BY MARYANNE WANJIKU
The media screaming and screeching that followed amendments to laws on the appointment of the Chief Justice, as well as the leadership of the police service may have persuaded a few people to reach the erroneous conclusion that someone was about to trample on the Constitution.
This screaming, fuelled by hate, hype and hysteria, and less so by fact, got me thinking about how Kenyan media might have reported some of the most dramatic events of the past few months.
Reporting on US President Barack Obama’s decision last month to issue executive orders to tighten gun control in order to rein in runaway shootings at American schools, Kenyan newspapers may have attacked him for violating or seeking to dilute the Seventh Amendment and probably “undermining the American way of life” and returning America to the “dark days”. Never mind the fact that gun deaths far outstrip terrorism deaths.
Hate, Hype and Hysteria would have reached the heavens, to God Almighty himself, if it was Kenyan media covering South Africa in December when President Jacob Zuma sacked his trusted Finance Minister, Nhlahla Nene, and replaced him with a little-known but loyal political novice.
The Zuma announcement sent the rand tumbling by nearly 10 percent, and wiped $7.5 billion (Sh750 billion) off the value of the country’s top six banks in an investor-fleeing frenzy at the Johannesburg Stock Exchange over a 48-hour period. Cheered on by the CORD coalition, the Kenyan media would have demanded for President Zuma’s scalp for violating the Constitution, poor economic management, general incompetence, and for “taking the country in the wrong direction” and “bringing down the economy”.
Exasperated, a newspaper editorial might have summed up the episode by asking President Zuma to “get your act together” and an Opposition-leaning economist known to be forever sulking for being overlooked in appointments for Finance Minister and Central Bank Governor might have been called upon to validate the views in an opinion headlined “Doom and Gloom as Zuma errs again”.
The media would also have held Zuma personally responsible for “regulatory policy lapses” which they would have claimed were responsible for the mobile operator MTN’s problems in Nigeria, which led to the imposition of a $3.9 billion (Sh390 billion) fine by authorities in the west African behemoth.
Now, what about dear Zambia, the copper producer that has been heavily lashed by China’s dwindling manufacturing fortunes. Severe decline in copper prices and chronic electricity shortages that hinder manufacturing have conspired to undermine economic growth. As copper is the main foreign exchange earner, its decline has left a 50 percent depreciation in the value of the Kwacha currency, severely constraining importers. Amidst a shortage of the staple maize crop, prices have shot up by one fifth.
Considering the constant battering President Uhuru Kenyatta receives from media even as he prudently runs a fairly prosperous and performing economy, and when he has shown clear commitment to the rule of law, I can imagine that Zambian President Edgar Lungu would have nowhere to hide by now from the hawkish and often fire-first-ask-questions-later Kenyan press.
The low copper prices would have been understood to have been caused by President Lungu himself and the consequent loss in the value of the currency a sign of “lack of international investor confidence in the leadership of President Lungu” and his ruling Patriotic Front (PF) party. The Kenyan press might even ask why the decline was not predicted in order to be prevented. As for the interest rate on the Zambian Eurobond rising to 12 per cent, President Lungu might have been put on the cross and crucified for “eating the interest on the Eurobond”.
Now the latest penchant for Kenyan media and a tiny but over-rated crowd on social media has been an obsession with events in Tanzania, where President John Joseph Pombe Magufuli has been visiting facilities and firing people on the spot for incompetence or corruption. In Tanzania, not surprisingly, Kenyan media would have on the warpath, accusing President Magufuli of lacking regard for the rule of law and due processes as enshrined in a country that believes in the rule of law.
They would have asked President Magufuli to go slow, try to understand the role of his office, and also to reflect on whether he was encroaching on the powers of his cabinet ministers or the boards of state-owned enterprises. Seeing as the Julius Nyerere days were the golden era in Tanzania’s recent not-too-sparkling history, President Magufuli may have been accused of digging Tanzania deep into the abyss “without parallel since Tanzania’s independence more than half a century ago”.
Of course, President Kenyatta is used to Kenyan media. They scream that the buck stops with him on issues ranging from security to when the El Nino rains should arrive. On the other hand, they also scream that the laws have been amended so that the person with whom the buck stops, wields actual power and authority over the nation’s security apparatus.
(Ms Wanjiku is a student of international affairs at the United States International University-Africa)