|State House reacts|
Journalists covering President Mwai Kibaki have been roughed up by the massive and usually overzealous security corps
Covering presidential functions is an increasingly difficult affair for Kenyan journalists. They risk being roughed up by the massive and usually overzealous presidential security corps. Elkana Jacob of The Star daily and Willis Oketch of The standard were beaten up by presidential security at different functions during the Head of State’s Christmas/New Year holiday at the Coast. Jacob was accosted by the bodyguards during the New Year party hosted by the First Family at State House Mombasa.
Kibaki and his wife Lucy were about to take to the dance floor to usher in the New Year when security personnel attacked Jacob. They whisked him out and took away his camera. They held him until the first couple finished dancing. “My pleas to be allowed to take pictures of the first couple dancing fell on deaf ears as three more aides were assigned to bar me from entering the pavilion for over two hours,” the Star quoted its reporter as saying. He was released and handed his camera at the intervention of a Presidential Press Service photographer.
Presidential guards also ordered police to lock up Standard’s Oketch for over an hour when the First Couple was at Moi International Airport in Mombasa heading back to Nairobi on January 5. Oketch said he was frog matched and locked up at the airport police cells for unspecified reasons.
Hardly a week later in Nyeri in Central Province journalists were barred from covering President Kibaki as he attended a funeral service in his Othaya Constituency. Cameramen were ejected from Karima Catholic Church where the service was conducted. A week later, reporters received the same treatment in Nanyuki where the President attended the funeral of a relative.
The hounding of journalists was condemned by Media Institute Director David Makali and The Standard newspaper on Monday, January 25. In his column in The Star, Makali questioned Kibaki’s commitment to media freedom. “Although Moi’s repression of free speech is unparalleled, Kibaki is a wolf in sheep’s skin and it is questionable whether indeed he is a reformer who believes in the freedom of the press.”
Makali recalled the unprecedented 2005 attack on The Standard by hooded mercenaries working with security agents and the First Lady’s siege of Nation Centre and assault of a journalist as evidence of “presidential impunity.” He condemned the current trend where “journalists are frequently hassled, frisked, ejected from presidential events and in some cases their professional tools confiscated by overzealous presidential aides.”
In an editorial, The Standard acknowledged that the President is entitled to tight security round the clock in and outside State House. “But it is one thing to guard the President, and another to commit crimes in his name. It is indefensible that his guards would, without flinching, attack journalists and lug them along by the waistbands of their trousers and skirts.”