By Paul Mwangi
Few people know the tribulations of being a public figure. We read about public figures every day, their words and deeds, their wives and children, friends and accomplices, but rarely do we stop to understand the psychological toll that comes with living one’s life under such public exposure.
Defamation is an ugly dimension to this public scrutiny. It inflicts a painful emotional hurt to an already vulnerable victim.Not many of us know the disconsolation that is caused to one who reads inventions made against their loved ones, and misrepresentations made of their relationships with friends and accomplices.
It is disconcerting for anyone to read about actions they allegedly took that never occurred, words they allegedly said that they never spoke or intentions they supposedly had which they have never formed.
It is therefore understandable when the common and knee jerk reaction of any subject of defamation is to take out legal proceedings in a court of law. The subject of the defamation craves to vindicate their character and restore their honour and that of their loved ones. They want it pronounced publicly that the allegations against them are untrue and that the writer has maliciously inpugned their character and invaded their most sacred privacy.
A defamation suit has become such a popular assumed panacea to libel and slander that it is now infact expected of everyone who claims their character has been defamed.
Those who followed the confirmation hearing at the International Criminal Court at the Hague last year will remember the cross examination of Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta by Justice Ekaterina Trendafilova, the Presiding Judge of pre-trial chamber II.
Asking Hon. Kenyatta about the allegations made about him by one Professor Kagwanja in an article written in 2002, she had only one question for the Deputy Prime Minister: whether he had taken out defamation proceedings against the learned professor for associating him with the outlawed Mungiki sect. He said he had not. That answer, as I analyzed after the session, would seal his fate in the confirmation hearing. And it did.
However, it should not have. Defamation law suits are not acceptable knee Jerk reactions of public officials in a democratic society. In fact, they are in the constitutional law of developed democracies largely outlawed.
And it is in consideration of the need to foster the nascent civil liberties we promulgated two years ago that the Prime Minister has decided that he shall not pursue any legal proceeding against the author of the recently launched publication against him.
This decision is based on one fundamental constitutional principle.
The Prime Minister acknowledges that abuse is a part of enjoyment of rights. The exercise of any liberty carries with it the danger that it shall be abused. This is actionable in almost all instances but for where the abuse occurs in the process of the scrutiny of a public official.