A Nairobi based Editor once told me that the laziest professionals in this city are journalists; you would have to look hard to find even a handful of committed journalists who are avid readers, researchers and have well developed material. Given the pointed ignorance by the media of situations that should ideally be the focus of their news reports and features, I am inclined to agree.
Ever since the Jubilee government took office in April 2013, the mainstream media in Kenya has actively pursued an agenda of bare-faced brown nosing and boot-licking, self censorship and general laziness when it comes to the most basic news stories. Events will occur right under their noses, go on for days and only upon getting some kind of go-ahead signal from the regime then choose to donate about 5 minutes of their time to the subject.
There is no situation more grievous in Kenya today than the illegal arrests and incarceration of ethnic Somali people in a highly controversial and racially motivated “security operation” called Usalama Watch. Led by the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government Mr Joseph Ole Lenku, Usalama Watch not only ignored a 2013 ruling by the High court stopping the forced transfer of 50,000 Somali refugees to Dadaab and Kakuma camps, it also is now considered the most widespread government sanctioned ethnic profiling ever undertaken by Kenya. Using as yet unwarranted and inexplicable means, this government has decided that the face and source of terror activities is Somali people.
To date the transformation of the Safaricom Kasarani Stadium into a police station is yet to be explained – the claim that it was defined as such via gazette notice is yet to be verified as to when this was done and using which laws. Most egregious is the fact that there have been documented systematic human rights abuses including and not limited to extortion and ransoming of those arrested, rape, beatings and forcible transfers of asylum seekers and Kenyan citizens who are documented.
The fact that the mainstream media has chosen to wholly ignore the ongoing illegal detentions and deportations over 70 days since operation Usalama Watch began speaks volumes of the utter betrayal by journalists. Not only have they not investigated the claims of human rights abuses, they have also refused to further cover the situation entirely.
The sum total result of this is that while thousands of Somali people are intimidated, harassed and violated, the rest of the country remains engulfed in a veil of darkness, wrongly believing that Usalama Watch has and continues to provide “increased security.” The claims by Administration Police spokesperson Masoud Mwinyi that “terror attacks have stopped in Eastleigh area since the Usalama Watch operation started” in an interview with Al-Jazeera’s social media show AJStream on 22nd April were immediately debunked when a day later a blast at Pangani Police station resulted in the deaths of 4 people among them two policemen. Since that time, neither Usalama Watch nor the bombings have stopped, with multiple blasts occurring in both Nairobi and Mombasa.
While the rest of the country is now forced to deal with being searched at every entry point to a public space, including when getting into public service vehicles, the journalists have chosen to generally remain mum about this; they do not question, they do not highlight, and they certainly do not investigate.
This sort of self-censorship is an affront to the principles of journalism, insulting to democratic values and quite frankly completely unethical. If these journalists don’t want to do their job and be journalists then they should do now what many of them choose to do later – leave the profession and move on to other careers.
In any progressive state, the function of the Fourth Estate is crucial to the management and culture of the nation. A lazy brood of ineffectual journalists and their complicit media houses contribute negatively to the overall social fabric; we have a reduced capacity to be a democratic country simply because these journalists aren’t loyal to the people!
More importantly, it is an ugly stain on our conscience to have a convenient silence when an entire community is targeted and suffers extensive, prolonged abuse. There can be no justice if the media is silent about the grave atrocities inflicted upon one ethnicity. The fact remains, that if the media does not speak up, when they are supposed to, then none of us can be safe while the government wages a “war on terror”.