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Sovereignty, rule of law and all that: What media missed in Sonko US travel ban

It was breaking news. A bombshell. Someone more powerful than Kenyan justice had – at last – caught Mike Sonko. Phew! End of the road for disgraced King of Bling. On March 8 the US government slapped a travel ban on the impeached governor of Nairobi and his family.

The video clip featuring Eric Watnik, counsellor, public diplomacy at the US embassy in Nairobi, announcing the decision by Secretary of State Antony Blinken, received universal airplay. “US DROPS MIKE”, the NTV Tonight headline read.

The US took the drastic step due to Sonko’s “involvement in significant corruption,” Watnik said. His corruption “has been widely reported in the local and international press”.

“While in office, Governor Sonko solicited bribes and kickbacks in exchange for awarding government contracts to his associates. His actions undermined the rule of law and the public’s faith in democratic institutions and public processes”, the US statement said.

Sonko said he was “shocked” by the news and suggested the US action was politically instigated, coming just a day after he declared he would run again for Nairobi governor on August 9. “So I am wondering where the US government is getting this fake news from”.

The Daily Nation on March 9 dedicated seven pages to Mr Bling, declaring with finality: “The fall of Mike Sonko”. One of the stories was an analysis by veteran journalist Macharia Gaitho, who cheered the US decision:

“In an election year, there is every likelihood that the US wants to send out a strong signal that it is keeping a close watch on Kenya, and that all those vying for office are under scrutiny, particularly in an environment where electioneering is always accompanied by fears of organised violence akin to the 2007-2008 post-election meltdown.”

Implicit in this punditry is the suggestion that Kenya’s democratic institutions cannot guarantee a free, credible, and peaceful election. And, wadau, for how long will the PEV of 15 years ago remain the backdrop against which every Kenyan election is viewed? Do the lessons and reforms during that period count for nothing? Are there no conversations around elections the media can frame other than the spectre of mass violence? Is the country unable to move forward from that dark past? Must the PEV define us? Must we relive that trauma every election?

Equally puzzling is the blanket media approval of the US’s targeted sanctions against Sonko. Lion Place appeared constrained to justify the travel ban: “Cases that forced US to ban Sonko,” the Star splashed.

Mombasa Road gloated that Sonko deserved what hit him in a story titled, “How king of bling lost his shine after painting town red”. And so on.

Now, let’s consider just two points in this Sonko imbroglio. First, Washington is entitled to decide who enters their country. They don’t have to explain that decision to anyone except, perhaps, their own citizens. That is their unquestionable sovereignty.

Second, America stated it banned Sonko because of “his involvement in significant corruption”. This is the point that raises critical issues, which, strangely, the media completely ignored.

America has publicly stated that Sonko is guilty of corruption. But natural justice demands that no one is condemned unheard. Our Constitution protects citizen Sonko. Everyone is entitled to a fair trial, to due process. When, where and how was Sonko tried? Was he given opportunity to defend himself?

Sonko has active corruption cases in Kenyan courts. What are the implications of his public designation by the US as guilty on those cases? Ordinarily, it is sub judice to publicly discuss the merits of a court case. It amounts to contempt of court.

Yet the US says, “While in office, Governor Sonko solicited bribes and kickbacks in exchange for awarding government contracts to his associates. His actions undermined the rule of law and the public’s faith in democratic institutions and public processes”.

Doesn’t respect for the rule of law and faith in democratic institutions require that courts of law exclusively determine the guilt or innocence of accused persons?

Kenya and the US have close ties. One would expect that if Washington has damning evidence of a public figure like Sonko engaged in “significant corruption”, the evidence would be shared with Kenyan authorities to secure a conviction in a court of law. Isn’t that how to support the rule of law and build the public’s faith in democratic institutions and public processes?

Unfortunately, Kenyans can’t have this discussion because their media failed to ask the questions.

 

See you next week!

2 thoughts on “Sovereignty, rule of law and all that: What media missed in Sonko US travel ban”

  1. Innocent until proven guilty?
    Niggling detail.
    The Chinese would say, ‘ Kill the chicken to frighten the monkey.’

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