Kenya: Don’t sign this bill Mr President

The Government, working through the Postal Corporation of Kenya, can now open your letters without the authority of the courts.

If your MP steals from the Constituency Development Fund and buys a
fleet of limousines, your town newspaper cannot look over his fence and
photograph them.

If you insult anyone on SMS, you will most certainly go to jail.

And when there is rioting in Kibera and police use live ammunition to
put down the protests, the minister for Internal Security can send
officers to TV stations to destroy equipment so that reports of the
shootings are not aired.

It is the minister for Information, Mr Samuel Poghisio — who, by the
way, is being accused by the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission of
defrauding taxpayers — who will decide what can be broadcast, when and
in what form.

He will do so by giving guidelines to a Communications Commission of Kenya made up of people hand-picked by him.

The minister claims he needs the powers to control obscene and
objectionable materials, but the new law is deliberately vague, so that
politicians will have the leeway to do as they please.

These are just but a few of the examples of the effect of the Kenya
Communications (amendment) Bill, 2008, which Parliament
enthusiastically passed on Wednesday afternoon.

That fraudulent law is not really about the media; it is about civil
liberties. If you believe that it is right for the Government to read
your mail, your SMSs and to decide what you can watch on TV, then you
can sit back and relax.

But the nature of civil liberty violations is that once the Government
has tasted blood, it will not stop there. It will keep taking them
until a perfect dictatorship is established.

President Kibaki took an oath to defend the Constitution and civil
liberties. Those were not mere words that he uttered; he must live to
their spirit by returning to Parliament for amendment this Bill, which,
with the stroke of a pen, would sink Kenya into the pits of infamy.

With one signature, it would take away the freedoms of expression, thought and communications that make our cherished democracy.

Throughout his political career, Mr Kibaki, despite his diplomatic mien, has been known for a certain quiet determination.

In the 1970s, he was the only Cabinet minister with the libertarian
instincts to attend the premiere of plays by dissident authors regarded
as radioactive by politicians of those days.

His partner in government, Mr Raila Odinga, has suffered personal pain
for demanding the freedoms that the Government is now in danger of
taking away.

It is not always easy to recognise history as momentous when you are
living it. MPs may not have realised how big a blunder, and what an
injustice they were inflicting on the nation, when in 1982 they voted
for Section 2(A), outlawing multi-partyism.

That decision precipitated a coup attempt and unleashed a dictatorship
whose excesses are the cause of the poverty and hardship that Kenyans
experience today.

The violations of human rights in the 1980s and the Government-driven
development of ethnic hatred and politically-instigated clashes, which
culminated in the massacres early this year and nearly broke the
country apart, can be traced back to that single appalling vote.

In 1987, very few visionaries saw the folly of stripping holders of constitutional offices of their security of tenure.

Kenya was a democracy only in name, but even in a dictatorship, it is
expedient to maintain a façade of respectability to keep the masses
settled and dissidents in check.

The arrogance of power had persuaded the Kanu power-brokers that the
fear of detention and torture could extinguish the candle of freedom in
the human soul.

It flickered on through the darkness of the Nyayo House dungeons, the
secret graves and the tribal massacres. Today, it is still burning.

Those who authored the mlolongo fiasco of 1988 thought they were being
clever and strong by ridding politics of dissidents and enforcing

Ultimately, that decision — by forcing sections of the political elite
to rebel against their own party — cost Kanu power and produced an
inter-play of events, the result of which is the fragile politics of
today; the weak, insecure state and near economic collapse.

The vote by Parliament to strip Kenyans of civil liberties in revenge
because of the media's coverage of the taxation of MPs' salaries is an
issue of the moment and one whose historic vibrations will be felt well
into the future.

President Kibaki must not miss the moment, nor must he delude himself
that this is an event without consequences for the country he swore to
protect, and for his own legacy.

The law to gag the media — which otherwise seeks to regulate the ICT and broadcast industry — has been passed in gall and anger.

But it is the one act, which finally throws aside the cloak of
parliamentary politics, enabling Kenyans to see in stark relief the
truth about corruption, evasion of tax and the breakdown of
representation in Kenyan politics.

In April 2006, the world was horrified when Kenyan MPs threatened to
throw out that year's budget if their mileage allowances were not

At the time, donors had issued an appeal to feed millions who were
facing starvation. What kind of leader would demand a pay raise when
the people are starving?

The subversion of the legislative process to serve personal, myopic and
emotional or financial needs in this brazen fashion will hopefully draw
the attention of Kenyans to an awful truth: they spend a lot of money
on elections and maintaining the National Assembly, they paid a high
price for the election of their MPs, but these leaders are not their
true representatives.

Rather, the men and women in the House work for the interests of their
own feudal estate, a class that sees nothing wrong in bankrupting the
impoverishedmwananchi (citizen) to protect its own shallow lives of
excess and extravagance.

Parliament is today a new aristocracy that has no regard for civil
liberties, but is willing to go the extra appalling mile to nurse its
own vanities and mask its corruption and emptiness.

Kenyans need to know that parliamentary dictatorship is as evil as any
form of dictatorship and is to be fought and vanquished at all costs. –
Daily Nation

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