Jamhuri Day drama

Radio presenter and comedian Walter Mong’are, popularly known as Nyambane, is arrested at the Nyayo Stadium as he protested against the new media law. Photo/PETERSON GITHAIGA

What you need to know:

  • President forced to cut short his speech as arrests mark independence celebrations

Protests over attempts to muzzle the media, rising food prices and failure by MPs to pay taxes forced the President to cut short his speech during Friday’s Jamhuri Day celebrations.

Four television and radio personalities were among 53 people who were arrested by police in day-long protests in parts of the country.

QFM radio morning show presenter Walter Mong’are popularly known as “Nyambane”, Kiss FM’s Carolyne Mutoko, Larry Asego and Felix Odiwuor Kodhe (Jalang’o) were held by police for more than six hours before they were released.

Mr Mong’are was wrestled to the ground and kicked by senior police officers as he made his way into the stadium dressed in clothes resembling those worn by prisoners to symbolise impending imprisonment of media if a Bill passed by Parliament on Wednesday is signed into law.

Those arrested were first held at Langata, Buruburu, Gigiri and Nyayo Stadium police stations.

Mr Mong’are and Mr Frederick Odhiambo of Bunge la Mwananchi lobby were moved to Nairobi area police headquarters.

In Mombasa, journalists covering the celebrations had tape strapped around the mouth as a way of protesting the law allowing a government-appointed commission to determine broadcast content, and giving the Minister for Internal Security powers to raid media houses.

Ms Mutoko was arrested as she arrived at Nyayo Stadium dressed in a black T-Shirt with the inscription “No Tax, No Tax utado? (What will you do)?”.

Presidential security officers descended on Mr Odhiambo after he shot up from his sit and started shouting.

He was sitting about 10 metres behind the President and it is not clear how he got entry into the VIP dais. President Kibaki who presided over the ceremony was forced to cut short his speech after Mr Odhiambo caused a stir.

The Head of State had just started giving his off the cuff speech in Kiswahili when Mr Odhiambo suddenly started shouting.

Shortly before the incident, an angry President who had apparently been appalled by heckles and shouts of ‘njaa, njaa tunaka chakula na MPs walipe ushuru’, (hunger, hunger, we want food and MPs must pay taxes) had said:

Wapigane wale wanataka kupigana.” (Let those who want to fight do so). The President had made the remarks after a section of the crowd shouted at him when he started giving his Kiswahili speech.

However, the crowd was silent when he was delivering his Jamhuri Day message to the Nation in English.

At the dais, the VIPs appeared shocked by Mr Odhiambo’s protest.

Those who sat near him had started to walk away. Others watched in horror as the security agents wrestled him covering his mouth while struggling to eject him from area.

The President, First Lady, Lucy, Prime minister Raila Odinga and Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka immediately left the podium with other VIPs in tow.

A similar incident had taken place during the entertainments when comedian Walter Mong’are attempted to access the podium.

But the security forces swiftly arrested him and led him away.

Even before the ceremony to mark the 45 years of independence had started, the mood at the Nyayo National Stadium was gloomy as police had arrested several members of the civil society.

They were seized before they entered the venue since they had earlier issued a warning that they would lead the crowd in protesting against raising costs of food prices.

They also wanted the crowd to stage demonstration to protest move by Members of Parliament not to pay taxes.

President Kibaki got a lukewarm response from the crowd as he waved around the stadium on his ceremonial Land Rover.

A few people responded “we are hungry” to Mr Odinga’s greetings.

He told the crowd that prices of maize flour will be reduced next week.

Mr Musyoka had encountered the same fate.

However, there was silence throughout President Kibaki’s main speech where he dealt mainly on the Government’s plans to address the current food shortage.

He said that the country must come up with policies that cushion the poor against the growing economic crisis.

And he noted that though the global financial crisis had its origin in the West, it had serious implications on the country’s economy and well-being of Kenyans.

The high cost of living in the country has generated a lot of concern and outrage from wananchi with prices of basic commodities rising beyond the reach of most Kenyans.

“We are also putting in place measures to increase food production and ensure sustained national food security,” said President Kibaki.

The President also sent a warning to businesses that are pushing prices upwards at the expense of the poor. He said that the Government had a duty to protect the right of Kenyans to meet their food requirements without impediments.

Taxation issue

However, despite his pro-poor policy pronouncements, President Kibaki did not address the issue of taxation of constitutional office holders that has caused an outcry.

The recently passed Communications Bill that gives the State too much control on the running of the country’s media did not feature in the President’s speech.

But he touched on the high cost of energy, noting that the Energy Regulatory Commission will engage stake holders in the sector with a view to implementing limited regulation of oil prices so that the local fuel costs reflect international movement in energy costs.

The President noted that the country would only achieve an economic growth rate of 4.5 per cent as compared to seven per cent the previous year due to the serious challenges arising from the current global financial instability and high prices of food and fuel.

“The challenges facing the global economy underscore the need for us to carefully manage available resources to safeguard the investments we have made, especially in infrastructure and human development,” he added.

President Kibaki had a good message for smallholder farmers. The Government, he said had purchased more than 100,000 tonnes of fertiliser. This would reduce prices of the commodity by one third.

Besides, the Government will also provide the farmers with affordable certified seeds.

And from January, the Head of State announced that the Government will provide tuition subsidies for students in youth polytechnics to boost enrolment and ease the burden on parents.