After 24 years of rule by Daniel arap Moi, a new president took over and very quickly came out in favour of more freedom of expression. Kenya meanwhile continues to be something of regional centre for the international news media.
A few days after President Mwai Kibaki unveiled his government in early January, the new tourism and information minister, Raphael Tuju, said his priority would be the total liberalisation of the air waves. Until now, privately-owned radio stations are allowed to broadcast in just a limited area and only the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) covers the entire country. Furthermore, frequencies were assigned in an arbitrary manner under the former government.
At the same time, the powerful Kenyan Union of Journalists (KUJ) accused the judiciary of restricting press freedom, denounced such abuses as the heavy fines imposed on journalists and news organisations and called on the country’s new leaders to create a favourable environment for journalists so that they could promote democracy and development.
In mid-September, development minister Njeru Ndwiga accused journalists of "idleness" and of attacking the government just to sell more newspapers.
Three journalists detained
Tom Mshindi, the managing editor of the East African Standard, David Makali, the editor of its Sunday edition, the Sunday Standard, and his assistant, Kwamchetsi Makokha, were arrested on 29 September 2003 and held at Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters in Nairobi. National security minister Chris Murungaru said they had broken the law by publishing transcripts of the interrogation of two of the presumed killers of University of Nairobi teacher Crispin Odhiambo Mbai, a constitutional conference member who was gunned down on 14 September. Mshindi and Makokha were freed after six hours of questioning but had to report to the police every day. Makali was finally released on 1 October after paying bail of 5,000 shillings (about 60 euros).
Eight journalists physically attacked
James Ng’anga and George Omonso of the daily The Nation, Wanyama Chebusiri of the BBC and Willy Faria of the East African Standard were beaten by police on the orders of a senior officer on 9 April 2003 as they were covering a peaceful demonstration in Kainuk (on the West Pokot-Turkana border). Cameras were confiscated from some journalists.
Four journalists were attacked by students from Kenya Polytechnic on 21 May as they were covering a demonstration that had turned into a riot. The students caused them injuries and robbed them (taking a mobile telephone, a camera and money). The chief photographer of the East Africa Standard, Hudson Wainaina, and a trainee with Nation TV, Hakubwa Owino, were struck on the head with stones. Students also manhandled Agence France-Presse reporter Lilian Mariba and stole a freelancer’s camera.
Harassment and obstruction
President Kibaki brought a complaint against two privately owned newspapers, the East African Standard and the Kenya Times, on 8 April for publishing reports a week earlier about a trial pitting the president against a fuel distribution company. Kibaki called for the journalists to reveal their sources as no reporter had attended the hearing and the reports referred to aspects of the case that had not been mentioned by the judge. The next day, the high court refused to enquire into how the newspapers got their information, saying they could have got it from reading the court register, the complaints filed and the pleas. The judge added that the article was accurate.
Former Kenya Times photographer Wallace Gichere, who has been paralysed since police threw him out of a window in 1991, began a new hunger strike on 30 November to press his demand for the compensation which the authorities had promised to pay him on many occasions. He had already staged an unsuccessful hunger strike in 2002. In 2000, then President Moi had agreed to compensate Gichere after recognising that he was thrown out of a window because of the information he and his pro-democracy group had sent to Amnesty International. In December, the government finally announced the payment of 9.4 million shillings (about 100,000 euros) to Gichere.