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Kenya: Threats to Media Ahead of August Polls

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Beatings, Harassment of Journalists and Bloggers Go Uninvestigated
NAIROBI — Authorities in Kenya have committed a range of abuses against journalists reporting on sensitive issues, threatening freedom of expression ahead of elections slated for August 8, 2017, Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa said in a report released today.
Journalists and bloggers reporting on corruption, disputed land acquisition, counterterrorism operations, and the 2007-2008 post-electoral violence, among other sensitive issues, have faced intimidation, beatings, and job loss.

The 53-page report, “‘Not Worth The Risk’: Threats To Free Expression Ahead of Kenya’s 2017 Elections,” documents abuses by government officials, police, county governors, and other government officials against the media. Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 examined government attempts to obstruct critical journalists and bloggers with legal, administrative, and informal measures, including threats, intimidation, harassment, online and phone surveillance, and in some cases, physical assaults.

“We must stem the tide of increased violence and impunity against journalists in Kenya,” said Henry Maina, regional director at ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. “No policy to address the situation can be successful if measures to prevent aggression against and to protect at-risk journalists are not accompanied with thorough and timely prosecutions of all crimes committed against them.”

Despite receiving formal complaints from journalists, police have rarely investigated the attacks or threats. Since President Uhuru Kenyatta took office in 2013, there is no evidence that any security officer or public official has been held accountable for threatening, intimidating, or physically attacking a member of the media in Kenya.

Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 interviewed 92 journalists, human rights activists, bloggers, and government officials throughout Kenya and documented 17 incidents in which 23 journalists and bloggers were physically assaulted between 2013 and 2017 by government officials or individuals believed to be aligned with government officials.

At least two died under circumstances that may have been related to their work. The groups also documented 16 incidents of direct death threats against journalists and bloggers across the country in recent years, and cases in which police arbitrarily arrested, detained, and later released without charge at least 14 journalists and bloggers.

For example, on September 7, 2016, unidentified assailants forced themselves into the house of a photojournalist, Denis Otieno, in the town of Kitale, Rift Valley, and demanded photos on his camera, then shot him dead. Otieno had photographed police officers shooting to death a motorcycle taxi rider at a Kitale bus station a few days earlier. A family member said that before his murder, Otieno had expressed alarm about death threats. No one has been arrested in relation to his killing.

One Nairobi-based editor told the two groups: “Whenever we write articles critical of security agencies or exposing corruption in the government, our reporters receive death threats from security and other government officials. This is usually followed up with withdrawal of government advertising or withholding of revenue from advertising. We now have to assess carefully whether such stories are worth the cost.”

With the general election set for August, state security agencies have heightened threats and appear to be using ambiguous legal provisions to carry out increased surveillance, without warrants, on journalists reporting on sensitive issues. As one reporter said, “If you have written about security agencies or corruption-related stories, you have to know that you are being followed or your phone is being listened into.”

“For Kenya’s August elections to be credible and fair, the media needs to be able to report on pressing issues of national interest without fear of reprisals,” said Otsieno Namwaya, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “President Kenyatta should publicly underscore the importance of free expression and condemn threats and attacks on journalists and bloggers.

While Kenyan journalists have borne the brunt of government abuse, the foreign media have also faced reprisals for critical reporting. In 2015, Kenyan authorities threatened to ban two foreign journalists for an international media outlet for reporting on alleged police death squads implicated in extrajudicial killings.

Despite receiving formal complaints from journalists, police have very rarely investigated attacks or threats to the media, Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 found. In 2015, an unidentified assailant believed to be a government security officer physically assaulted a human rights and anti-corruption blogger, Florence Wanjeri Nderu, and warned her against continuing with her blog posts on corruption. Despite her detailed report to the police about the attack and the suspect, police have failed to investigate her case. “Police never bothered to visit the scene of my attack or even followed up with me to see how I was doing,” she said. “The matter ended with the report I made.”

Timely and thorough investigations and prosecutions for these attacks and threats is crucial in ensuring that the media and bloggers report freely on issues ahead of the 2017 elections, Human Rights Watch and ARTICLE 19 said.

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KENYA

Five al Shabaab abductees on police radar after escaping from Somalia

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Security agencies are hunting for five al Shabaab abductees who escaped from cells in Somalia.

Sources within the security circles said the five were due to be executed by the militants for communicating with al Shabaab fugitive Ahmed Iman Ali.

They suspect the five have sneaked into the country to seek refuge from the terror group.

Ali, who was a vocal Al Shabaab propagandist, fell out with the leadership of the terror group in mid last year.

This was after several Kenyans were executed allegedly for over spying and leaking information to Ali and the Kenyan government.

Ali was against the executions as it targeted mostly Kenyan fighters, most of which he was responsible for their recruitment.

Read: Residents desert border village after al Shabaab attack, put up flag

The five militants, who are originally from Lamu and Malindi, are said to have been taken into custody towards the end of last year.

Reports indicated that Ali is seeking asylum from the government amid several attempts by al Shabaab to kill him.

Animosity and hatred has been rife within al Shabaab with intelligence reports indicating that Kenyans in the group are the most affected.

At stake is that local Somali fighters, who consider Kenyans as moles for the security agents, have isolated the Kenyan foreign fighters.

Al Shabaab has been fighting for years to try to topple Somalia’s central government and rule the Horn of Africa country in line with their interpretation of Islamic Law.

The terror group has in the past publicly executed Kenyans who they accuse of collaborating with the Kenyan troops.

Those killed in the last one year include former Moi University student Jared Mokaya Omambia, Faraj Abdulmajid, Ahmed Yusuf Hassan, Ahmed Nur Abdi Osoble, Abdullah Talal Musa, Hashim Othman Selali among many others.

The mistrust between the native Al Shabaab Somali fighters and other foreign fighters has also seen the eruption of several splinter factions emerging from the group.

The indigenous Somalis are in support of the establishment of ‘Somali only’ Al Shabaab group while foreign fighters have threatened to join a splinter group pledging their allegiance to the Islamic State.

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I will form my government even from exile, says Raila

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Opposition leader Raila Odinga has vowed to form a rival government when he is sworn in on January 30 even if it is based outside the country.

He spoke as 13 opposition MPs said they will have all the National Super Alliance (NASA) affiliated lawmakers to support the oath by swearing affidavits declaring they will only recognise Mr Odinga as president.

In an interview with Voice of America, the opposition leader said his oath of office will be based on the results of the August 8, 2017 election, which he claims he won.

He said he will form a cabinet and run a government even if it will be from exile.
“This is no joke. An illegitimate government is in office, and the one that the people actually wanted to be there is outside. On January 30, we will end this. We will be sworn in with the August 8 results that shows we won,” he said.

President Kenyatta has warned that the law will take its course if Mr Odinga acts against the Constitution while Attorney-General Githu Muigai has said the oath will attract a charge of treason, which attracts the death penalty.

SHAM ELECTION

On Wednesday, the AG said he has to listen to the interview before responding. “I will listen to it and come back to you,” he said on the telephone.

In the August 8 election, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) declared President Kenyatta the winner with 8,203,290 votes (54 per cent) followed by Mr Odinga’s 6,762,224 (43 per cent). Nasa declared the election a sham and went to court to have it nullified.

At that time, the opposition believed that the entire election was tainted by “non-compliance, irregularities and improprieties” and did not ask the Supreme Court to order a manual recount of the votes which would have established if there was an error — or manipulation of computers — in declaring Mr Kenyatta the winner.

Instead, Nasa asked the court to quash Mr Kenyatta’s win and order a fresh election. The Supreme Court found in favour of the opposition and ordered a repeat poll, which Mr Odinga boycotted, citing lack of electoral reforms.

The Nasa leader says his January 30 oath is a protest against what he terms lack of electoral reforms and the failure by Jubilee to initiate dialogue over it. Asked what he will do after the oath, Mr Odinga said he will form a government.
EXILE

“We can even be a government in exile, one that works from outside. It has happened in other countries. What we are saying is that Kenyans can no longer allow an illegitimate government not elected by the people to rule them. We will work like a government, we will form a Cabinet and we will work as a government,” Mr Odinga said in the Swahili interview recorded at his Capitol Hill office, Nairobi, on Tuesday.

Mr Odinga dismissed as far-fetched claims of differences between him and his co-principals Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula.

Nasa insiders say the three principals have called for a stop of the swearing-in ceremony, preferring dialogue to avoid the confrontation that would come with taking the presidential oath when President Kenyatta has already been sworn in. But Mr Odinga said the Nasa team is fully behind him.

“There is no rift in Nasa at all. No problems whatsoever. My brothers are fully behind the course,” he said.

On disagreements over the sharing of parliamentary committee leadership positions in the coalition, Mr Odinga said the differences were normal.

RETREAT

“In a large family like Nasa, these things are bound to occur. There will be cases where one family is demanding a fish and vice-versa. That is normal,” he said.

Yesterday, it emerged that two meetings by the Nasa principals had not yielded fruits over the swearing-in ceremony and that they had scheduled a retreat on Friday at Maanzoni Hotel in Machakos.

At Parliament Buildings on Wednesday, 13 lawmakers led by Kakamega Senator Cleophas Malala and National Assembly Minority whip Junet Mohammed started a campaign that they said would see all the coalition’s MPs, governors and MCAs sign a legal instrument binding them to a resolution to swear in Mr Odinga and Mr Musyoka as “people’s president” and deputy. Nasa has 154 law makers — 127 MPs and 27 senators.

The MPs said they do not recognise Mr Kenyatta as President.

“We are bound by a solemn belief in the sanctity of the vote and respect for the democratic will of the people. And we stand here before you to say enough is enough. Enough with “accept and move on”. Enough with Jubilee’s electoral theft. Enough with the diplomats and their dialogue. Kenyans want nothing short of electoral justice,” said Mr Malala.

ELECTED LEADERS

“It is in this spirit that we as elected leaders representing the people have resolved to come together to further demonstrate that we do not recognise Uhuru Kenyatta as President,” he said.

However, none of Wiper and Ford-Kenya MPs attended the press conference that came just a day after the coalition’s four principals failed to agree on the modalities of the oath after two days of secret meetings.

The leaders first met on Monday at Karen Country Club and at a private residence in Lavington on Tuesday. In the affidavits, the leaders recognise Mr Odinga as the people’s president, having been elected as the president during the August 8 presidential election. They affirm that the poll, won by Mr Kenyatta, was not free, fair, transparent or verifiable.

The affidavit further trashes the October 26 repeat presidential election as a nullity because it was conducted by an electoral commission that was in contempt of the Supreme Court orders and that it was not conducted in strict compliance of the constitutional provisions and all other applicable laws.

ACCESS SERVERS

“Had the IEBC complied with the Supreme Court orders and provided access to its servers, the results would have shown that the winner of the first presidential election was Mr Odinga,” the affidavit reads.

However, during yesterday’s press conference both Mr Malala and Mr Mohammed rejected claims of disquiet in the coalition over the oath and the manner in which the committee leadership positions reserved for the opposition parties had been shared out.

“There is no fallout in the coalition and nobody has been forced to sign the affidavit. It is one of our programmes to ensure the swearing-in ceremony takes place,” said Mr Mohammed.

Mr Odinga, on the other hand, told VOA that while foreign diplomats were welcome to help Kenya as friends, the current stalemate could only be addressed by Kenyans themselves.

“This is a fire that is for us Kenyans to put out. We have stated our agenda for dialogue.” he said.

WARNED ENVOYS

“If they do not, sisi hatubembelezi mtu (We will not plead with anybody). We will do our things, let them do theirs and then we will see where we will meet,” he said and warned the envoys to keep off the push for dialogue, accusing them of siding with Jubilee.

Mr Odinga is particularly upset by US ambassador Robert Godec who recently asked Nasa to drop the “unconstitutional” swearing-in for a structured dialogue.

“They are our friends but they cannot force us. Kenya is not a colony of America. We are a free country. We will do as we want. It is not us Nasa that have breached the Constitution because they have created an illegitimate government,” he said.

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Miraa exporters to Mogadishu boycott trade over high prices

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Miraa exporters serving the Mogadishu market have started a boycott on the trade citing high farm gate prices.

Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (Nyamita) Chairman Kimathi Munjuri said the traders resolved to boycott buying the twigs to force farmers to lower the prices.

According to Mr Munjuri, a 100kg sack of miraa is now selling at Sh160,000, up from at least Sh20,000 during the rainy season.

This means a 1kg bundle (bunda) of the medium quality miraa is selling at Sh1,600.

The high prices are due to low supply caused by the dry spell that started early December.

“Only traders serving other parts of Somalia shipped their commodity on Monday night.

Traders who export to Mogadishu feel that it is not sustainable to buy 100kgs at Sh160,000 because buyers cannot afford it.

TRADERS MEET

He said the traders met in Eastleigh on Sunday and resolved that they would not buy miraa from farmers.

“This means about 30 tonnes of miraa has not been delivered to Mogadishu,” Mr Munjuri said.

Mr Joseph Muturia, a member of the Miraa report implementation committee, said the premium quality miraa known as ‘Mbaine’ is selling at Sh6,000 a kilo while ‘kisa’ is retailing at Sh4,000.

“I currently sell miraa locally because residents understand the quality of this type of miraa,” Mr Muturia said.

Mr Josiah Mugo, a miraa consumer, said he could no longer afford to chew daily after prices spiked from mid-December.

“A small bundle (surba) of the best quality khat is now retailing at more than Sh400 from Sh150 last month. I am considering shifting to muguka but its quality is not good. I am now chewing occasionally so as not to stretch my budget,” Mr Mugo said.

BOYCOTT FUTILE

However, Nyamita termed the move by the traders as futile saying the miraa prices are determined by market forces.

“Miraa trading is highly dependent on supply and demand. At no time do farmers or suppliers meet to fix the price. The exporters have tried this before in vain. Let those who have a market for miraa, at its prevailing prices, buy and sell without undue subjection to mob attempts to fix prices,” Mr Munjuri said.

He noted that farmers are also subjected to poor prices when there is a miraa glut during the rains.

“During the rains, miraa is in plenty and traders pick it for a dime. An attempt by farmers to boycott selling at poor prices have also failed,” the Nyamita chairman said.

ADDRESS CHALLENGES

Nyamita now wants the Agriculture and Food Authority (AFA) to move in and address challenges facing the sector so as to stabilise prices.

Earlier, the lobby had faulted AFA for not operationalising an office in Maua, Meru County that was opened in November 2017.

“The fluctuations in supply [is one] of the urgent and critical issues we have been hoping the national government would address. Unfortunately AFA is yet to start operations despite opening their office in Maua,” he added.

Farmers have called on the county and national governments to allocate more funds towards irrigation projects to ensure consistent production of miraa.

In April 2017, traders boycotted selling miraa in Somalia for four days over a tax dispute with Mogadishu authorities.

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