Monday, September 4, 2017

Monday Reflection: On Maraga's Courage and The Cowardice of the Kenyan Media

On Friday, Kenya's Supreme Court made an unprecedented decision in declaring the 2017 Presidential Elections null and void based on the fact that the constitution and electoral laws were violated. In his ruling, the Supreme Court Judges (there were two dissenting judges in a six judge bench) opined that presidential elections is a process and not an event thus affirming the principle that the product is only as good as the process that produces it. When NASA decided to go to court, I was relieved but at the same time felt that the best they were going to get out of the process was maybe a declaration that the election was marred by irregularities that were not enough to affect the votes. At most, an audit of the votes could be ordered. The President's election would be upheld and we would be asked to move on -- and in less than a year, politicians would begin to jostle for 2022.

My belief was not based on the fact that I believed the President actually won or that NASA had a weak case but rather on the fact that often when push has come to shove and big decisions need to be made in this country, we have often erred on the side of caution and gone with the status quo. After the bungled 2007 elections, we opted for a coalition government rather than go back to the polls, even if it was after taking one year off to heal from the violence. In 2013, despite the fact the IEBC were unable to account for all the votes, the Supreme Court opted not to upset the apple cart and upheld the election result. It was therefore my conviction that this court, given that it had retained four of the judge from the 2013 bench, was likely to follow precedent and replicate their 2013 counterparts. 

On Friday I sat at home, working (in case my bosses are reading this) but keeping an eye on the proceedings. However, when the Chief Justice made his now famous opening remarks, about fidelity to the Constitution and adherence to the rule of law, I instinctively felt we could be in for something special. This feeling was slightly tampered by his announcement that they would not be giving the full judgment due to time constraints but would publish the full judgment within 21 days.  The 2013 Supreme Court did the same thing and when the judgment was finally published, it was a disappointment and criticized by many. It was, therefore, the most pleasant of surprises when I realized that for once, there are men and women in Kenya willing, and courageous enough to make tough decisions outside the borders of political expediency. 

Chief Justice David Maraga

Kenyans will be going back to the polls again. The Court has already demonstrated that it will not entertain processes that do not adhere to the law. However, there is one important institution that has continued to demonstrate timidity when it comes to accountability. The Kenyan media. That the irregularities happening went about unreported by the media, who preferred to bury their heads in the sands and instead rely on word from the IEBC without seeking to authenticate its veracity is puzzling. Yes we know they do depend on government advertising revenue for their survival and have faced threats of shutdown from government forces but one hopes that the courage demonstrated by the Supreme Court will now rub off the media in their coverage of the upcoming elections. The Kenyan media has the wherewithal to cover all constituencies, report on results announced in all constituencies and provided parallel tallying to those of the IEBC and political parties. 

The elections will once again be hotly contested, and there will be lots of propaganda flying about from both NASA and Jubilee operatives. Whichever party will lose, we shall be told that the elections have been rigged once again. We therefore need and independent and robust coverage of the elections, including vote counting and tallying, by the media to help us decipher who is telling the truth. The money invested in the boring, poorly dressed, inarticulate and endlessly parroting panels / manels during the election is better invested in polling station result announcement coverage that will help us decide whether the elections have indeed been free and fair. By doing this, they will help reduce possible incitement of the public by election losers, regardless of the political side in which they will be found  


  1. "The money invested in the boring, poorly dressed, inarticulate and endlessly parroting panels / manels" this

    1. ...partly borrowed from your tweet a few days back!