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February 18, 2019

Chinese Company Should Not Be Frequency Provider In Kenya

Lawyer Geoffrey Imende for the Pan African network Group makes submissions before the supreme court during the hearing of the Digital migration case.Photo/Philip Kamakya
Lawyer Geoffrey Imende for the Pan African network Group makes submissions before the supreme court during the hearing of the Digital migration case.Photo/Philip Kamakya

A strong debate is raging whether by making a Chinese company lead frequency provider, the Jubilee government is strengthening or killing media freedom in Kenya. Many feel, like Kanu government, the Jubilee government is killing democracy and with it, media freedom and freedom of expression.

The Jubilee government seems intent on killing media freedom because its top leaders are products of Kanu dictatorship, and can only rule as they know how with dictatorship. Many Jubilee leaders seem to believe, to lead is to dictate, own and not persuade people. Asking Jubilee leaders to lead unguided by democracy is plunging ship of state into a stormy sea without a compass.

Having witnessed Kanu dictatorship destroy democracy, destroy media freedom and misuse media to entrench dictatorship, when we see history repeating itself, we must cry wolf. If we keep quiet and allow nascent Jubilee dictatorship to destroy media freedom and democracy, we shall have no refuge when the devil will come after us.

When the fourth Parliament destroyed democracy and made Kenya a de jure one-party dictatorship, the pain of betraying the country by keeping quiet when one should speak up was unbearable. Never again should someone go keep quiet as the country is taken down the drain by dictators camouflaging as democrats.

Without strong local media, there can be no democracy or freedom of expression. Those who kill freedom of media and expression want to kill democracy and install dictatorship as Kanu killed democracy and imposed on the country single voice of the President, through one radio and television.

Yet, there are many ways of skinning a cat.

Multiparty democracy was expected to bring strong, pluralistic media but instead, through democracy, Kenyans have installed in power dictators at national and county levels who have conspired to restore dictatorship by killing both multiparty democracy and media freedom – a process that Adolf Hitler perfected and used to kill democracy in Nazi Germany and subsequently unleash the Holocaust that killed millions of Jews and other people. Kenyans must never forget this history, lest they repeat it with horrendous consequences.

While many of us admire Chinese economic success through socialism, we regret the fact that China is a dictatorship, and not democratic like Scandinavians who are both socialists and democratic.

But because both the Chinese and the Jubilee governments are hostile to democracy, Jubilee has formed a partnership with Chinese media – Pan African Network Group Kenya Ltd (PANG) – to kill media freedom and democracy in Kenya.

Chinese media is not democratic in its own country, and it will not promote media freedom in Kenya as illustrated by its rejection of reciprocity in international media practice when it refused to give Kenya a single frequency to broadcast in China.

When I was the assistant minister of Communication and Information ministry, I visited China at the invitation of the Chinese government. Before I left, Kenya had already given Chinese radio a licence and frequency to broadcast in Kenya. In my meeting with the Minister of Information, I mentioned that since Kenya had granted a frequency to Chinese radio, Kenya wished China would reciprocate by granting Kenya a frequency in China. In his reply, the Chinese minister in a shocking, categorical, arrogant, dismissive and condescending attitude said: “China has never and will never grant a frequency to a foreigner.” China would not give Kenya a frequency. Though I wished Kenya could withdraw its frequency to China, the Ministry of Information was unconcerned, and has subsequently done worse.

As if the Chinese answer was not enough insult, the Kenyan government has now not only allowed Chinese radio to keep its frequency, a Chinese company – PANG – is lead provider of 120 frequencies in Kenya, while KBC’s Signet has only 54 frequencies. A consortium of three big media houses has 20 frequencies and Small Media Owners Association (SMOA), which has more than 30 radio stations has none. To justify this abomination, the Chinese company is claimed to be more resourced than our local media. While this thinking could deliver Kenya to international investors, Director General of Communications Authority, Julius Wangusi, says Kenya has been under pressure from World Trade Organisation to licence China, but China has not been put under pressure to license Kenya.

But why has Kenya been so generous to China?

As we demonstrated, when we gave our communication system to foreign companies, Kenyan leaders are so unpatriotic and greedy that they will sell off Kenya to international investors for 30 pieces of silver.

Second, because of Hague cases, Kenyan leaders may be so afraid of the West that they will surrender anything to China for protection against ICC.

Third, a foreign company will be easier to manipulate and use to kill democracy than vibrant local media.

Fourth, as in the case of the undisclosed Safaricom Mobitelea, some invisible Kenyan leaders may have entered into a partnership with Chinese media companies for a piece of the pie.

Unfortunately, the Kenyan government has never been above board and fair in its issuance of frequencies, management of media industry and government distribution of advertisement revenue that is shared out outside procurement and disposal law. For instance, to get a frequency, a friend recently advised: "Climb the tree from the top."

Could foreign companies have learnt this lesson? Colonialists monopolised media through exclusion of Africans. After independence, one party dictatorship held a monopoly of media ownership. Multiparty democracy gave frequencies to the politically correct and well-connected. Now foreigners are outmaneuvering well connected locals with their subservience and willingness to eat with those in power.


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