Ezra Chiloba has had enough time to settle down since his return to public office on appointment as the director-general of the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA).
A fortnight should have been enough for him to complete the all-important priorities for anyone taking charge of a cash-rich State institution.
He will have learnt to navigate his way around the labyrinth, picked out new furniture for the corner office, secured keys to the executive loo, taken possession of a brand new fuel-guzzling limousine, familiarised himself with the chauffeurs, bodyguards, aides and other flunkies that come with the territory and generally let all the staff know that there’s a new sheriff in town.
With the crucial preliminaries dispensed with, the new head honcho at the CA can start giving thought to what he actually intends to do with the job. He can start by looking back to his acrimonious departure almost three years ago as chief executive of another strategic agency, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC).
Mr Chiloba was rudely hounded out of office after a lengthy power-struggle with the chairman, Mr Wafula Chebukati.
The conflict had everything to do with personality differences but also corporate governance issues, where Mr Chebukati and other commissioners had usurped executive functions from the CEO and the heads of the various directorates and departments.
This, by the way, is something the IEBC will still have to resolve once a new CEO is appointed as the office has been vacant since Mr Chiloba’s exit in 2018. No self-respecting manager would want to take a job where non-executive commissioners take charge of day-to-day tasks.
Anyway, this is about Mr Chiloba and his new job at the CA, not about the IEBC. He would do well to recall, however, that his exit at the electoral management body came amidst perceptions that he was a government stooge alongside some three commissioners who quit in solidarity with him.
It is, therefore, logical that an analysis on the new appointment could hardly overlook the fact the IEBC commissioners who were in Mr Chiloba’s corner were, on resigning in 2018, soon after compensated, or rewarded, with diplomatic postings.
It has also been noted that Mr Chiloba is only the latest in a line-up of former IEBC officials now holding offices that could be critical to the electoral process as the 2022 General Election looms. Mr Chiloba and Mr Chebukati were hardly on speaking terms as the former high-tailed it out of the IEBC. Now he heads an office that will be critical to the IEBC obtaining and securing vital data transmission systems.
Revenge or bad blood
When approached by his former boss, Mr Chiloba cannot afford to act in any way that might be seen as driven by revenge or bad blood. He must also do everything he can in his new job to dispel perceptions from his previous assignment that he was pro-government or susceptible to political pressure.
What Mr Chiloba must realise is that the CA job demands the highest degree of independence and strict political neutrality. This is not only in relation to frequencies, airwaves, data transmission and other complex thingummies that might be needed for the elections, but also to the entire electronic communications infrastructure.
Mr Chiloba inherits a job that all too often has willingly succumbed to state capture. It’s the hallmark of dictatorships, particularly during election periods, to place curbs on freedom of media and freedom of expression by shutting down television and radio broadcasts, blocking internet traffic and social media platforms and pulling the plug on telephone communications.
The CA has regularly sent worrying signals by seeming to be acting as a tool of government in this regard, or even on its own volition abusing its authority by taking punitive action against broadcast media outlets without even the pretence of fair hearings.
It will be recalled that, in the midst of the 2007-2008 post-election violence and the disputed 2017 presidential elections, the government unconstitutionally blocked live TV broadcasts, going around the established media regulatory framework by purporting to employ national security laws.
To his credit, Mr Chiloba’s predecessor, Francis Wangusi, in 2018 defied orders to yank off the air TV stations, which ignored the dictatorial and illegal orders to halt live broadcasts of opposition leader Raila Odinga’s mock swearing-in as the “People’s President”.
What will Mr Chiloba do if the government orders an illegal communications blackout targeting the neo-opposition headed by Deputy President William Ruto? That is the question he must now answer to demonstrate that he can stand firm and independent.
[email protected] @MachariaGaitho