Press freedom in Kenya has suffered a major blow with the passing of the controversial Media bill which the Kibaki administration fought tooth and nail soaking in all sort of pressure to ensure that it was passed.
A clause cleverly sneaked in at the 11th hour forces journalists to divulge their source of information in the event that their articles or stories become the subject of a court case. This "sledge hammer" clause combined with the official secrets act that is still in place well over 40 years after independence, means that Anglo Leasing secrets and corruption in high places is safe from ever being unearthed.
The legendary Washington Post journalists who broke the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon's resignation got a tip off from somebody within government. It is highly unlikely that any such thing can ever happen in Kenya with the new media law in force.
It also means that no brave news source within the borders of the country is safe. They can always be exposed at any time. All somebody has to do is force the matter into court. Even criminals can now make use of this clause rather effectively to silence any would-be witnesses.
But I believe that Historians will also take note of one Mutahi Kagwe th main sponsor on behalf of the government of this retrogressive media bill. Kagwe is a former newspaper advertising manager and failed media entrepreneur (Mutahi's weekly newspaper launched with much fanfare using mostly his retirement benefits from the Standard, called the East African Chronicle folded after barely a year in existence leaving Kagwe up to his ears in debt. In fact at one point his home in Karen was advertised in the press by some auctioneer seeking to recover certain debts. It is widely believed that his father in-law, Internal security Minister John Michuki stepped in to save the situation.)
For a while after the Chronicle debacle Kagwe survived with his Public Relations outfit known as Tell Em PR which with his media contacts he used to get himself into the board of a leading Nairobi ad agency. Still it is instructive to note that Kagwe's fortunes were only fully revitalized by his new job—the amazing get rich-quick scheme in Kenya called, make-it-to-parliament-and-poverty-is-history.
What historians will note will not be so much this background of the Minister but the curious incident where he took time to consult with media stakeholders only to trash virtually everything that they had come up with and the Media bill that he finally emerged with was very strange. The big question is what caused this about-turn? Who was Kagwe taking orders from?
The answer is fairly obvious. It was from the president's men. Those inner cabinet dark shadows who make the actual decisions on how the country is run. Those greedy guys often portrayed in political cartoons in a leading daily as pigs with bulging stomachs and suitcases. The guys who are currently pushing a sickly, aging resident into a second term when they know very well the toll the presidency has already taken on his health to date. Their reasoning is that if Jomo Kenyatta ruled the country while being in and out of comas most of the time, then Kibaki is as fit as a fiddle in comparison. And therein lies the crux of the problem with the Kibaki administration—namely the fact that there are too many powerful people in it behaving as if we were still in the 70s.
The next question historians will ask themselves is why the inner cabinet should be so determined to pass the Media Bill, their way. The answer is simple. To protect a few people from scandals like Anglo Leasing and a few other major scams that the public do not know anything about—YET.
Nothing new in all this of course. Kenya has a long history of passing laws and amendments to laws targeted at a few people and sometimes at single individuals, rather than for posterity as should be the case with laws.
The most famous ones include the amendment made in the 60s pushing up the minimum age of a president to 35. It was targeted, with laser precision, at the charismatic Tom Mboya and Kenyatta's inner cabinet were buying time and wanted to at least sleep easy for a year or so before the guy hit 35 while they figured out how to deal with him.
Then there was the hurried amendment to give the president powers to pardon convicted persons, designed specifically to enable President Kenyatta to "forgive" Paul Ngei after he was found guilty of election offences.
I appeal to 10th parliament to make its' first order of business, deleting this ridiculous Media law that takes the country back to the 18th century.
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