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Mr Gava Spokesmũndũ, job of journalists is to ask ‘maswali ya kipuzi’

At the White House press conference during President William Ruto’s state visit to the United States, one of Kenya’s most brilliant journalists, Ayub Abdikadir of Citizen TV, asked the Head of State why Kenya was sending police to Haiti while the same forces have not crushed banditry at home.

Wewe unauliza maswali hayo, hayo ni maswali ya kipuzi kabisa. Shindwe wewe ibilisi pepo mbaya!”

The President did not say that, of course. That was Gava Spokesmũndũ Isaac Mwaura the 5th thundering in Nairobi. In Washington D.C., President Ruto responded to Abdikadir as follows:

“Thank you very much. I made a commitment to the people of Kenya to sort out insecurity in the North Rift. I have followed that with action. As we talk, there are 3,000 military officers in the North Rift, 2,000 police officers in the North Rift. We have renovated the first 15 schools completed and reopened 20 schools that were closed in the North Rift and that exercise is ongoing. We have made tremendous progress in making sure that we create security at home. But that does not take away our responsibility.”

He went on: “Even as we were deploying troops and police in our own country in the North Rift to sort out the banditry problem, we still deployed 1,000 troops to the DRC because that is our neighbourhood. We have 5,000 troops in Somalia because equally that is our responsibility. And Haiti should not be an exception. That’s why deploying 1,000 security men to Haiti speaks to the same belief and commitment to peace and security.”

The point of quoting the President’s reply in full is to show that every question a journalist asks government about matters of public interest deserves a response, not a tantrum. Democracy is a contract between the people and their government. Information plays a key role in this contract, which is why the right to information is enshrined in the Constitution (Article 35).

Every citizen has the right of access to information held by the State. The State shall publish and publicise any important information affecting the nation. This is the justification for the office of Gava Spokesmũndũ.

The media is free and independent (Article 34), meaning it is up to journalists to decide what questions to ask government. The people in power don’t have the luxury to choose what questions to answer and how. They have an obligation to provide information on important matters affecting the nation.

Here’s the context of Mwaura’s tantrum. The President’s state visit generally received glowing media coverage in Kenya, mostly thanks to the excellent work of government communicators.

But the Standard Group noticed something that shifted the national conversation for most of the week.

On May 20, the first day of the President’s visit, KTN broke the story that Ruto had chartered a plane from Abu Dhabi that would cost the taxpayer upwards of Sh200 million. “The high cost of Ruto’s flight to America”, The Standard newspaper reported the next day.

A calm and collected James Smart of NTV told viewers, with all due respect, that, “Now, questions on President William Ruto’s trip to the United States of America, in light of the concerns of austerity, are nonsensical and unpatriotic. This is the assertion of Government Spokesperson Isaac Mwaura, who says the benefits to be gained from the trip far much outweigh the costs.”

The video clip does not show a Gava Spokesmũndũ providing information about an important matter affecting the nation but a yelling and gesticulating politico threatening supposed enemies of the State.

That is not what the Constitution envisions. That is not why Kenyans pay the Gava Spokesmũndũ.

You don’t intimidate reporters. You don’t shout down Kenyans asking legitimate questions. You don’t unilaterally abrogate the right to know and spew curses on those who ask.

Instead, the Gava Spokesmũndũ gives a precise answer to every question and nothing more, like the President replied to Abdikadir. As we wrote here when Mwaura the 5th was appointed, journalists are no respecters of power. They believe authority should be questioned 24/7.

Media Council of Kenya CEO David Omwoyo seems to have anticipated Gava Spokesmũndũ’s hostility and hubris on May 2 when he said: “We must allow the media to make us uncomfortable. The questions the media will ask, the issues they’ll bring about, may make a few people uncomfortable, but they’re pertinent issues in the society.”

See you next week!

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