The Kenyan Government is seemingly becoming quite intolerant of voices of dissent and dissident Kenyans who have continued to become more vocal on Social Media and Blogs.
The recently assented Amendment to the Security Law not only targets the media or traditional media as we now refer to it and professional Journalists, but it is also seeking to curtail the freedoms of ordinary citizens’ speech through platforms online such as social media including blogs, twitter and Facebook.
It is a well-known fact that a lot of Kenyan media houses and journalists had for a while chosen to regurgitate every word and rhetoric given by State operatives in form of press releases and even accepted an invite for breakfast with State functionaries sometime in 2013. Another case in point is the admission by Linus Kaikai, the Managing Editor at NTV- one of Kenya’s oldest and biggest media Houses, that they (media) were perhaps a little too trusting of the IEBC, Kenya’s electoral body in the 2013 elections. This was pointed out by Patrick Gathara, a political cartoonist, writer and blogger in the weekly program on NTV – PressPass.
Well this became no laughing matter when late last year an acerbic blogger was charged before the courts while another might just start enjoying his stay behind the bars courtesy of the State.
Gone are the days when Kenyans especially those in urban areas took mainstream news as the gospel truth. Due to an increase in the number of Kenyans going online, many are able to counter-check some of these news stories and in most cases, get the news first before the mainstream media ‘breaks it’. We are thus seeing a group of very informed Kenyans holding conversations online, breaking news and others writing their own opinion on political issues such as their take on the Security Law as well as questioning the role of the current government in providing security to its citizens.
Kenya has seen a steady rise in the number of bloggers and Social Media opinion makers who are free to speak their mind on not just Politics but also on social issues affecting them. The void created by Media houses failing to provide unbiased coverage and lately, lack of in-depth coverage of news and stories happening, has presented an opportunity for bloggers to become Citizen Journalists. The only difference between the two being that the former is a professional accredited individual and the latter is not.
The 2 current cases of blogger Robert Alai, currently out on bail with a charge of allegedly undermining the president by posting his (president’s) mobile phone numbers on twitter, and Allan Wadi, a 25 year old University student who was jailed for 2 years for insulting the president, are a clear indication that the freedom of speech that Kenyans enjoy online may soon be curtailed and the very vocal dissidents online brought before the Law to answer to fabricated and trivial charges.
Let’s hope Kenya is soon NOT heading the Ethiopia way where Zone 9 bloggers have been in jail since April last year on allegations that they worked for foreign human rights groups or used social media to incite violence.
The irony of partial and discriminatory
use abuse in the application of the law on ‘Tribal Hate Speech’ and ‘Undermining of a Public Servant’ has not been lost out on many Kenyans online who witness lots of individuals online calling for the extermination of Luos or of Raila Odinga- Kenya’s former PM. However, the same laws are punitively applied when the comments on social media platforms are directed at the president or anyone in the Jubilee government.
The internet and free speech by citizens will continue whether the Jubilee government scans every social Media platform or eavesdrops on every data packet from Kenyan ISPs. What we are likely to see going forward is a lot of voices in the dark either with faceless tongues or with Guy Fawkes masks.
The year has just started and the clouds have gathered on free speech for voices online, brace yourselves.