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DP Gachagua’s attack on columnists threatens freedom of expression

By Dex Mumo

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s attack on Kenyan columnists, who, according to him, have been predicting that Kenya’s Kwanza government could cartwheel in the future, threatens freedom of expression.

Speaking on Sunday, 15, 2023, while on their tour of Bomet County, the Deputy President hit out at columnists, warning them to stop “advising us on how to lead.”

The DP said, “Tunataka kuwaambia nyinyi mnaandika macolumn, ati mnatuambia tutapata shinda pale mbele. Sasa ile shida tunaweza kupata pale mbele si ni kidogo kuliko ile tumekuwa nayo? Sisi tumekuwa na shinda kubwa. Tena hata tukipata shinda pale mbele, shida yenu ni gani? Na mlikuwa mnasema hatufai? Don’t advise us on how to lead! (We want to tell those who are writing columns you are telling us that we will have problems in the future. The challenges we can face in the future are fewer compared to what we already went through. We have gone through a lot. Even if we have challenges, what is your worry? You even said we were not fit to lead. Don’t advise us on how to lead!).

This is the first time the Kenya Kwanza government is daring journalists. President William Ruto was also quick to support his deputy in a retort saying, “Kuna watu wengine wanaendesha propaganda ati nimempatia hiyo kazi ati ni mtego ndio yeye aanguke.” (There are those who are peddling propaganda saying that I gave him some work as a trap so that he fails).

Although the President did not directly mention media reports in this statement, he was clearly adding to what his deputy said. The quick rejoinder implies that the two had discussed the matter.

Could that be a sign that the government is out to censor the media? Article 33 of the Constitution of Kenya guarantees that, “Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes: (a) freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas; provided such freedom does not extend to propaganda for war; incitement to violence; hate speech; or advocacy of hatred that constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm; or is based on any ground of discrimination.”

We remember that Uhuru Kenyatta’s government started with a warm welcome to the media at State House for tea. Then, two years later, President Kenyatta dismissed newspaper reports that pitted his relationship with his deputy in a similar Bomet platform.

Is this a coincidence? The President has been in the public domain stating that they are ready for constructive criticism. It is a resolution they should follow to the letter. A few months after the new government came into power, such threats to journalists do not augur well for the scribes.

Ruto and his deputy are hitting at the media sooner than Uhuru Kenyatta did. Before they go further, the government should cultivate freedom of expression unless the opinions of journalists are contrary to the provisions of the Constitution of Kenya.

Only when media enjoys freedom of expression can it play its role as the Fourth Estate. A free and vibrant media means an informed society, and criticism should be used for strengthening the other arms of government. They mean well!

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