Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Allow me eulogize Mwai Kibaki from the media perspective

Kenya’s third president Emilio Mwai Kibaki’s legacy is a bag of mixed blessings!

Hailed as a quintessential patriot and a great African leader, many have eulogized him for spearheading free primary education and infrastructure developments, accomplishments impossible even to be envisaged in Moi era.

Here is a man who took over reins of power from a man who many argued had ruled Kenya with an iron hand.

In his campaigns to occupy the highest office in the land, Kibaki positioned himself as a reformist who would lead Kenya into the proverbial promised land awash with ghee and honey.

Glorifying the dead

Positive remarks have been spread across major print outlets with few sections on the not so good happenings during his tenure.

I agree with former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga that when a man dies, he ought to be glorified and vilified in equal measure.

I know there is a tendency to pour glowing tributes to our departed ones in Africa partly because of the African belief that the dead are not actually ‘dead’ but they merely transfer into another life hence special reverence through libations, tributes and other sacrifices.

The good and the bad

As this great son of Africa is laid to rest today, I choose to remember the media under Kibaki regime.

I know a lot more has not been revisited including the worst convulsion in Kenya’s independent history- 1, 200 people killed with many thousands injured in the 2007/2008 post-election chaos.

Over 600,000 people were rendered homeless.

All ‘this madness’, as was reported by a Daily Newspaper, came to an end with the signing of the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, 2008 by Kibaki and Raila Odinga.

The 529-page Waki report declared “The fact that armed militias, most of whom developed as a result of the 1990s ethnic clashes, were never demobilised led to the ease with which political and business leaders reactivated them for the 2007 post-election violence.”

Regulating the media

Back to the media under Kibaki

After a dishonourable defeat in the 2005 plebiscite, Kibaki was faced with a low public rating and a seemingly belligerent media.

This made him to change his tact in dealing with the media leading to the creation of the Media Council of Kenya (MCK) in 2007 as a body that sets media standards and regulates and monitors compliance with those standards.

Media stakeholders had in 2004 established MCK as industry self-regulator.

With Media Act, 2007 MCK was transformed into a statutory regulator.

It should be remembered that after explicit media exposures of Anglo Leasing scandal among others, government machinery in the form of armed police officers ‘rattled’ Standard Group Headquarters, beat journalists and burnt newspapers in a midnight raid initially thought to have been organized by criminals.

If you rattle a snake…

John Michuki, then Internal Security Minister roared “If you rattle a snake, you must be prepared to be bitten by it.”

The Standard Group had clearly rattled a snake and had to face Kibaki’s rod.

The police took responsibility citing national security.

Kibaki’s administration would display its ugly face yet again when, in the middle of announcing flawed election results, it banned live broadcasting.

It even formed a taskforce to investigate the conduct of media in elections and media’s involvement in the post poll chaos.

As if this was not enough, the government made a no less innocuous threat to withdraw its funding for MCK.

The positives

On a more positive note, the Kibaki administration prepared Freedom of Information Bill, 2007 that would, as suggested by many, deal a death blow to the Official Secrets Act and improve access to official information.

Kibaki’s footsteps are clear in the sands of time.

His legacy is a bag of mixed blessings yet so fulfilling at how he demystified presidency.

In him, Africa has lost a son whose memories will be permanently engraved in the annals of our history.

The writer is a communications specialist

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