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President Uhuru Kenyatta must reject this blatant effort to gag media

COMMENTARY
By Raphael Obonyo | November 11th 2013

By Raphael Obonyo

Kenya: President Uhuru Kenyatta’s and his deputy William Ruto’s promise to block the two baffling assaults on the media by the National Assembly must now be followed by action.

The intense debate the controversial Information and Communication Amendment Bill and the proposed Media Council Bill continue to generate calls for an urgent and clear government position on the two to end the growing anxiety.

Accountability

 The deliberate move by a few parliamentarians to gag the media is myopic and will not only curtail democratic space that the country has gained, if passed, but will also compromise the government accountability.

It is very irritating that a National Assembly whose members were elected to represent their constituents would pass such unpopular and retrogressive laws.

 The media in Kenya has been very aggressive and has helped the country shift the balance from the leaders and put more power in the hands of citizens. At no single time has our media reneged in its responsibility of holding leaders and public officials to account.

In fact, the evolution of the Fourth Estate, a significant gain in Kenya, must be defended by everybody, including all the arms of governance.

Just over a decade ago, Kenya ended 24 years of misrule. Consequently, the agitation for good governance initiated by clergy and the civil society in 1990s would not have achieved precise gains had media not been bold.

Unfortunately there are people in this day and age who do not see where the country has come from and dangers the proposed laws portends for the future of our democracy.

Media freedom is not only a basic right but also crucial in contributing to the enjoyment of the rights by all other citizens.

The question for Kenyans is now clear, shall the country protest if the proposals become laws or shall we sit back and watch as our politicians throw the country to the dogs?

Ambitious

Corruption, suppression, poor governance, abuse of human rights, as history shows, thrives in environments where media freedom is highly curtailed.

Worldwide, information, communication and technology (ICT) is among the main pillars of growth in the recent past.

As a country, we have set an ambitious development plan dubbed Vision 2030 and without a vibrant media, the envisaged gains will be highly compromised. It is a good thing that President Kenyatta and his deputy have expressed willingness to listen to voices opposing the Bill.

Crucially, the President has an obligation to reject the proposed laws if he truly values our democracy and popular will. It is a crucial litmus test of where he wants to take this country.

There are so many issues that need legislative attention and our leaders must desist from the temptations of gagging the media. It is not clear why the current parliament has mounted such a serious affront against the media. In the end, it is up to all Kenyans who are conscious about human rights and freedoms.

It is up to us to come together and take action against attempts to take away rights that many Kenyans have fought for so painfully over the years.

We must be vigilant and advocate for media freedom and all human rights if we want to grow as a country.

The writer is external adviser and member of the UN Habitat’s Youth Advisory Board and a Global Young Diplomat.

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