Wednesday, September 8, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

September 8, 2010

This week, East Africa had an important guest visiting our region. Prince Edward, the Earl of Wessex was in Nairobi for a special reason. He came to join President Kibaki at the award ceremony of the now annual Gold Award for young achievers. As is the tradition, this ceremony is always conducted at the State House open ground.

Why did Prince Edward attend the ceremony in Africa and in Kenya in particular? The reason he came is because The President’s Award Kenya is a member of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. As a member of the Royal family, Prince Edward is the Patron of this prestigious award that covers 21 countries that includes Tanzania and Uganda in Africa and over 100 countries worldwide.

The Prince was here as a state guest and as a friend of young people of Kenya. Therefore having witnessed the awards ceremony, he spent the whole afternoon with young people at Africa’s Award headquarters in Upper Hill Nairobi where he took the opportunity to open the regional office, plant a commemorative tree and accept a Land Rover donation from Jaguar- Land Rover of South Africa to the Africa Regional office.

During the State House ceremony and later at Upper Hill, the Prince was in his elements, mingling freely with young people from various schools in Kenya. It was the closest chance many young Kenyans had to shake hands with the British royalty without the inconvenience of elaborate security detail.

It was therefore strange and intriguing to open the pages of a leading news paper and be confronted with unbecoming accounts of alleged escapades of the Prince years before he even got married. Yes, the Prince may have been all those things and more that the writer chose to zero in on. But how many of us even in the media have skeletons in our closets that we may never feel good about when revealed to the public in wrong circumstances? Don’t we have so many of our high and mighty engaging in questionable acts from time to time? Don’t we have our cities abuzz with all sorts of rumors about our leaders and celebrities? Don’t we have media owners, foreign and local, top media managers foreign and local of questionable character?

Prince Edward came here to meet young people, mentor them and give them hope for a better life. He came here to motivate them and made nearly a thousand young Kenyans believe that yes, they can make it. Yet, this friendly visit was turned into a nightmare for our visitor, very much against the grain of our African culture and traditions. In Africa, no matter how wayward your visitor is, you try and remain polite and civil with him during his visit. You can say anything you want of him after he is gone; not when the visitor is still around.

Let me put it this way. In Britain, there is a class of news papers called the tabloids. These are the equivalents of our yellow papers. They thrive on gossip and rumour mongering. They hound royalty and other public figures. They fed on Princess Diana’s personal life until she went to her grave. They have taunted Prince Charles and Camilla for the better part of their lives.

In Britain, they have their market, a class of people obsessed with royalty and stardom. In most occasions, these tabloids manufacture stories to feed the appetites of a hungry audience. If they can’t find fact, they manufacture one. The more reason some of the claims they made against Prince Edward turned out to be false. Yet, because of the availability of such stories in the internet, our papers that claim to be papers of record can bend that low to download such trash and pass them on as good journalism.

This incident made me think of Chapter 2 Article 34 of our newly promulgated constitution. Whereas this article gives wide and almost unlimited freedoms of the media, it at the same time warns the press to exercise this freedom with caution and to observe Article 33 Section 2 before it. In that article, Press Freedom is allowed as long as it is not used to propagate war, incite a group of people to violence, hate speech or vilify an individual.

The article on Prince Edward did not propagate war but it certainly incited Kenyans who never knew him well to start doubting his character. It vilified him and portrayed him in bad light especially in the eyes of young Kenyans he had come to meet and inspire.

Part 3 of Article 33 is very candid on the limits of Press Freedom. It says that “in the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, every person shall respect the rights and reputation of others. This journalist in question certainly had no regards for Edward’s rights and reputation.

In his desire to embarrass Prince Edward, this journalist was no different from that mob at Uhuru Park that indiscriminately booed foreign and national leaders they didn’t fancy during our promulgation ceremony. As journalists we should know better than to behave like street mobs.