Call out the State for its bad manners

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The Kenya Information and Communication (Amendment) Bill, 2019 is the latest indicator that Kenya is morphing into a police state. Inter alia, the Bill aims at controlling the social media space by monitoring the composition of social media platforms and dictating what is to be shared. If the Bill passes, platforms and their administrators will not only need to be formally registered but also administrators will be required to keep details of members and the information posted (on their platforms) and surrender it to the authorities on demand. In case of any crime, according to the Act, administrators will bear the greatest responsibility.

No only so. The Act also seeks to dehorn bloggers who, for so long, have been such a thorn at the side of government. The blogger today could be anyone with a gadget and access to the Internet. However, with the new laws, bloggers will have to be licensed, with anyone practicing the trade without prior licensing guilty of an offence. Per the amendments, the State will also maintain a list of all bloggers and develop a bloggers code of conduct. 

The real mischief of the Act lies in its definition of blogging and the nature of offences it contemplates. The Act defines blogging as collecting, writing, editing, and presenting news or news articles in social media platforms or the Internet. On their behalf, users of social media will be required to use the space responsibly – which entails sharing information that is factual, fair, accurate, unbiased and not prejudicial against any person based on among others, ethnicity, political affiliation, language or appearance. 

This definition threatens all social media users. A significant percentage of all social media use lies in redirecting information and sharing opinions, which, in effect, transforms the innocuous user of a platform in this manner into a blogger and therefore liable under the Act. Anyone could be arrested. 

Furthermore, by these laws, the State intrudes into the sacred freedoms of expression and media – the very foundations of democracy. While factual statements have always been subject to libel laws, the law has refrained from intruding into the space of opinions, acknowledging the critical role different thoughts play in sustaining democracy and intellectualism. Only rarely are opinions factual, fair, accurate, unbiased and non-prejudicial: after all, they are opinions. What’s more, in a country that is highly differentiated and socially stratified such as ours, whatever anyone says is always likely to hurt the next person. The nefarious intent of this Bill becomes obvious when taken in light of events that have characterised the Uhuru Presidency since its inception.  

When we revisit the politics of the Eurobond and the standard gauge railway; President Uhuru Kenyatta’s milk diplomacy, his dalliance with East Africa Breweries Limited as a significant shareholder and the subsequent arrest and arraignment of competitors on curious charges, the now infamous milk laws that sought to push out competition including that from small scale producers and his aggressive and illegal acquisition of the competition in the milk and banking sector, it becomes obvious that the President is only keen on primitive accumulation. Viewed this way, the Handshake and the Offices of the Director of Public Prosecution and the Director of Criminal investigations become simply useful tools in pursuit of this end. 

The real mischief of the Act lies in its definition of blogging and the nature of offences it contemplates. It targets everyone who posts on or uses social media platforms or the Internet… It threatens all social media users.

The President opened up his estate to the SGR; he then bought off the competition. What he couldn’t buy he set out to dismantle. Using state resources, he then shopped for a market for his bulging produce. The final act was to do away with dissenting voices. Acting on the promise to revisit, he started off by destabilising the judiciary. He then populated the Judicial Service Commission and the Law Society of Kenya with his operatives thereby crippling the previously robust institutions. Using the police, he arrested and harassed those who would disagree. Dissenting voices from his own party and angry Kenyans on social media are the last remaining threats to his dominance.

His romance with the opposition has not only killed opposition politics, but is also on the verge of scuttling William Ruto’s presidential bid. The Kenya Information and Communication (amendment) Bill and The Public Order (Amendment) Bill, 2019 which seek to among others, place liability on the shoulders of any person who, while at a public meeting or procession, causes grievous harm, damages people or property or causes a loss of earnings are a double dose for self-diagnosed diseases. 

Without belabouring the facts, these are not isolated cases of bad manners. What the President is doing is he is accumulating gain and working with the powerful oligarchs of the old to ensure that their claim to power and therefore the markets is never loosened. He is a business man. He has always been and is only interested in politics as long as it helps him consolidate gain. Kenyans need to wake up.

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