Journalism owes us the truth on politics and graft cartels


A group of youth try to threaten a cameraman attached to Standard Media Group. [Courtesy]

Jimmy Brown Mwandigah laments that this year’s presidential election has already strayed from issues to trivia. His agonised note to me reads, “Is Kenya doomed to Third World status? This year’s presidential polls portend to be nauseating. The façade of the so-called ‘issue-based campaigns’ is melting faster than the ice-snowman.”

He decries performance of the political class, and a clueless and shallow journalism. I am afraid he is right. We are guilty as accused. 

An electoral season is an occasion for journalism to flesh out issues for public consideration. The converse is to scrutinise what politicians claim to place before the electorate; to examine their truth quotient and practicality; to assess their longer implications and help the public make issue-based decisions. Like the political class, our journalism assumes that people are cows. They will be herded wherever a given politician wants. Our journalism, accordingly, only counts the cows. Hence, a page one headline will scream, “Raila, Ruto fate in Kalonzo’s hands.”

It is not in the voters’ hands, but those of an individual. The individual is the owner of a kraal of cattle. Hence, wherever he wants them to go, they will obey. Our journalism does not help the voter make a qualitative political decision.

A key role for journalism is interpretation of experience. This involves expression of memory. The scribe opens up stores of experience and relates them to what is happening. As explanatory glosses, journalistic memories and interpretations demystify misleading political propaganda. 

Let me give only one example, because of space. One issue the Kenyan voter needs to interrogate is the often floated question of “theft” and “thieves, who want to rule Kenya,” as the Raila Odinga-Uhuru Kenyatta axis is telling us.

On the flipside are “the real thieves who have ruined Kenya,” as ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi told us in his “Earthquake” speech, on Sunday. Who is telling us the truth and who is lying? Why do we helplessly lament about thieves? 

Why is it that even the Executive Government, with all the instruments of the law, can only whine that “thieves want to rule Kenya”?

If Deputy President William Ruto has, for example, done the things his nemeses talk about at political rallies, why has nobody commenced legal action?

They say “he has stolen billions from dams’ projects.” Why is he “allowed” to run about freely “with stolen billions”? Is he above the law? Come on, someone? Why don’t you apply the law, or just tell that to your chickens? 

Conversely, why do President Uhuru Kenyatta’s detractors only talk about “Covid billionaires, Afya House scams, NYS, corrupt infrastructure projects”?

They accuse “senior political families” of “having a deal” in “every major tender.” How should we understand this thing about theft by those in government, and those who have been there? Where is the truth? Is there value in the accusations and counter accusations? Is it just cheap political gossip?  

If there are giant thieves prancing about and the government cannot do anything about them, then the government should just shut up and go away. Kenyans did not elect you to tell them that there are thieves. You were elected to put thieves where they belong – in jail.

If you cannot do that, you are either complicit in the theft, or you are of no use. Regrettably, this has been the same story from the 1960s, when Cabinet Minister Gikonyo Kiano used to be called “Mister Ten Percent.”

Kenyans heard of cashew nuts theft at the Coast, poaching and ivory scandals by senior political families, coffee smugglers in government, maize outrages and “Kenyanisation” scams in the ‘60s and ‘70s, the “Cult of Mzee” and corruption in the early years and the “Cult of Baba” today; the Inchcape scam of the ‘70s and how debts could not be collected from royalty, and their Nairobi Airport gemstone affairs.

It is old theft versus new theft, old money versus new money – old thieves versus new thieves, it seems.

Dr Barrack Muluka is a strategic communications advisor.

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