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It’s a tough time to be a journalist in Kenya

In two short weeks, Kenyans have witnessed an unprecedented clampdown on the country’s often celebrated media. And you know how Western media tends to pay attention to Africa only when things are bad? Well, now we have plenty of footage for the BBC, CNN and all major newspapers out there.

Many voices here at home and abroad have condemned the shutdown of KTN, NTV and Citizen television stations on 29 January as a violation of a fundamental freedom in the Constitution of Kenya.

According to the Kenya Editor’s Guild, the TV shutdown followed an explicit directive from State House to editors and media managers that they should not cover the controversial inauguration of the NASA leader Raila Odinga as the ‘People’s President’ on 30 January 2018.

Thereafter, NTV senior journalists Linus Kaikai, the incumbent chairman of the Editor’s Guild, Ken Mijungu and Larry Madowo holed themselves up in their upstairs offices at Nation Centre in downtown Nairobi for over 24 hours as word spread that police had laid siege downstairs to arrest them.

The three journalists later obtained a court order stopping their intended arrest.

Then there was the chilling media briefing on 31 January at Jogoo House by Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i.

The government had “credible and incontrovertible evidence”, he said, that on the day of Raila’s planned oath “a massacre of catastrophic proportions” was to be executed and blamed on the police.

The country was told that some media houses were implicated in the plot.

Consequently, Secretary Matiangi declared a wide-scale investigation targeting individuals and institutions, which, he said “include but are not limited to certain media houses.”

In the same week on 2 February, President Uhuru Kenyatta was reported to have “chased away” journalists from a function at the Kenya School of Government. A video clip of the incident, now widely syndicated on mainstream media and shared on social media, shows the president reading from prepared text. Then, suddenly, he looks up, faces the cameras and gesturing with his left hand, says, “Sasa si nyinyi mzime hizo vitu zenu na mwende? Kazi imekwisha.” [Why don’t you switch off your equipment and go away? There is no more work.]

On the same day, news reports said police chased away a battery of journalists from the headquarters of the Communications Authority of Kenya on Waiyaki Way, Nairobi. 

The journalists had gone to cover an alleged attempt to block activist Okiya Omtatah from serving the Authority with a court order to switch back on the three TV stations that had been shut down.

These events are troubling. The Constitution of Kenya guarantees media freedom and freedom of expression. In a message circulating in social media, veteran media personality Fred Obachi Machoka writes: “Media’s role the world over is to report things as they are. If someone says stuff, media reports. If someone does something, media reports. If something happens, media reports. If someone promises something and they don’t do it, media reports. In other words, media is like a wall mirror. If you are ugly, you don’t break the mirror.”

Kenya, let us not throw stones at the mirror.

See you Monday!

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