Saturday, January 12, 2008

a Kenyan gov. spokesman outdoing himself or a redicule?

Mr. Dannis Onyango of the east african standard could not possibly put it more clearer. That, any sane kenyan or anybody around the world watching/reading Dr. alfred mutua's statements would be left wondering if at all he is serious about his duties.

Dr mutual a man in denial?

Published on January 13, 2008, 12:00 am

By Dennis Onyango

Dr Alfred Mutua, the Government spokesman, is either a man in denial or one paid by the public to deny.

If Kenyans choose to believe him, then Ghanaian President Mr John Kufuor must love tea. According to Mutua, Kufuor who is also the chairman of the African Union, flew all the way from Accra to Nairobi last week just to have tea with President Kibaki.

On January 7, as Kenyans hinged their hope for peace on the then expected arrival of the Ghanaian President, Mutua argued at a news conference that Kufuor was not coming as a mediator.

"This is a fact-finding tour," he said, adding that there is "nothing to be mediated".

"They (Kufuor and Kibaki) are age-mates and friends, and Kufuor is coming to have a cup of tea with him," the Government spokesman said, making light a weighty issue of life and death.

According to Mutua, even America, Britain and European Union thought it was sensible for the Ghanaian President to come for tea in Kenya.

Again, if Kenyans choose to believe the Government’s spokesman, all is well and there is neither trouble nor violence in the country.

Even if one is expected to defend the indefensible, something appears to be amiss in the Office of Public Communications.

Ready-made answers for everything anytime have become the stock-in-trade emerging from that office. Statements that appear too insensitive or outright careless have become too ordinary and regular from the office that was supposed to give accurate information on what the Government is doing.

A week earlier, on January 2, more than 300 people are said to have died due to post-election violence, including dozens burned alive as they sought refuge in a church in Eldoret.

By that time, the UN cited Kenyan police sources as saying 70,000 people had been displaced in five days of violence.

Uganda’s Disaster Preparedness Minister, Mr Musa Ecweru was also quoted saying that around 5,400 people had fled to the country from Kenya. Several hundred people had also fled to Tanzania, officials there said.

But during a media briefing on January 2, Mutua downplayed the violence.

He said it had only affected "about 3 per cent" of the country's 34 million people.

"Kenya is not burning and not at the throes of any division," he said, stating the Government’s position.

By that time, opening of schools had been postponed nationwide. Six former African presidents were expected in the country to help put out the fires. At the same time, America had sent a top diplomat, Dr Jendayi Frazer. The British Prime Minister, Mr Gordon Brown had personally talked to both President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga. Also Senator Barack Obama spared time from his busy campaign schedule to talk to both State House and Raila on the situation in country.

By mid-week, President Bush had also voiced his concerns about the events in Kenya.

All these efforts, if Kenyans choose to believe Mutua, were too much ado about nothing.

At around the same time, he called a press briefing to deny there was in problem in the country.

He came up with his usual " the Government wishes to make several points very clear" statement.

All is well in Kenya

The points included statements that leaders are responsible for actions of their supporters, "for example when their supporters burn a church and kill people."

After his proclamation of " all is well" Mutua went on to say: " Its very sad time in our country to see politically instigated violence in the country where women and children have been killed."

Another point he made among the "several points" was that President Kibaki was ready to speak to anyone and at anytime. "However it should be noted that Kenya is not at war and does not need mediators or peacekeepers. Dialogue is open with anyone but the talk is not mediation or cease fire."

"It’s good to see that things have gone back to normal," Mutua declared, as riots began to engulf the country.

"Many people have agreed to go back to work and have said they are tired of politics," he concluded.

Mutua appeared to be outdoing himself when, on January 2, with the violence just escalating, he posted a statement on his website titled "Government assures investors and visitors that Kenya is safe and secure."

"Following the electioneering and holiday season, the Government of Kenya wishes to assure the business community, foreign and local investors, tourists and all other visitors that normal operations have resumed across the country, apart from isolated areas," Mutua said.

"The Government assures everyone that there is normal security and they can go about their business as normal. The Government has created an enabling environment for business and tourism and Kenyans are engaged in their various economic activities."

Ordinarily, media houses do not need the Government’s advise on how to cover the news, unless the State opts for open censorship.

But when the Government issued a blanket ban on live news coverage soon after President Kibaki was declared the winner, Mutua, again, was at hand with an explanation. He couldn’t hear any of the protests even by the international community.

The Government by requesting media houses not to air live press conferences and call-ins into radio shows wanted "to empower editors to be in control of the information relayed by their media houses."

"In the prevailing environment, some people are using the media to call for violence and to incite members of the public to engage in violence. By running these comments live, at the prevailing emotional state of many citizens, can be dangerous. However, editors are free to screen whatever they want a few minutes later after they have reviewed the material."

Rumours flourished

In the age of the Internet, camera phones and digital pictures, the ban never amounted to much, especially for urban dwellers with access to the little IT gadgets. Information flowed freely within and across the borders.

In rural areas, where the facilities do not exist, the blanket ban gave way to rumours. Some of the rumours said that ODM Pentagon members, Mr William Ruto and Raila had been arrested, that Police Commissioner Hussein Ali and Chief of General Staff Maj General Kianga had resigned. Panic spread, forcing the Commissioner of Police to issue a statement hours later that he was still in office.

Last week, again positioning himself as the public’s watchman, Mutua was on the Law Society of Kenya’s neck.

LSK had struck Electoral Commission of Kenya chairman Mr Samuel Kivuitu from its roll of honours’ list. The Society cited the elections debacle as its reason for doing so.

Reacting on the LSK’s statement on the swearing in of the President, Mutua said it was "inaccurate, misleading and confusing to members of the public."

"LSK should not be partisan and should exercise responsibility by refraining from making claims based on events where they were not present, have no idea of what occurred and at what time," Mutua said.

"It is important that the LSK should be seen to rise above partisan politics and to be a reliable organisation when it comes to legal opinions."

In trying to stand out as the sole defender of public interest, the spokesman still never gave the public the facts that would render those of the LSK irrelevant.

In the same week President Kibaki issued an invitation to Raila for a meeting, Mutua featured in an interview with CNN saying the Government would not negotiate with losers, the ODM.

Denying and condemning is a trend the spokesman has carried from his early days in office. Sometimes thought to be a diplomat for the Government and sometimes representing its worst face.

When, in September 2006, Obama was in the country and asked the Government to act decisively on corruption, Mutua rose with unsparing fire.

He said: "It is now clear that Senator Obama was speaking out of ignorance and does not understand Kenyan politics."

Apparently, in the Government’s spokesman’s world, corruption and Kenyan politics are intertwined. Seemingly, it takes a local or a lesson in corruption and politics in Kenya to understand that.

"It is very clear that the Senator has been used as a puppet to perpetuate opposition politics, which is very shocking because he is supposed to be an intelligent man," Mutua said of Obama.

"We forgive him because it is his first time in the Senate and he is yet to mature into understanding issues of foreign policy."

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