Uhuru and Ruto during their Tano Tena campaign. The Kenyan economy is on its deathbed overseen by the two as theft of public resources at all levels of government threatens the country’s survival. www.businesstoday.co.ke
Uhuru and Ruto during their Tano Tena campaign. The Kenyan economy is on its deathbed overseen by the two as theft of public resources at all levels of government threatens the country’s survival. [Photo/BT]

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] was at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) on the day journalists were kicked out after the 2007 General Election went south.

The iconic building was the national tallying centre for the Electoral Commission of Kenya and had seen some epic battles as President Mwai Kibaki’s team fought to keep him in power.

The now deceased chairman of the commission, Samuel Kivuitu, had famously said he didn’t know where some results were and flippantly suggested that maybe they were getting “cooked”, in perhaps the most insensitive joke in the history of Kenyan elections.

As a young reporter barely out of my teens covering my first election for a small vernacular radio station, I didn’t quite grasp the significance of the moment.

We were all frogmarched out of the hall where the results were being announced and armed police left us alone only once we were outside the KICC gates.

That evening, Kibaki was hastily sworn in for a second term as the Kenya Broadcasting Corporation’s poorly lit video would later show and the whole situation unravelled into what would come to be known as post-election violence.

Never again, the country vowed, introducing a raft of legal and political reforms to avoid another situation like those dark months.

Save for the 2010 referendum, every election after the 2007 one has been just as hotly contested and the outcome just as divisive.

In my entire career as a journalist, I have never covered a Kenyan election that went smoothly, the loser congratulated the winner and the country moved on.

Fake news 

In the 2017 poll, the role of fake news in spreading misinformation, propaganda and scaremongering made a journalist’s job even harder.

Just last week, a newly registered website resembling NTV’s ran a post claiming that Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu had been placed under arrest after her driver was shot.

When the station corrected the false impression that we had published that story or owned the website, many people refused to believe it.

Here we were, telling our audience that we didn’t produce that misleading report and asking them to disregard it but many of them chose to believe it anyway.

It has been one of the most surprising aspects of this season: people would rather believe a convenient lie than an inconvenient truth.

Supporters of Raila Odinga’s National Super Alliance bought the narrative because it supported their lack of faith in the government.

NTV news anchor and technology editor Larry Omondi Madowo. He avers politics is a passionate subject and any journalist who seeks to speak the truth to power isn’t necessarily the most universally loved. Credit: File

Our legal and security team got in touch with the owner of the domain and it was quickly disabled for fear of a lawsuit and possibly some jail time but the damage had been done.

It is only the most recent example of deliberate deception in a drawn-out campaign season that has seen no small amount of strange occurrences.

In the weeks leading up the August 8 elections, several stories mimicking the style and branding of international television broadcasters were circulated to try and pass off political parties’ talking points fraudulently.

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They were mostly glowing accounts of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s supposed resurgence in the polls or talked up his popularity, leading many to believe that they could have been commissioned by his party or his high-priced international consultants.

Accusations of bias

But the greatest challenge to journalists these past few months has been the never-ending accusations of bias.

A question, a tweet, a column or even a non-verbal cue on air were all analysed and often found questionable by increasingly critical audiences.

For every discussion programme, I am almost always accused of bias by both NASA and Jubilee supporters, which I still find oddly amusing.

“Why are you not neutral?” they often demand and I want to tell them I’m more interested in the truth than false balance but I choose not to engage. They helpfully add that you should take lessons from another journalist but next week, they are also telling the same presenter to be more like you.

Politics is a passionate subject so journalism that seeks to speak the truth to power isn’t necessarily the most universally loved.

Whether they realise it or not, people inevitably seek out information that agrees with them and dismiss anything that challenges their point of view.

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They expect commentators on electronic media outlets or in the print media to support their candidates and gush about their parties or they immediately discount them as unworthy of the platform.

They also demand that journalists only ask tough questions of their opponents but treat their side with kid gloves and soft balls.

If you don’t toe the line, they will spam your social media with mean comments and point out how you don’t deserve anything you’ve worked hard for.

That is the difference in the decade since I started out on the small screen. Now the intellectual and the insufferable idiot have the same weight because they can both reach you on social media and make their point. That is why the Internet has been the single best and worst thing for journalism.

Will the elections be annulled once again?

“The law is very clear” is the latest Kenyan proverb to enjoy a quick ascent to mainstream use, thanks to a national obsession with the Supreme Court petition against the presidential election. Ironically, no two lawyers can agree on the interpretation of the laws they all agree are very clear.

Learned friends within the Jubilee fold believe that President Uhuru Kenyatta was duly elected since he got at least half the votes cast and also bagged 25 per cent of the votes in at least 24 counties.

“Legitimacy is not a legal issue,” Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen told me on Sunday. His party argues that the low turnout was as a result of the public’s disaffection for repeat elections and that the president enjoys almost the same support as he did in the cancelled poll.

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But Nasa says the election they boycotted was a sham and cannot be legitimate.

Like Harun Mwau’s position in his petition to stop the election, they charge that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission was unable to hold a free, fair and credible election, by its own chairman’s admission. Many advocates have suggested that if the poll were contested in court, it would most certainly be annulled again because of the glaring gaps.

We’ll see what happens.

This article was first published in the Daily Nation’s Front Row segment. 

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