another oil tanker exploding in Rift Valley just days apart causing nearly 150 lives, it is almost impossible that issues like MPs’ salaries, media law and corruption in the oil and tourism industries will reappear on our news radars soon! At least not now when the government has declared seven days to mourn our dead!

The tragedy of forgetting crucial issues such as taxation of our MPs or a punitive law that allows the invasion of media houses by government agents will adversely affect the fight against impunity. Yes, failing to pay taxes by the most privileged class is one form of impunity that this country can ill afford.

Legalizing the destruction of media facilities by an irate government security agent is the kind of impunity that will forever remind us of the dark days of Moi’s rule or those regrettable days when the colonial majoni would invade the privacy of a Kikuyu peasant’s household under the pretext of looking for Mau Mau insurgents

As the media allows maize thieves and Triton scams go scot free, let them remember that Ks 7 billion lost to a single Kenyan of Asian origin, Ks 800 million lost in the maize scam together with another Ks 75 million lost at Kenya Tourism Board would have gone a long way in building another road from Nairobi to Busia. Just imagine how many extra teachers we would have employed to teach our children in overcrowded primary schools in our slums and rural areas.

Yes, we may be overwhelmed but let us never forget that all Kenyans must pay their taxes.

Let us never forget to press for the 2007 war criminals to be taken to The Hague or maize and oil thieves to be hauled into courts just because we are mourning our dead. Nakumatt managers who ordered the gates of hell to be slammed must face proper and speedy prosecution!