Crackdown on media in the best fashion of past despots

KTN News announcing they will back on air at 7pm on February 5, 2018 after a seven-day government switch-off that affected three media houses. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • This is not a regime that can be trusted with an emergency communication system.

  • The government cited national security threats to try and block live TV coverage of the event at Uhuru Park.

  • Policemen shut down transmission for stations that ignored an irregular order.

Emergency Alert: Ballistic missile inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter. This is not a drill.”

Residents of Hawaii, the Pacific Island-State that is the birthplace of ‘our’ former United States President Barack Obama, were in mid-January sent scampering for cover after they received this message.

The SMS alert went out simultaneously to all mobile phone users. It was also sent out by email and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

All television and radio programming was at the same time interrupted with the same message.

The alert stands as an impressive testimony of how the government can work with the media, telephone and Internet providers at times of grave threats.

However, what seemed like mortal danger turned into a tragic comedy. It was a false alarm caused by a sleepy Emergency Management Agency worker pressing the wrong button.


And why did it take so long for the message to be recalled and the citizens put out of their terror and misery?

Governor David Ige had forgotten his Twitter password!

Jokes aside, such a system is absolutely essential in times of war, civil disturbance, natural disasters or other emergencies where the government needs to urgently communicate with citizens.

We could do with such a system in Kenya, but that itself poses grave risk and danger because those in authority often do not make a distinction between security threats to citizens, and political threats that pose risks only to their hold on power.

The broadcast media shutdown has much to do with insecure leaders demanding that about the freest and most professional and responsible media on the African continent do their bidding and black out opposition activities.


President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto campaigned in the 2013 elections, promising that their International Criminal Court trials for crimes against humanity were “personal challenges” that would not affect their ability to govern.

It was not long before personal challenges were transformed into national and continental challenges.

Individuals indicted in their personal capacities turned their ICC cases into trials against Kenya.

Domestic and foreign policy was subverted to the service of suspects in the dock, and vast amounts in public resources diverted towards their defence effort.

A similar game plan is at play again. The Jubilee Party regime faces challenges from the refusal of defeated National Super Alliance presidential candidate Raila Odinga and running-mate Kalonzo Musyoka to recognise its electoral victory.


Opposition agitation intended to, improbably, force through yet another repeat election has already spawned a consumer boycott of corporations seen to be allied to the Jubilee leadership, as well as  launches across the country of ‘People’s Assemblies’.

What has the government seeing red, however, is the mock swearing-in a week ago of Mr Odinga as the “People’s President”. 

The government cited national security threats to try and block live TV coverage of the event at Uhuru Park, Nairobi, and despatched policemen to shut down transmission for stations that ignored an irregular order delivered outside the established media regulatory regime.

President Kenyatta clearly faced a political challenge, but like with the ICC cases in 2013, has elevated this to a national challenge by manufacturing the false narrative of a national security threat.

This false narrative is now being used to round up opposition leaders on spurious charges of treason and subversion, oppressive tactics borrowed directly from the totalitarian one-party dictatorships of President Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi.


The Police State being out in place under Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i is in utter contempt of the law.

Trumped-up charges, those arrested being ‘exiled’ to hostile environments and denied access by lawyers and family, wilful disobedience of court orders, are just some of the manifestations of the return to dictatorship.  

In the best-fashion of past despots from which it draws inspiration, the Jubilee regime will likely be the one to incite violence to create justification for crackdowns.

To do that, it must have the media under its thumb.

This is not a regime that can be trusted with an emergency communication system such as that established in Hawaii and other places; not when personal challenges are turned into fake national security threats.


Email: [email protected] Twitter: @MachariaGaitho


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