Those who saw popular, nationalistic, pan-African and democratic Kanu metamorphose from a democracy to a dictatorship will know it is not alarmist to say, the effort by Jubilee government to regulate and muzzle the media is the first step towards a second dictatorship in Kenya.
Imminent media bills and recent threats to media by police Inspector General both suggest government intention to regulate, censor and muzzle the media. And because the media is the heart of democracy, government cannot gag it without silencing people.
But as we all know, nature abhors a vacuum. If government kills media and democracy, dictatorship will occupy the vacuum with an emasculated and tamed media as its voice.
As nature abhors a vacuum, people don’t do anything without a purpose. Jubilee government is not seeking to silence media for nothing. It wants to replace democracy with dictatorship that will be the voice of our new leaders and their government.
In our circumstances, progression from democracy to dictatorship is logical. As a Kikuyu proverb says, the cub of a leopard claws like its mother and a child can only follow the back of its mother’s head. In seeking to govern with dictatorship, our current leaders are following in the footsteps of their political father, Moi and Kanu dictatorship, their political home for many years.
If President Uhuru and Ruto are orienting their government in the direction of muzzling the media, it is because they believe they are politically perfect and can best govern without the benefit of anyone’s counsel or criticism and therefore completely abhor criticism. They like to fish more in opaque and muddy waters of dictatorship than in the transparent and clear waters of democracy.
Leaders’ preference of an opaque and tame media notwithstanding, media freedom cannot be absolute and press must self regulate or be regulated not to pollute society with unacceptable immorality.
Jubilee government’s current concern is, however, not moral pollution. It seeks to regulate media, more to enhance political control than eradicate moral decadence which is useful opium for the middle class.
To promote political control, Jubilee and previous governments have taken enough measures to tame media. National radio and TV frequencies are given to politically safe owners. Kenyan governments have also licensed vernacular radio stations to propagate negative ethnicity to keep different ethnic communities apart and mutually hostile for easy governance and control. To secure political compliance, governments also use advertisement money that is hardly tendered for through Public Procurement and Disposal Act.
But media does not only engage in involuntary self-censorship. It also engages in voluntary self-censorship when interests of media owners coincide with those of political and government leaders.
Despite troubled marriages between media owners and government leaders, media’s quest for more freedom and a bigger share of resources and people’s desire for better governance more often than not tends to threaten leaders’ interests that always need greater protection with more dictatorship.
In its search for space, dictatorship is like the lion that captures its prey by approaching it most stealthily. Dictatorship takes over a country, not through open declaration of its intentions but through cunning, deception and guile. Recently, we saw government use Westgate terrorist attack to justify and excuse the introduction of the ten house system that many governments in other countries used to terrorize and force people to spy on one another.
After securing the nyumba kumi system, Jubilee government is killing other aspects of democracy the way the camel took over the tent of the Arab by first asking to shelter the head only, then the neck, half the body and finally the whole body before asking the Arab to leave the tent because it was now too small for both.
Already, the nyumba kumi system is in the tent. Media regulation is begging for inclusion. Detention without trial will follow. Entire dictatorship will then move in and ask democracy to move out because the tent will be too small for both.
Most people of limited historical knowledge will most likely ask what the fuss is about. They will see media censorship and dictatorship as convenient tools of securing the rule of Jubilee government and keeping ethnic enemies – in this case Cord Alliance – at bay of political bay.
For most people censorship is a problem for media only. However, for those who saw Kanu emasculate media and then use it to propagate oppression know press is a voice and a candle for all. When it is stilled and its light put out, everybody is silenced.
Ultimately, government censorship and regulation of media is like the proverbial rat trap. It catches the targeted and those who are not targeted. As some think it is meant for media only, it will submerge all in darkness and silence as those in power misuse power for self gain.
With a good part of the media reeling under involuntary arm twisting and voluntary self censorship, further media regulations will be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It will kill the media.
Dictatorship might look like a good means of securing power. But tyranny is not necessary for a good leader to stay in power. Initially, dictatorship makes one feel impregnable but tyrants are always vulnerable, paranoid and die miserably with a guilty conscience. Dictators leave power badly. It is better to lose power, thereafter live and die honorably. After all, “The tyrant dies and his rule is over. The martyr dies and his rule begins.” – Kierkegaard.
To secure their legacy, let Uhuru and Ruto save media and earn themselves an honourable rule and exit out of power.