COVER IMAGE: LEGISLATOR AND LAWYER TOM KAJWANG WAVING APPEARANCE AT MOCK SWEARING-IN OF OPPOSITION LEADER RAILA ODINGA. FEBRUARY 2018 SOURCE BEN CURTIS / ASSOCIATED PRESS
Over the past few weeks there has been a growing threat to the freedom of the press for one of the bastions of stability and freedom in East Africa: Kenya. On February 1st the high court in Kenya partially reversed the government’s ruling to close several television studios. These closings were a direct result of political controversy that came on the heels of the country’s elections in August, in which the race between incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and the challenger Raila Odinga was postponed due to voting irregularities throughout the country (Maggie Fick and George Obulutsa, 2018). Despite the election resuming in October, Odinga declared the new elections illegitimate, and subsequently boycotted it along with his supporters, leading to a Kenyatta electoral victory (Maggie Fick and George Obulutsa, 2018). This has led to a series of riots in the areas where Odinga held the majority support (Maggie Fick and George Obulutsa, 2018). Ralia, has also refused to recognize the legitimacy of the new president, going so far as to hold his own inauguration as the country’s president.
The latest development is what prompted the government to shut down any news stations giving coverage to this parallel ceremony (Catherine Soi, 2018). The uncharacteristically authoritarian move was met with resistance from many concerned journalists. The high court was subsequently put under a large amount of pressure from local activists, including Okiya Omtatah, who petitioned the court on the unconstitutional nature of the ban (Robyn Dixon, 2018).The court eventually suspended the ban on a fraction of the affected organizations, until a full court case on the order is carried out (Robyn Dixon, 2018).
The whole episode marks another stark downturn in the stability in what was long considered among the best functioning nations in East Africa. This has led many commentators to fear the breakdown of democracy and the creation of a strong man in Kenyatta. As Nic Hailey, the British commissioner to Kenya, said “One of the strongest things about this country — one of the reasons that so many investors are headquartered here, that so many people come here, that this country’s capital is the hub of the region and one of the hubs of the continent — is because of the open democratic free media and the sense that people from countries like mine feel at home,”. (Robyn Dixon, 2018).