Freedom of the Press Alive and Well in Kenya

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In January Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki suspended Kenyan Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza and appointed a tribunal to investigate her conduct in an incident that occurred on December 31, 2011.

According to a story that first appeared under the headline “Deputy CJ in Gun Drama” in Kenyan newspaper The Star on January 4, 2012, the DCJ went to the upscale Village Market Mall in Gigiri, Nairobi, and walked past the mall entrance security checkpoint where other mall customers were waiting in a queue to be searched.

Security guard Rebecca Morara Kerubo, who told The Star that she did not recognize the DCJ, followed the DCJ and told her she had to undergo the routine mandatory search. At that point, the DCJ is alleged to have pinched Kerubo’s nose and told her to “know people.” She is then alleged to have told her bodyguard to shoot Kerubo and, when the bodyguard refused, to have retrieved a pistol from her car, pointed it at Kerubo, and threatened to shoot her herself.

This story bodes well for the return of the rule of law on the continent.

First, it shows that freedom of the press is alive and well. Whereas in the past The Star would have made a quick retraction and issued an apology before its editors would be arrested and its premises shuttered, the story has been picked up by all dailies and is still making headlines.

Second, it shows a dissipation of the culture of intimidation and fear, in which citizens facing gunpoint and all manner of harassment was the norm; where a “do you know who I am?” would have prompted a hasty and frightened apology from the lowly security guard.

Third, for President Kibaki to step in and suspend his recent appointee shows a new seriousness that should warn the class of hitherto untouchables that the time for accountability has come.

Now the fate of the DCJ is in the tribunals’ hands.

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