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Covering the campaigns: Media should not cheerlead BBI

By Kodi Barth

Ever listened to a choir with one voice singing off-tune? That one voice scratches the ear – and not in a good way. Well, in the BBI chorus now playing full blast on Kenyan media, the Star on October 25 published one voice singing off-tune, but in a good way.

“Kongamano La Mageuzi: BBI proposals will weaken the Constitution, reject it,” said the headline of a story by Kevin Cheruiyot, which may get little notice.

Never mind who the heck is Kongamano la Mageuzi, which the story forgot to explain. This headline should snap people into attention.

Since Mashujaa Day when President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga received the Building Bridges Initiative report in Kisii, all the Kenyan media — print, broadcast and online outlets — has not stopped singing BBI this, BBI that.

Voices of political bigwigs, Uhuru and Raila and their troops, are shouting from the rooftops in support. On the other hand, Deputy President William Ruto’s brigade is clearing their voices to oppose the BBI, even before a motion on it is crafted for debate.

The result in the media is a predictable, monotonous refrain. Sample just one news cycle’s headlines, October 25-26.

Daily Nation: “Uhuru tells off critics of BBI report;” “BBI falls short on poll disputes: Murkomen;” “Ruto’s tough terms on BBI.”

The Standard: “Uhuru dares Ruto to walk the talk.” “BBI: the return of the Government in Parliament;” “Why medics are an unhappy lot with BBI.”

The Star: “BBI battle begins as Uhuru, Raila move to Bomas.” “Ruto: BBI must be people driven and all-inclusive.”

The same were repeated, almost verbatim, on the news houses’ respective broadcast channels.

Nothing unexpected.

The Standard may have published an out-of-tune voice with this headline: “Anti-BBI proponents emerge days after launch.” But the story by Jacob Ngetich, which said that a section of political leaders and civil society will push for the rejection of the bid to amend the Constitution, did not hit the unique point that the Star’s out-of-tune piece did.

How? The Standard’s story said, reject this bid to change the Constitution because it’s a personal push by Uhuru and Raila. On the other hand, the Star story said this would weaken the Constitution, period.

The Star’s story strikes a point that should stop the choir. Over time, what may happen to the 2010 Constitution?

Kenya has been here before. Remember the country’s independence Constitution? Scholars say it was a concise, solid masterpiece. Then, the bad blood between the founding President Jomo Kenyatta and his erstwhile ally Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga opened the floodgates that wrecked the Constitution.

The President, with full control of the levers of state power, begun to marshal his troops in Parliament to systematically amend the Constitution in his favour.

Kenyatta’s successor Daniel arap Moi perfected the act, hitting a climax with the infamous 1982 Section 2A, which with finality reduced Kenya into a de jure one-party state, effectively ordering, “Everybody, shut up! Kenya shall have one choir! No one sings off-tune! End of discussion!”

By the time the country started the clamour for a new Constitution and return to multiparty democracy, the independence Constitution was so mutilated it was unrecognizable.

The Star’s story may not have said it clear enough, but it rings a bell. People pay attention! Here comes the start of constitutional mutilation!

So, media should not fill air space and print columns merely with Uhuru-Raila brigade said this, and Ruto brigade said that. That would be cheerleading the BBI march. Let the off-tune voices sing.

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