Political change in December 2002, gave rise to much hope for the fight against corruption, nepotism, abuse of power and poverty. But the socio-economic situation has scarcely changed and the private press, which is in the vanguard of democratic demands, often pays a high price for it.
An incident pitting the first lady against the private press is revealing of the simmering tensions between the government and journalists. On 2 May 2005, shortly after midnight, the wife of President Mwai Kibaki, Lucy, accompanied by her body guards and Nairobi’s police chief stormed into the offices of the leading press group, the Nation Media Group. Lucy Kibaki staged a sit-in at the office for several hours during which time she insulted and threatened the journalists whom she said had been “unfair” and demanded their immediate arrest. The altercation, which received wide media coverage, ended badly. A cameraman was brutally attacked by the president’s wife. The case ended up in the courts.
In this large democracy, economic and political platform of East Africa, press freedom is a reality, even though journalists are exposed to all kinds of public and political violence. Even if press offences are no longer punishable with prison sentences, fines slapped on newspapers by judges appointed by the president on the basis of their “loyalty” can reach disproportionate levels.