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Eating my words

As part of my talk in DC on Wednesday, I spoke about the Kenyan blogosphere, its dynamism and its relationship to the Kenyan press, which I characterized as “mostly free but somewhat lazy.” As the old song goes, “What a difference a day makes.”

Wednesday night, at least 30 paramilitary commandos raided the offices of Kenya Television Network and the East African Standard newspaper. The raid burned tens of thousands of newspapers, put the station off the air and disrupted the operations of the printing plant. The Standard’s website is back in force today, with a strong editorial condemning the attack as an attack on freedom of the press with ludicrious explanations from the government.

Other newspapers are condemning the raid as well – an editorial in the Nation read, “There are few dictators, even in past years, who were capable of the actions carried out by the Kibaki administration in the past 24 hours.” And, needless to say, the bloggers are up in arms.

Thinker’s post is titled “Enough!” – he’s shocked not just by the raids but by reactions from some of Kibaki’s ministers, noting that security minister John Michuki noted in his remarks three times, “If you rattle a snake, expect to be bitten.” Thinker sees this as a not-very veiled threat against anyone in the press who dares to criticize the government too aggresively.

Thinker shows images from CCTV footage of the raid, showing police clad in balaclavas raiding the offices with drawn guns and boots to the head of technicians at the offices, who don’t appear to be resisting. He urges readers to contact the Kenyan government and complain about the abuse of power. MentalAcrobatics has some other stills from the video as well as his analysis. Mental’s also got a great roundup of Kenyan blogger reactions.

Keguro is asking Kenyan bloggers to post a letter to the Kibaki government, complaining about the raid. I’m posting it here in solidarity with my blogger friends, despite my general suspicion that President Kibaki rarely reads my blog:

Dear President Kibaki:

On March 2, 2006 government forces raided the headquarters and printing plant of the Standard Group. In addition to destroying equipment and newspapers, they shut down the KTN news station.

This latest attack follows the jailing of three journalists from Standard Newspaper, attacks on Citizen Weekly, and ongoing harassment of journalists by government-sponsored forces.

I urge you to condemn these attacks and to support freedom of the press.

-Ethan Zuckerman
3/3/2006, Pittsfield, MA USA

Kenyan Pundit is PISSED: “I think the problem with Kibaki’s advisers is that these guys suck even at being politicians, because anyone with a single political bone in their body would not pull such a move. Now even the stories in the gutter press will be believeable.” But she’s still able to see the bright side of all of this: “The one silver lining has been the reaction of the Kenyan people; their voice is strengthening day by day and to me that is what Kenya needs the most – a non-complacent citizenry.”

The reaction of Kenyan bloggers and the fact that Kenyan newspapers are sticking up for each other makes it clear that it’s going to be hard to silence Kenyan voices with commando raids and burning newspapers. From the outside, it looks like Kibaki’s government is in crisis, wracked by scandal, and is lashing out without much foresight or sense. Clearly this raid didn’t have the intended effect of shutting the press and the bloggers up – we should all be thankful for that, and should do our best to amplify Kenyan’s efforts to be parts of a “non-complacent citizenry”…

3 thoughts on “Eating my words”

  1. All President Kibaki needs to say is that he disassociates himself from the crackdown on the Standard. I want to believe he is too shocked to comment, that is if this was done behind his back. As I was growing up in my country Kenya, I knew Kibaki to be one of the most respected persons in the country. Upto to the time he took over leadership, I had never read any article associating him with any corruption.

    I am overseas and a person from my country told me today, “Mr Kibaki is not a politician, if he was, he would have by now said, ‘I disassociate myself from the incident where police raided the Standard and KTN”.

    Politics is a dirty game. You could be upright but individuals in your team could outsmart you and mess you up. In politics, you cannot approach issues professionally, sometimes you have to be really nasty and refuse to please even your closest allies. You have to be a human, intelligent and people friendly dictator because once you allow friends and allies to make decisions with you in your inner circle, you are done because they will seek their own interests.

    Faced with a crisis it is best to seek advice from experts that are neutral. I actually feel sorry for Kibaki because his past reputation was noble but now he has to be responsible for the actions of those he has delegated to because he is their leader.

  2. Pingback: Kenyan Government: No Free Speech For You at connecting*the*dots

  3. Thanks for the support Ethan!

    @Pauline – the president of the country admint that he doesn’t know what’s going on under his own nose? A very sad state of affairs indeed!

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