Media Bill: Following Zimbabwe’s footsteps

by Scott A Morgan

Several years ago there was a concerted effort among those who are advocates for a free press regarding Zimbabwe. The country had a controversial election and the government was launching efforts to shut down its most vocal critic, The Daily News. Zimbabwe had set up a Media and Information Commission and has used legislation to further silence critics.

In 2002, the Zimbabwe parliament passed the highly controversial Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act. This legislation which was promptly signed into law by President Mugabe was considered to be draconian by most critics overseas. As a matter of fact the Daily News was forced to relocate to neighboring South Africa. Other independent journalists relocated either to South Africa or Britain and most news now comes from the Ministry of Information or reliable international allies.

Currently, two of the most vocal regional critics of the Mugabe regime are Kenya and Botswana. Both countries this year have tried to enact similar legislation that could curtail freedom of the press in the two countries. Both countries are allies of the United States.

The Kenya Communications Amendment Bill 2008 or the ICT bill in the short form has some strong language. Article 86 of the bill will give the minister of information the power to interrupt broadcasts, dismantle TV and radio stations and tap telephones. The internal security minister will gain the power to seize broadcasting equipment.

There has been a backlash against the media in Kenya after the violent aftermath of last December’s presidental elections. Currently the bill has been passed by Parliament and is awaiting President Mwai Kibaki’s assent.

The internal situation in Botswana is somewhat different from Kenya. The country had a peaceful transition of government this year but it has a similar media bill as well. The Mass Media Practitioners Bill, if enacted, will give the Minister of Communication, Science and Technology the power to dictate how the private press can conduct its business.

These are just two examples that we can use to determine freedom of the press in Africa.

Most newspapers now have internet sites so this means that when crackdowns occur, computers are also seized. in Zimbabwe the security forces have the power to actually seize a computer on a whim if it feels that anti-government activities occur. It is not known if the security forces in either Kenya or Botswana have similar powers as well.

However the concern cannot be limited to just Kenya or Botswana. Freedom of the press is a legitimate concern in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as insurgencies in the east continue and the government and UN peace keepers are unable to stop them. At least 90 percent of attacks, threats and harassment committed against independent journalists were done by government personell without fear of punishment.

Now we are seeing a threat to online journalists as well. In Zimbabwe we know that any journalist, regardless of medium, is subject to arbitrary arrest but there are other countries that have similar efforts.

In Burundi an online journalist was arrested in September and charged with defamation. His crime? Being critical of a presidential trip to the Beijing Olympics. Relations between the government of neighboring Rwanda and the media are strained as well.

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The author publishes Confused Eagle on the internet and comments on US policy towards Africa. Confused Eagle can be found at morganrights.tripod.com
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Torture in Mt Elgon confirmed by newspaper photo

As the Kenya Army denies torturing civilians in Mt Elgon, a photo published in the Standard daily is one of the first documents proving that the allegations are true.

An army officer stands guard as a group of people swim in the mud in Mt Elgon. They do not appear like they are doing it willingly though. Picture by the Standard newspaper.

An army officer stands guard as a group of people swim in the mud in Mt Elgon. They do not appear like they are doing it willingly though. Picture by the Standard newspaper.

Discontent on the rise as greedy politicians steal state maize

Kenyan politicians have lost all shame as they out-do each other in squeezing the last drop of blood from the country’s long-suffering citizens.

It is now emerging that politicians and their allies are putting pressure on the state-owned National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) to stop selling staple grains to milling companies.

Instead, the NCPB is forced to sell to the politicians at low prices so that they can demand hefty profit margins from millers.

As a result, consumer prices for maize meal have risen from Kshs85 (US1.1) to Kshs120 ($1.5) within a week. The price increase is disastrous in a country where more than half the population is surviving on less than $1 per day.

Kenya’s supermarket shelves are empty, an eerie resemblance to the situation in Zimbabwe. As a result of this unprecedented state of affairs, massive discontent is brewing among the Kenyan populace, as a greedy ruling elite plots the next orgy of rape, murder and ethnic cleansing.

In recent weeks, Kenyan legislators and judges have resisted paying taxes even as manual labourers earning a few dollars a day bear the burden of financing a bloated 42 member cabinet.

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Below are excerpts of the story from the Daily Nation (click here for the full story).
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A racket involving senior politicians and businessmen has been blamed for the artificial shortage of maize and maize flour that has hit many parts of the country.

Investigations by the Nation indicate that the politicians have been buying maize from the cereals board and selling it to millers at exorbitant prices.

Letters from the Ministry of Agriculture are being used by the cartel to authorize the purchase of maize from the National Cereals and Produce Board. The cartel later resells the maize to millers at a higher price.

The shortage of maize has seen the price of the staple maize meal shoot from an average Sh85 a week ago to Sh120 for the two-kg packet.

Sources have revealed that those in the cartel, including a number of MPs, have made millions of shillings from the dubious deals.

On Monday, Prime Minister Raila Odinga held a crisis meeting with a Cabinet sub-committee on food security where they decided that middlemen be pushed out of the maize business.

Fears are also emerging that the cartel has been engaging in similar dealings for sugar and fertiliser, whose prices have been on the increase since the beginning of the year.

The politicians and businessmen are said to be buying a 90-kg bag of maize at Sh1,700 ($21.8) and selling it to the millers at between Sh2,200 and Sh2,700 ($28.2 – $34.6).

It is, however, believed that the politicians are not using their money in the shady deals. Instead, they have been acting as brokers. According to one reliable source, several associates of the politicians showed up three weeks ago at the cereals board depots with letters authorizing them to buy 25,000 bags of maize each.

After the dubious deal, each of the politicians earned between Sh12.5 million and Sh25 million ($160,000 – $320,000) depending on the price at which they sold the maize.

The price of maize flour has shot up by up to 50 per cent in the recent past to retail at Sh120. Millers have warned of an acute shortage of the product that was selling at between Sh80 and Sh85 only a week ago.

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What are your comments regarding the conduct of leadership in Kenya?

Prison warders beating inmates – shocking video

Kenya’s prison warders were recorded beating naked inmates in a lengthy orgy of violence whose video has shocked the nation.

An inmate died in the ordeal while dozens are nursing life-threatening injuries. Initially, the Prisons Department attributed the death of the inmate to natural causes.

Viewer discretion advised due to disturbing images. Please click on this link:

http://www.youtube.com/v/_1hPWwlJE74&hl=en&fs=1

Mandera people flee Army torture

In an ironical tragedy, residents of the Kenyan border town of Mandera are seeking safety in war-ravaged Somalia as a military operation by Kenya’s government is marred by rape, torture and looting.

An army officer told the Mandera chief, “Your authority is now under my feet.”

Discontent is brewing in Mandera as hospitals over-flow with victims of torture. Matters became worse last week when the government arrested former Mandera Central Member of Parliament, Billow Kerrow, for criticizing the security operation. Mr Kerrow was released today as protests grew.

Government civil servants have not been spared in the operation, which the Army says is meant to mop up illegal firearms. Citizen Television reports that five chiefs are in hospital with severe injuries inflicted during interrogation.

One of the chiefs on television says that he was stripped of his uniform by a military officer who then stomped on it on the sand. According to the middle-aged chief, his tormentor laughed at him and said, “Sasa mamlaka ya chief iko chini ya miguu yangu,” which means, “Now, the authority of the chief is under my feet.” As a result, the Kenyan government risks weakening its own structures in a region notorious for lawlessness.

The latest conflict in Mandera began a few weeks ago when rival Somali clans began fighting over land and politics. The area is inhabited by the Somali ethnic group, most of whom have relatives in the Republic of Somalia just across the border.

As fighting worsened, militias from Somalia intervened on behalf of their kinsfolk. Concerns arose within Kenya’s security forces that some of those Somali militias have links to Islamist insurgents in Somalia, currently doing battle with Ethiopian troops. These worries pushed the military to launch an operation in Mandera but its highly possible that the Somali militias had long left the area, leaving civilians to bear the brunt of the operation.

The Mandera operation is the second time this year Kenya’s Army is facing claims of brutality. At the opposite side of the country, in Mount Elgon, the Army has been implicated in the disappearances of hundreds and the torture of thousands in a campaign against the Sabaot Land Defence Force (SLDF). Some people were brutalized so badly that they will be maimed for life.

However, unlike Mandera, the residents of Mount Elgon have defended the military’s actions. For two years, the SLDF had inflicted terrible torture on its victims.

Because of the Mount Elgon operation, international and local human rights organizations asked the United Nations to bar Kenya’s military from peace keeping operations. At the time, the United Nations did not make a statement regarding the Kenya Army.

If the Mandera operation continues for much longer and with clear evidence of human rights violations, the United Nations may no longer continue turning a blind eye.

Prominent careers in political toilet

The Waki Report on post election violence has consigned the careers of Kenya’s top politicians into the toilet of collective memory among the citizens of the republic.

Indeed, the post election violence that killed at least 1,000 Kenyans and made half a million refugees in their own country has irredeemably tainted Kenya’s top political leadership.

Citizens across the republic are pondering in groups how they could have allowed themselves to be manipulated by a conniving class of political hypocrites who are now engorging themselves on the country’s meagre riches, while belching out incredible statements of forgiveness.

For the past five years, Kenyans were fed an endless diet of ethnic hatred by politicians unable to see far beyond their distended bellies. Ethnic groups were incited against each other, and made to believe that their poverty and misery was caused by the opposing side. Come the elections of 2007, five years of instigation erupted into an orgy of violence.

State authority collapsed in most parts of the country, especially the Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces. Government offices were looted, police officers killed and infrastructure blown up. Thousands of people were attacked, raped and killed as property went up in flames. The blame for the near collapse of Kenya falls on the political classes, whose selfishness has astounded the international community.

Now, the chickens are finally coming home to roost for Kenya’s cruel and corrupt leaders thanks to the Waki Report on post election violence. Of course, the political players would rather turn the Waki Report into toilet paper, but it is they who are going down the political sewer tubes, hopefully, for good.

As the Waki Report explains, President Mwai Kibaki cannot escape blame for the sorry state of affairs Kenya finds itself entangled in. His weak leadership allowed the rise of demagogues across the ethnic divide who exploited the resultant vacuum to raise hateful temperatures. Kibaki’s behavior can be described as negligent at best and incompetent at worst.

In the future, Kenyans will remember Kibaki more for his weak leadership than for anything else. Kibaki spent his first term in office trying to make the economy grow, which it did briefly in 2006 – 2007. However, all that growth was destroyed within the first three months of 2008, in effect negating all of his handiwork.

Kenyans will recall Kibaki as a leader who failed to unite the people, who allowed corruption to fester during his term of office, and who allowed impunity to rule. The deaths of 1,000 people in ethnic clashes will forever blot all recollection of his memory. The callous killings of 500 Kikuyu youths for alleged Mungiki membership will not be forgotten any time soon. If anything, the only reason the Kikuyu voted for Kibaki was because there did not exist a viable alternative.

And the reason why that alternative did not exist was because Prime Minister Raila Odinga was making bellicose statements that only added to ethnic incitement in the country. Moving across Kenya describing the Kikuyu as “adui” or enemy is not exactly the hallmark of a statesman. Raila and his ODM party made the Kikuyu a scapegoat for all of Kenya’s problems.

The violence of 2008 was largely the consequence of such loose, irresponsible talk. Though Kenyans are credited for having short memories, its highly unlikely that Raila can comfortably win the country’s presidency because of his recent past. Hardly surprising then, that his lieutenants are proposing that the president be elected by parliament. Its easier to convince 222 legislators to vote for you than to campaign for votes among 18 million voters. For that, Raila’s place in the political toilet is guaranteed.

It is impossible for the likes of Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Najib Balala and Musalia Mudavadi to make it into the presidency. Their reputations have irredeemably been scorched through their links to violence. Even though they may not have engaged in actual acts of violence against other Kenyans, the fact that they did little to stop it implies guilt by association. Instead of stopping violence in their constituencies, they kept quiet. Mudavadi even went for holiday at the coast.

Kenyans should realize that the path towards achieving justice for the victims of violence will not be easy. The guilty parties have in their control vast wealth and power which they will use to frustrate prosecution. In any case, the Attorney General is one of their own and he has already described the Waki Report as lacking in evidence.

Faced with the prospects of international prosecution, the Kenyan ruling elite is banding together while calling for a “homegrown” solution. Political entities named in the Waki Report should not be allowed to continue with their endless proselytizing at the expense of innocent lives among the majority poor.

Just a few months ago, clarion calls of, “No justice, No peace” rent the air as the political elites exploited ordinary citizens in the battle for state control – and the rewards that go with it. At the time, intellectual mercenaries-for-hire wrote acres of newspaper columns trying to explain that the absence of war was not peace.

Now, the same same intellectuals are trying to justify the inexcusable, claiming that prosecuting the masterminds of post election violence will disrupt peace and spark off fresh chaos. If these academics could not value peace early this year, why is peace suddenly so important to them now? For behaving like characters of loose morals who will do anything for small money, these pseudo intellectuals have earned their place in the national toilet.

Amidst the recriminations of Kenya’s zero leadership, who will be the winner? For once, the ordinary Kenyan has seen that the political class do not care about the people’s interests. The exposure of the rotting carcass of Kenya’s leaders is good news for those hoping for a leadership revolution in the country.

A new class of fresh, untainted and committed persons is sorely needed to lead the people into an epoch of unity and prosperity for all. The Waki Report should be the starting point for the much-needed political purge. Yes, it will be painful but what is the alternative?

Secret tank deal shows poor priorities

A secret tank deal by Kenya’s Army would have gone unnoticed if Somali pirates hadn’t hijacked a Ukrainian ship ferrying the 33 tanks to the port of Mombasa.

diesel, benzene and kerosene.

The Russian built T-72 tank can run on three types of fuel: diesel, benzene and kerosene.

Its not clear when the Department of Defence placed an order for T-72 tanks from Russia. The Army has not explained how much it spent on the equipment, neither has it explained the role of the 33 tanks in Kenya’s security strategy.

Apart from tanks, Somali pirates found tons of ammunition and auxiliary equipment within the ship, which they have threatened to offload for use in their country’s civil war. The pirates are demanding US$35 million in ransom before they release the vessel and its cargo.

Typical of most African governments, Kenya’s leaders are spending billions of dollars on security while ordinary people die of hunger, disease and poor shelter. Kenya ranks at the bottom of international social and economic indicators.

A growing population is putting pressure on neglected infrastructure. Public hospitals lack drugs as thousands of Kenyans perish each year on a road network broken to the point of tatters. Kenyan cities are going without fresh water due to lack of investment in water production.

The capital city of Nairobi is getting less water today than it was receiving a decade ago after a colonial era dam collapsed at Sasumua. The port city of Mombasa gets water from a supply system built by the British when the town’s population was less than a third of current figures.

Lack of investment in electricity production has made Kenya’s electricity tariffs the highest in Africa. Industries suffer from constant power blackouts which have undermined economic growth, leading to massive losses and job cuts.

Agricultural production in Kenya is far below demand. The country is producing less coffee, maize, tea, wheat, millet and everything else compared to twenty years ago. Sugar milling companies in Western Kenya, stuck with 19th century technology, are creaking out low quality sugar in significantly less quantities than when Kenya was a British colony.

Amidst all these, the Kenyan government has seen it fit to invest billions of shillings in military equipment. As stated earlier, if it wasn’t for Somali pirates, majority of Kenyans would never have known that tanks were about to get imported into the country. But, lack of priority in government procurement appears to be the norm these days.

Its been announced that Kenya will spend about $23 million in the purchase of second-hand fighter jets from the Kingdom of Jordan. The F-5 fighter that the Kenyan Airforce is so fond of went out of production in 1989, meaning that the jets Kenya is buying are at least 19 years old. Kenya will also pay Jordan to train its pilots in using the junk aircraft.

Meanwhile, other branches of the security forces are on a shopping bonanza. Regular and Administration police have enhanced their recruitment drives to boost numbers. They are receiving modern equipment, weapons, 4-wheel drive trucks, uniforms and riot gear. Considering the conduct of police during the post-election violence, its obvious that this enhanced expenditure is not for the benefit of ordinary men and women.

The Kenya Police has just finished rehabilitating giant Russian-built helicopters fitted with night-vision equipment, gun detectors and communications technology. The helicopters will carry a team of quick response officers assisted by highly trained dogs.

Just this week, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights – a government body – blamed police for the execution of 500 Kikuyu youth and the disappearance of scores of others. According to survivors, the dead and the disappeared were all abducted by people identifying themselves as police officers. A man whose dramatic arrest in Nairobi was shown on the front page of the Daily Nation, was later found dead in the city mortuary.

For most Kenyans, the acquisition of helicopters, night vision equipment and vicious dogs can only portend doom as far as personal freedoms are concerned.

By purchasing bigger weapons to arm a greater number of police and soldiers, the Kenyan government is treading a path set by authorities in situations of high wealth inequality. Kenya is among the top three most unequal societies on earth.

On one hand there is an extremely wealthy minority whose standard of living can comfortably secure them a place among the world’s rich and famous. On the opposite extreme is a majority of people without access to adequate food, housing, health care and education. These are people whose future is so bleak that the only options are crime, prostitution, alcoholism and violence.

Amidst this depressing scenario, authorities seek to preserve the status quo by unleashing greater surveillance of the disadvantaged majority. The objective is to make life safer and easier for the rich minority.

The fruits of economic growth are used to buy guns instead of building roads. Public funds are used to buy tanks instead of medicines for government hospitals. In an unequal society, the government will find it better to employ soldiers and police rather than employing doctors and teachers. Instead of facilitating constructive engagement between the rich and the poor, the system is designed to keep them apart.

Such trends have happened elsewhere and Kenya is blindly going down the same path. Unfortunately, that particular path usually ends up in self-destruction, for the human spirit cannot tolerate oppression forever.