Media / Watchdog
Sunday, 19 Jun 2016 11:42 EATdkiraka@kenyafreepress.com
Godfrey Mwapembwa, popularly known as ‘Gado’, marked his debut in The Standard newspaper on June 17 with stinging criticisms of the media itself. Gado, who worked for the Nation Media Group for 23 years, was unceremoniously shown the door a few months ago following consistent government pressure.
The Standard committed a full page three main cartoons by Gado, two of which were written last month, when he had officially joined The Standard. Two cartoons were notably vivid, one a rebuttal of media’s independence and another providing a jaundiced view of President Uhuru Kenyatta and CORD leader Raila Odinga’s commitment to addressing hate speech.
The cartoon on media depicts the institution as a limping man whose arm and leg have been chopped off by the state. Seated next to the stage on which the media is being persecuted are caricatures of President Uhuru Kenyatta, ensconced in a kingly golden chair and wearing a king’s crown, and his deputy William Ruto, in a Sikh turban. They are watching in amusement as a helpless media is unable to fight back at state repression.
With the exception of a few flashes of authoritativeness, institutional media in Kenya has been allied with the dominant elite since independence. The two major media organizations, the Nation and The Standard, largely covered news in ways that pleased the government.
Not to say that there weren’t journalists in these organisations true to good journalistic standards. George Githii, who was appointed editor of Nation mid 1960 was a strong critic of the government. Philip Ochieng’, who joined Nation as a reporter in 1966 saw his controversial and editorial writing force him out of the Nation several time. More recently, the sacking of Denis Galava from Nation also highlights how the media’s soft underbelly is exposed.
The cartoon rebukes the media for not fighting back. The media is shown standing clueless. It perfectly sums up what the Kenyan media is doing at the moment, just standing around in bewilderment as its freedom is curtailed. All is done under the guise of electoral policies and procedures. This also brings to the fore credibility issues. With outspoken members of the press being sacked, this means that the media cannot be trusted to carry highly critical stories on the government.
This then means that grievances of the people, the true depth of scandals in public institutions and parastatals will morph into air, leaving the public without a watchdog. Nothing could have captured the current state of media so perfectly.
The second cartoon focuses on the sensitive topic of political incitement. The drawing shows President Uhuru and Odinga, the supremos in Kenyan politics, holding two ingeniously named grounds divided by a fence. Each is feeding ferocious pets. The Jubilee side, called the ‘Jubilee Serpent Den’ has Uhuru throwing drumsticks to a serpent named Kuria, while serpents Duale and Kimani slither around ravenously. Several smaller snakes and a scorpion with a human skull can also be seen. Across the fence, the ‘CORD Viper Nest’ has Odinga feeding his own snakes: Aladwa, Ndolo, Muthama, among others. The two exchange smirks. On the bottom right, is Gado’s tiny man commenting, ‘elections are here…time to feed their pets!’
This is a summation of the story that happens every five years. With elections drawing nearer, politicians often let the passions of the occasion take centre stage, setting their tongues loose. In defending their party-affiliated MPs or by remaining silent, the party leaders are in essence feeding monsters. Before the eight MPs’ release, CORD threatened to call for demonstration to demand the release of the leaders, a statement that is only evidence of the fact that Kenyan political leaders are out to serve their own interests.
In October 2015, a video showed Mayor George Aladwa saying that ‘if in 2017 we win the elections and the results are stolen, let people die’. These words were spoken to a charged group of youths at Kibera, a stronghold of CORD. This amounted to incitement but CORD leader Raila Odinga came to Aladwa’s defense.
Moses Kuria and Ferdinand Waititu are repeat offenders, who have faced incitement to violence more than once. Their stay in the political parties implies the leaders’ tolerance of their antics, to the detriment of our nationhood. When they call out for the eviction of certain communities from certain areas, they do so safe in the knowledge that they will receive little or no censure from the president.
Kuria and Waititu, who face similar charges in other courts, should not have political careers. They have shown, more than once, that they are too sentimental, too narrow, to hold positions of influence.
Through this simple cartoon, we get to see the whole political spectrum of the country currently and get to see how the political class is slowly fueling ethnic animosity by not acting on rogue members of their parties.
Kiraka is a student of journalism at the Technical University of Kenya (TUK). His interests are business, politics, sports and media criticism.