Kimaiyo must not gag Kenyan media
The Inspector General of Police (IGP) David Kimaiyo, has threatened to arrest journalists who “propagate a propaganda war”; “incite Kenyans”; “distribute or maybe issue statements that can amount to hate speech”; and “issue statements or reports that can be able to affect the life of another person.” The threat was issued a few days after two investigative journalists at the KTN aired CCTV footage showing KDF soldiers entering Nakumatt Supermarket at Westgate and leaving with loaded white paper bags, which were suspected to contain looted goods. This revelation must have annoyed the police boss because earlier on, a joint parliamentary committee investigating the conduct of KDF troops had exonerated them from any looting allegations. Tiaty MP Asman Kamama, who is chairman of the parliamentary Committee on Administration and National Security said: “KDF soldiers and all the officers who participated in that operation, never, and I want to use the word, never, participated in looting.”
Kamama added: “We want to confirm to the media and Kenyans that from what we have seen, no officer from KDF looted as alleged and we want to appeal to Kenyans in the social media to desist from besmirching and maligning the name of KDF.” Following Kimaiyo’s threat, police summoned journalists Mohamed Ali and John Allan Namu of the KTN ‘Jicho Pevu’ (Zilazila la Westgate) and ‘Inside Story’ (Wolves at Westgate) series respectively, to an inquiry on October 25th. Also to appear before them is Sam Shollei, CEO of the Standard Group which owns KTN. The offence being investigated is: “Unlawful sending of misleading messages contrary to the law.” Surprisingly, the police bypassed the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) which is tasked by law to deal with complaints against the media, especially on unethical issues.
According to media sources, the Chief of Defense Forces General Julius Karangi appeared before the joint parliamentary committee and defended his troops claiming “the paper bags contained bottled water which the troops needed to quench their thirst and were authorized by their commanders.” He denied that the soldiers ransacked cash boxes/vaults at Nakumatt Supermarket and were simply “sanitizing the area” to ensure there were no weapons left by the terrorists. General Karangi also denied there was friendly fire from the KDF soldiers that allegedly killed a GSU Recce Company officer, Martin Munene. He claimed the country only lost one Recce officer and four KDF soldiers.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that the soldiers had sufficient reserves in their backpacks and should not have taken water from Nakumatt. Who then, looted Westgate stores as claimed by the owners? From CCTV footage on September 21st, the terrorists are seen sharing bottled water when they took a break from their nasty work and were not bothered with cash boxes or other items. But a clip dated September 22nd shows a soldier picking and putting something into his pocket then leaves Nakumatt. If Government claimed the terrorists were holed inside Nakumatt, why did they not attack the soldiers a day later as they entered and left with paper bags?
Draconian media law
Article 34(2) of the Constitution states that: “The State shall not- (a) Exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication, or the dissemination of information by any medium. The State shall not- (b) Penalize any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.”
Kimaiyo’s threat against the media comes in the backdrop of two constitutional bills that should be passed in Parliament by 27th December. The Media Council of Kenya (MCK) Bill and the Kenya Information and Communications Act (KICA) amendment Bill, aim to align the laws with Article 34 of the constitution on media freedom. If enacted, the Bills will not only accord the ICT cabinet secretary excessive powers over the MCK which regulates the media, but also give the right to dissolve it and authorize another body “to administer, broadcast content, formulate media standards and regulate compliance with such standards.” Clause 5(B) 4 of the KICA Bill “also allows for censorship of the Press during emergency and restricts freedom of the media during such occasions.” (See Francis Mureithi in The Star newspaper, 1st August 2013).
Article 34(5) of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 “provides that Parliament shall enact legislation that provides for the establishment of a body which shall- (a) Be independent of control by government, political interests or commercial interests; (b) Reflect the interests of all sections of society; and (c) Set media standards and regulate and monitor compliance with those standards.” The media fraternity, i.e. the Media Owners Association, Kenya Editors’ Guild, Kenya Union of Journalists and Kenya Correspondents Association, still wants MCK to remain the sole regulator of professional ethics and the conduct of journalists and media enterprises. (See David Ohito in The Standard newspaper, 23rd October 2013).
If the contentious clauses in the two Bills are passed without revision, then media operations will be severely affected. For instance, journalists will not be allowed to report during crises such as the recent Westgate attack which will be categorized under ‘emergency’, and will be regulated to say what Government wants. Kenya will be taken back to the dark era of the late 1980s and 1990s under Dictator Daniel arap Moi. The Bills also suggest that State security personnel shall arrest and impound print or other materials purported to threaten national security. Such was very common during Moi’s “error” when for instance, people found with materials of Marxist persuasion, were jailed for possessing seditious publications.
Media freedom improved tremendously during president Kibaki’s regime, yet in 2005, then-first lady Lucy Kibaki raided the Daily Nation newspaper offices and allegedly slapped cameraman Clifford Otieno, who later filed a private prosecution case against her, but the then Attorney General Amos Wako terminated it. She claimed media reports on her family were biased. In 2006, the Standard newspaper was raided by hooded gunmen who terrorized staff and wheeled away equipment and burnt the day’s newspaper copies. The then Internal Security minister the late John Michuki, claimed the Standard had planned to “disseminate information that would have undermined national security.”
Incompetence and cover up
Kimaiyo’s attack on the media is a scapegoat for the embarrassment the Jubilee government faces due to misinforming Kenyans about the KDF operation at Westgate. Why blame KTN’s Namu and Moha yet Foreign Affairs cabinet secretary Amina Mohamed claimed during an interview with PBS that: “Two or three Americans, and I think so far, I have heard of one Brit woman. She’s I think, done this many times before.” Kimaiyo has said that the assumed Brit, Samantha Lewthwaite, has never been in Kenya, yet the KTN series showed copies of documents proving her entry via South Africa, using an alias. Kimaiyo will have to arrest many people then, including Amina.
On October 13th NTV reported: “The siege dragged for four days as the power struggle between the elite Recce Company and the Kenya Defense Forces meant they could not engage the terrorists without one command. KDF walked in and took over the mall and this angered the GSU Squad who lost one of their colleagues through friendly fire and left the scene that Saturday evening. The hostage and rescue squad retreated to the Ruiru Camp and for the next four days, KDF was in charge of Westgate. Two weeks after the Westgate attack, President Kenyatta visited the Recce Squad in Ruiru and shared lunch before addressing them to quell any tension before a commission of inquiry gets to the bottom of Westgate attack.” Will Kimaiyo arrest the NTV journalists too since they reported before KTN?
IGP Kimaiyo should be questioned for not acting on prior information passed to the police on the Westgate attack as confirmed by National Intelligence Service (NIS) director, General Michael Gichangi. Can Kimaiyo explain to Kenyans why KDF intervened at Westgate yet he was the one in charge? It is known that the Kenyan military does not take orders from the police. Therefore, did he lose command of the operation? Was it the reason why his team established a command center at a house in Hurlingham, where they had a backup Digital Video Recorder feed to stream offsite from the mall?
According to a transcribed excerpt depicting a bitter exchange between the military and police, a soldier shouts at a GSU man: “Stop talking too much (keep your mouth shut),” and he replies with the abuse, “Your mother.” In the footage, an angry GSU officer curses “The military shot us. F*** them.” It’s apparently during this confrontation that Constable Martin Munene Kithinji was shot dead and another GSU man in the leg. Can Kimaiyo investigate this, instead of attacking the media?
On October 4th Roy Gachuhi penned an excellent article in the Daily Nation newspaper featuring Lieutenant-General (rtd) Humphrey Njoroge who tore into the process of evacuating people who were not subjected to thorough screening as they left Westgate. Chances are that some terrorists could have escaped because of this weakness. He also decried acts of corruption within the Immigration Department that allowed officers to issue passports and other identification documents to illegal aliens. In 1981, Lt-Gen Njoroge drafted a comprehensive paper on urban warfare that advocated for joint training of the military and police.
He wrote: “At the moment, there is no joint training that is carried out between the GSU and the Army in dealing with urban violence, and since we shall come to aid them in case of failure, we must train together for the sake of command and control. This will make us know their capabilities and limitations. The Joint Headquarters would also practice the aspect of command control, and I feel this aspect is very necessary. The Army must also be trained to be able to live and fight under urban conditions to avoid undue harassment of children, women and the aged and the looting, which comes about when an inexperienced Army is exposed to these things.” But as usual, who listened to him?
President Uhuru Kenyatta should not assent to the pending media Bills because they shall reverse the huge gains made in press freedom. He is a key player in the industry since his family owns Media Max that operates Kameme FM, K24 TV and the People newspaper. During the media breakfast meeting he hosted at State House on July 12th, he said that: “A free media is at the heart of true democracy.”