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August – Dark Month For Press Freedom

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By Florence Gichoya

There is a systematic stifling of the media by oppressive regimes and extremists. The rising numbers of journalists killed or jailed across the globe because of doing their job is of great concern to any society.

Peter Julius Moi, a 27 year old South Sudanese journalist was murdered on August 21 2015 in Juba by unknown assailants. He was a print journalist and wrote for the bi-monthly ‘New Nation’ newspaper and ‘The Corporate’ a weekly newspaper.

His tragic death came three days after President Salva Kiir threatened the media just before he left the country to attend peace talks in Ethiopia. “Freedom of the press does not mean that you work against your country. If anybody does not know that this country will kill people, we will demonstrate on them,” he said.

South Sudanese journalist Peter Julius Moi who was murdered in Juba, South Sudan (Photo courtesy-CPJ)
South Sudanese journalist Peter Julius Moi who was murdered in Juba, South Sudan (Photo courtesy-CPJ)

Irina Bokova, the Director General of United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) condemned the heinous attack and urged South Sudan government to expedite the investigations in the interest of upholding press freedom and the rule of law. “Journalists are the voices of the people and when violence is used to silence one of them, society as a whole suffers,” Irina indicated.

According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) South Sudan is the second deadliest country for journalists globally and comes after France. Peter Julius Moi was the seventh journalist to be killed in the country this year alone.

CPJ confirms that 39 journalists have been killed across the globe in 2015.  Since 1992 around 1,142 journalists have lost their lives while in the line of duty. Iraq tops the list with 67 deaths followed by Algeria (60) deaths and neighbouring Somalia comes in third with 57 deaths.

221 journalists were imprisoned as of December 2014. In Africa, Eritrea tops the list with 23 journalists jailed without trial. It is also the most censored country in the world and operates on presidential decrees since its constitution was suspended.  Ethiopia comes in second with 17 imprisoned journalists attributed to the repressive 2009 anti-terrorism law that criminalizes any media reporting that authorities consider to ‘encourage’ or ‘provide moral support’ to banned groups.

While journalists’ lives are most endangered in conflict zones and in despotic regimes, there is an upsurge of threats in seeming ‘peaceful’ countries. In USA, news reporter Alison Parker and her cameraman Adam Ward were shot at by Vester Lee Flanagan II, a disgruntled former colleague on August 26, 2015. They worked for WDBJ TV station and were attacked during a live-on-air interview recording.

Brazilian journalist Gleydson Carvalho worked for Radio Liberdade FM station and was very vocal on political corruption. He was killed on August 6 2015 while on-air by assailants who stormed his workstation as he presented his mid-morning radio show.

Early this year, the world was shocked when 8 French journalists working for satirical magazine ‘Charlie Hebdo’ were murdered by terrorists. The motive of the attack was the magazine’s publishing of cartoons depicting Muslim prophet Mohamed.

Judicial intimidation on media

Journalists facing oppression have fled their home countries in large numbers. According to CPJ, since 2010 more than 452 journalists are living in exile. Syria’s 101 journalists have fled the country. In Africa, Ethiopia tops with 57 followed by Eritrea where 32 have fled. The topmost countries considered a safe haven for exiled journalists are USA, Turkey and Kenya.

In Ethiopia ten members of ‘Zone9Bloggers’ who wrote on human rights and governance issues were arrested on April 25 2014. The government charged them for using internet and social media platforms with the intent to ‘overthrow, modify or suspend the Ethiopian Federal State Constitution’. The leadership somehow succumbed to international pressure and released five bloggers before USA President Barack Obama’s visit to Ethiopia in July. It was such an unexpected move that the bloggers’ lawyer learnt about their release through the state media. The case has been adjourned for a record 36 times as the government calculates its next move.

In West Africa, as Cameroon is involved in fighting Boko haram insurgency it is not allowing any criticism or divergent opinion especially from the media. The country’s National Communication Council (NCC) shut down ‘Afrique Media’ a pan-African television channel. A government official justified the move by saying that the work of the media is to inform and not ‘behave like judges.’ The media house had reported on Cameroon’s Boko haram war and implied that France could be funding the terror group since confiscated firearms from the group came from France.

When Egypt’s military overthrew the Muslim brotherhood government, a diplomatic war erupted between Egypt and Qatar. On December 29 2013 Egypt arrested three journalists who worked for Qatar owned Al Jazeera media house. Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were charged for biased reporting on ousted leader Mohamed Morsi and Muslim brotherhood. They denied the charges and were later released after global diplomatic pressure.

The escalating threat on press freedom should be checked since journalists are simply carriers of information. Intimidation and killing of reporters will only push the media to self-censor its work in order to survive, the result of which will be a disservice to the public’s right to information.

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Immunization should be mandatory – not a choice

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By Florence Gichoya
Last year there were religious sects across the country that locked their children from health officials during the polio vaccination exercise. The Catholic Church also warned its members to keep off the tetanus vaccine alleging that it could cause sterility on women. Such actions elicited a lot of debate between government and the groups with each vehemently standing their ground. Yet the vaccinations are the safest and most effective method of fighting disease. This begs the question, have we come this far that majority of the current population have forgotten how it used to be to have a disease outbreak?

A child getting immunized. Photo by Micronutrient Initiative

From 24th to 30th April, Kenya joined the rest of the world in marking the ‘World Immunization Week’. The theme this year is ‘closing the immunization gap and reaching equity in immunization levels’. UNICEF Acting representative to Kenya, Dr.Pirkko Heinonen shared her experience when she was in Ethiopia in 1974 working as a medical doctor. By then, Ethiopia was facing a serious whooping cough outbreak. Today, majority of the Kenyan population may not have an idea on the ramifications of a whooping cough outbreak or measles outbreak because of the success of vaccines over the decades. “We have failed to communicate on the diseases we no longer see because of the success of vaccinations”, Dr, Heinonen reiterated. It is ironic that the opponents of immunizations programs were immunized when they were children yet they don’t want other children to benefit from the same intervention.

The choice on whether to immunize is not made by children but by their parents, guardians, medics, clergy or caregivers. The future generation’s posterity is at stake since children don’t have a choice on whether they are vaccinated or not. Life threatening diseases rob a child’s destiny because most of the immunizable diseases are very disabling if not causing death. Nominated Senator Harold Kipchumba contracted polio because of missing out on required immunization, he is Kenya’s immunization goodwill ambassador and stressed that the first years of a child determine if the child will live or not.

The health Cabinet Secretary, James Macharia emphasized that vaccination is the only weapon that can defeat diseases like small pox, polio, tetanus and others. “Out of 52 countries that were undertaking trials on the tetanus jab, it is only in Kenya where there was opposition and the process had to stall. Global Vaccine Action Plan (GVAP) is a framework to prevent millions of deaths by 2020 through universal access to vaccines for people in all communities regardless of where they are born, who they are or where the live. GVAP puts emphasis on a country’s ownership on immunization services, equity, sustainability, integration and embracing new vaccines and immunization technologies. As a result, in 2014 Kenya’s ministry of health launched the ‘National Immunization Policy’ which provides guidelines on immunization services in the country.

Immunization is free in all health facilities in Kenya as the government puts emphasis on achieving 90% pentavalent 3 coverage on elimination of maternal and neonatal tetanus. Currently, the coverage of immunization in the country varies; measles is at 87%, BCG at 97%, Pneumococal 3 at 85% and Polio 3 has the lowest coverage at 81%. The main challenges hindering immunization coverage of 100% are religious and cultural. Vaccination should be a shared responsibility between government, parents, guardians, community and religious leaders. It is cheaper to vaccinate a population than curing and managing a disease outbreak as evident in West Africa with Ebola.

Media Companies should get rid of ‘Scarcity Mentality’

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By Florence Gichoya

The past week has seen KTN, NTV, QTV and Citizen go off-air from digital platform due to an impasse between them and Communications Authority of Kenya (CA), the government’s regulator. This action may have disappointed many Kenyan viewers but it has also led Kenyans to discover other TV channels available on the digital platform. Viewers are now watching variety of content from K24, Ebru TV, Farmers TV, Hope TV, and many others.

Though the ‘Big 3’ stations as they are commonly referred to by local media have a right to be aggrieved, what is more surprising is that they failed to position themselves to take the lead in this process. It is not easy to embrace change especially when it rattles your comfortable position as a market leader. Media technology is dynamic and it’s not static that’s why is surprising if not amusing to watch the manner local media houses have handled the process from court room battles to accusations peddled online against CA.

tv 2The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has worked on a digital broadcasting plan covering 116 countries to switch off analogue broadcasting system to digital system. The deadline switch off date for Africa, Europe, parts of Middle East and Russia is 17 June 2015. When that decision was made in Geneva on June 2006 many countries probably thought 2015 was too far and there was plenty of time. In true fashion of rushing the last minute, African countries are now working round the clock to ensure they meet the deadline. In the continent Mauritius and our neighbor Tanzania have already transitioned to digital broadcasting joining USA, Canada, Europe, Japan and South Korea.

There are countless opportunities that will come with digital broadcasting including new content development opportunities, employment, economic growth, cheaper advertising rates and a platform for healthy competition between stakeholders. I am looking forward to the day when we will have Kenyan made content comprising at least 80% of our TV programmes. Nigerian movies and Mexican soap operas have outlived their welcome in our TVs.

Free advice to the ‘Big 3’ is that they should get rid of ‘scarcity mentality’ which has led them to believe everything is limited and there is not enough cake to go around. There is nothing permanent except change and leading international brands like Coca cola know that too well.TV 1

Rosa Moss Kanter of Harvard Business Review said that when more competitors from more places produce surprises and shocks. An intensely competitive global economy places a high premium on innovation, which depends on human imagination, motivation, and collaboration. The Mahindra Group which is an $11 billion multi-¬business company based in Mumbai, employs 117,000 people in more than 100 countries. The Mahindra Group operates in many industries, like automobiles, finance, IT, and several others. And like other great companies, it invests in creating a culture based on a common purpose to provide coherence amidst diversity.

Blaming government and Chinese owned companies will not help, globalization has increased the speed of change and it is up to the ‘Big 3’ to adapt fast for if they snooze they lose.

Has Kenya turned to be a haven for terror?

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By Florence Gichoya

On Saturday as Kenya joined the rest of the world in celebrating Press Freedom Day, another terror attack happened in Mombasa and 3 people lost their lives and 13 were injured. Within 24 hours there was another terror attack on buses on Thika road and 3 died and 82 were injured.  Maybe it’s my instincts but I have observed that the recent 2014 terror attacks have happened a day before President Uhuru Kenyatta travels abroad or on the day he arrives from foreign visits. Below are few examples.

1. The Likoni church attack happened on March 23rd and Uhuru’s road trip to Tanzania was on March 24th.

2. Eastleigh blast was on March 31st and Uhuru was scheduled to travel to Belgium/Turkey on 1st April.

3. The Pangani police station attack happened the day Uhuru came back from Qatar. (April 23rd)

4. #MombasaBlast happened today (May 3rd) and Uhuru is set to travel to Nigeria tomorrow (March 4th) for a 3 day state visit.

5. Two buses on Thika Road were attacked on May 5th the day president Uhuru was leaving the country for Nigeria.

One of the bus that was attacked on Thika Road
One of the bus that was attacked on Thika Road

I may not be a security expert but as a concerned citizen, the frequency and coincidence of terror attacks is disturbing. So far government officials have assured Kenyans on the need to be vigilant and report suspects to the police, but we need more action than rhetoric. The terrorists live among us and know how to circumvent the security forces though corruption and absconding bail when arrested. Maybe it’s time we amended some of our laws, for instance why do we treat terrorism like a normal crime? We also need to give the National Intelligence Service powers to arrest terror suspects otherwise the blame game between Kenya police and NIS will continue.

Our coveted wildlife is declining at an alarming rate

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By Florence Gichoya

 

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Kenya is losing wildlife at an alarming rate and if something is not done soon we might lose our heritage. Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), the institution mandated to protect our wildlife, has not been up to the task in effectively fighting poaching. Recently the Director General William Kiprono dismissed wildlife conservationists’ call on the President to declare poaching a national disaster.

The question is: When will poaching be, at least, declared a crisis? When we no longer have elephants and rhinos in our parks? KWS is showing laxity and not reigning on the poachers as expected.

The most affected animals are rhinos and elephants and this year, we have so far lost 18 rhinos and 51 elephants. Last year, we lost 59 rhinos and 302 elephants and if the trend continues, in a few years to come, we will not have these animals. Technically, simple calculations dictate that the rate at which rhinos are massacred far out numbers the calves born. A rhino’s gestation period is about 16 months while elephants have the longest gestation period of almost two years.

We pride ourselves in being a home of the Big Five, yet experts have warned us that if something is not done, then we might lose our heritage and our wildlife may one day be a subject in history books. Conservationists have alleged that there has been increased poaching in Africa because of the high demand of ivory in Asian countries especially Vietnam and China. The rhino horn is perceived to have medicinal value in some Asian communities, a kilogram of rhino sells at more than Sh1 million.

Kenya is not the only country facing the brunt of poaching. Last year, South Africa lost more than 1,004 rhinos through poaching, an activity that thrives in a complex network of cartels taking advantage of our porous borders and corrupt law enforcers.

Organised cartels

The culprits seem to be well organized syndicates that use superior weapons and have a network of funders, traffickers and traders who remain elusive to authorities. Although Parliament can be commended for enacting the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act which became operational this year, more needs to be done to end the vice. The security forces must be proactive and make arrests before the killings take place. They also need to conduct thorough investigations so that we can see more convictions from the courts. If poaching is not stopped, it will have a negative ripple effect on the economy.

Tourism is a major foreign exchange earner that heavily depends on our wildlife. The revenue could drastically drop if there are no interventions. For Kenya to retain its position as the world’s ideal safari destination, tougher measures should be adopted to deal with poaching. Right now, the poachers seem to be one step ahead.

Deliberate awareness

New technology need to be adopted to reduce the number of animals killed. The fight against poaching should also involve communities and the private sector. Just like the ‘Nyumba Kumi initiative’, deliberate awareness should be made to communities living in the environs of our national parks and conservancies. Community conservation policy should be encouraged so that people will be on the lookout of suspects and report incidences to the authority. President Uhuru Kenyatta recently said he is disgusted on the rising cases of poaching. He also said he will decisively deal with the matter. Moving forward, the long term solution includes a global ban against ivory and rhino horns trade. The Kenyan government through the African Union should aggressively lobby for the ban, especially in Asian countries. As Kenyans, it is our collective responsibility to speak up and safeguard our wildlife which is our national treasure and pride.

What it will take to rid Kenya of corruption

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By Florence Gichoya

Since independence, Kenya has seen different changes in regimes but if there is one thing that has remained constant it is – corruption. This week the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) launched its strategic plan for the next five years. During the launch, President Kenyatta likened the vice to what cancer is to the body. However many Kenyans remain skeptical on the government’s commitment to fight the vice. It’s a fact that corruption stunts the country’s development agenda while enriching a corrupt few. It is a fact that in the 1960’s Kenya was at par economically with countries like South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore.  Corruption became our down fall.Interestingly, we have the best laws in the world but the more things have changed the more they have remained the same.

Every year Kenya loses billions through corruption and the culprits are hardly prosecuted.There needs to be a change of tact in the fight against the vice. First all Kenyans should be involved in the preventative measures. Compulsory radical campaigns should be introduced in schools on the values of integrity. The campaigns should be on similar frequency like the ones on HIV/AIDS. While this would be a long term objective, we need to use other means to achieve the short term objectives for instance; corrupt officials should be made to pay back the money they acquired through corruption.

But even as we aspire to catch up with Singapore, Malaysia and South Korea from where they left us in the 1960’s there are lessons that we can learn from them in their commitment to fight corruption. According to corruption perception index by transparency international done last year, Singapore was ranked the fifth least corrupt country in the world with Denmark and New Zealand taking the first position.

Nevertheless, the fight against corruption has to start from the top. President Uhuru has demonstrated this by speech but we are waiting for action. Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, leads in the fight against corruption head on and Singapore has tough inflexible laws where corrupt officials are prosecuted and face a 5 years jail term or hefty fines of up to 7 milllion Kenya shillings. When president Xi Jinping of China took over in March last year,he accelerated his fight against corruption by vowing to catch the ‘tigers’ and ‘flies’; what in Kenya we would refer to ‘big fish’ and ‘small fish’.

Kenya's president Uhuru Kenyatta
Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta

Last year, Kenya was ranked 136 out of 175 countries in the corruption perception index that was carried out by Transparency International.A big challenge lies ahead for EACC and the government in order to curb the vice. But the citizenry also needs to be actively involved in the fight, it is easier to accuse the police and other public servants for being corrupt but those give bribes are equally guilty.

A new approach is needed especially on recovering public funds and assets that were acquired fraudulently.We need more stringent laws on how we can recover money from the architects of anglo leasing and Goldenberg scandals which can be used to build hospitals and roads in every county. We also need to set up an education policy where integrity and values are integrated in the teaching of compulsory subjects in our schools.This will eventually influence future generations to be in-tolerant to corruption, Hong Kong successfully implemented this program and it is one of the least corrupt places in the world.

While Kenyans welcomed the idea of the president setting up a reporting system in his website, they will believe the president’s commitment in fighting corruption when the culprits finally face the axe. Kenya has the potential of being a first world country if we all decisively get rid of corruption.

Kenya can set the standard and avoid the ‘oil and minerals curse’

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By Florence Gichoya

Many African countries that are rich in minerals and oil have had a symbiotic relationship with conflict. Where oil, gold and diamond thrive in plenty, conflict has not been far from these countries.

Kenya recently exported the first batch of base titanium to China and we could soon become an oil exporter. But when we strike the ‘black gold’ and it becomes viable, will it boost our GDP or do we have to worry about the ‘oil curse’?  For a long time Kenya has been the biggest non-mineral economy in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Already, there have been numerous cases of demonstrations by people in Turkana County who demanded for more employment opportunities from the exploration company Tullow Oil. The local leaders have also been agitating for a bigger share of the oil revenue should benefit the locals. The county had been marginalized consistently by previous regimes and with the recent discovery of oil and water aquifers shows that God has finally smiled on the region.

But even as we celebrate our new found wealth, we need to be deliberately cautious so that we don’t become another statistic. The worldwide demand of oil and other minerals supersedes the supply and that’s why pundits have always said that oil revenues tend to increase corruption, incidences of anarchy and dictatorship.

Oil spill in Niger Delta, Nigeria Photo by EPA
Oil spill in Niger Delta, Nigeria Photo by EPA

Africa has many bad examples of the trend, for instance the conflict in Niger Delta region in Nigeria between oil companies and local communities. South Sudan has now been plunged into violence and there is the narrative in media reports that the conflict is due to power struggles between President Salva Kiir and former Vice President Riek Machar. However, one can’t ignore the hidden agenda of controlling the country’s vast oil resource. Central African Republic (CAR) has also recently fallen to anarchy with violence between different factions. The country has seen a lot of instability over the years because of coups and counter coups. CAR has large deposits of gold and diamonds. In fact, 80% of the CAR’s diamonds are gems which are of higher value than industry diamonds and their quality is ranked fifth best in the world.

DRC is a another gloomy statistic of how minerals have been exploited by vested interests at the expense of conflict, human rights violation and high levels of poverty among the people. The illegal mining of cassiterite, coltan, gold and tungsten is managed by rebels and illegal cartels that fan conflict so that they can support the supply chain to multinationals that manufacture computers and mobile phones. These companies’ silence on use of conflict minerals is proof of their culpability. So far only one multinational company, Intel, has stated that it’s no longer using conflict minerals in making their products.

All the same oil and minerals are our heritage and can be a blessing if managed well. Kenya can learn a lot from Norway and Canada. The countries have observed democracy over the years and managed to use their oil revenue responsibly. They have invested in education, health, infrastructure and their citizens reap directly from their resources. Here in Africa, Botswana has managed to avoid conflict as it is a major diamond exporter.

We have to do things differently on how we manage our oil and minerals. Transparency and accountability by the government and stakeholders is key. The public should be aware of the flow of minerals from the source, export and process to the final product. Most of the conflicts arise from inequitable sharing of revenue and corruption by government officials.