On 22nd December 2014, Nancy Mbindalah wrote that Ishiara Level Four Hospital had been closed due to lack of water, which had been disconnected over an unpaid bill, and asked what the county government was doing about the issue. This was not the first comment she had made on the government. Before this she had said that one could not get a tender or a job in Embu without “compromising Wambora.” She had also said that she was “proud to be a Kenyan from Embu, the land of impeachments, where even an illicit brew called Gathufuria impeaches people to death.” She had once also asked why Wambora was giving all county tenders to one specific woman.
Governor Wambora made a complaint to the Acting County Secretary, who then forwarded it to the police. She was arrested for insulting the governor on Facebook and “peddling some statements which are misleading and inciting.”
Nancy Mbindalah was released after she and her mother, Jane Kiringa, allegedly pleaded with the governor. He forgave them, because he is such a gracious man.
It is becoming fashionable for those in power to have social media users arrested for posts that they claim “cause anxiety” and are a “misuse of licensed telecommunication equipment.” I am able to visualize the glee with which these vague charges are slapped on these people, and the great joy with which they set exorbitant bail and bond amounts for daring to question those in power. This happened to Robert Alai, a social media pest, when he insulted Uhuru Kenyatta on Twitter by telling him to rule maturely, and Abraham Mutai, when he exposed corruption in county governments such as Mandera, as well as in corporations such as the Geothermal Development Company (GDC). They also have the social media accounts of the accused deactivated while they struggle to find a way to make their charges stick.
I find it ironic how thin the skin on Kenyan leaders is. They put us through hell and we are expected to bear it without complaint, but when we voice valid criticisms of their leadership, they are so sensitive and galled that they have to concoct nonsensical charges so as to punish and silence us. When they say that these posts cause anxiety, I wonder, to whom? The general public? No. It must be to the beneficiaries of the status quo, who are still surprised that we dare to assert ourselves, on the internet or anywhere else.
Alfred Keter, the MP for Nandi Hills, was caught on camera at the Gilgil weigh-bridge demanding that the staff manning it (drawn from Kenya National Highways Authority and Kenya Police) release a trailer that had been detained due to lack of authorization to be on the road. He is heard saying that “we are the government” and that “we will reverse the law, we have to sack the people” and since “we are the ones making laws, we break it when we want.” He also claims that the Statehouse Comptroller, who basically speaks on behalf of the president, called to have the truck released. He also goes on to call people “motherfuckers” indiscriminately, and claim that he “fucks innocent, stupid people.”
The contempt he displays seems to be channelled all the way from the Head of State, whom he refers to in his diatribe. Uhuru Kenyatta has displayed his contempt for Kenyans before, and it seems that this gives his underlings the confidence to go around threatening people for doing their jobs. As I write this, Alfred Keter has not been arrested for “causing anxiety”, or anything else for that matter. In fact, he went on TV and refused to apologize for his actions, and claimed that if he were to resign, many Kenyans would die because there would be no other Keter to fight for them, yet about 20 were needed.
It then appears that there are two sets of laws in Kenya, those for the rich and powerful, and those for the rest of us. The Bill of Rights, enshrined in our constitution, gives all Kenyans the freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas; it only does not extend to propaganda for war, incitement to violence, hate speech or advocacy of hatred that constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm; or is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27(4). People like Nancy Mbindalah and Abraham Mutai did not commit any crime according to this, yet they were still arrested and forced to suffer police custody, while people like Alfred Keter openly flout it and continue to walk free.
Keter and his ilk are right to feel anxious. They are right to be afraid. The corrupt political class depends on the ignorance, fear and helplessness of the average Kenyan to remain in power. That is why governor Wambora of Embu “forgave” Nancy after she pleaded. Such pleas help to assuage their fears and remind them they are still in power. We have seen this happen before when Uhuru Kenyatta was heckled, and when Raila Odinga was caned. Social media tools and other forms of communications make this difficult, because now, rather than waste time in our bureaucratic systems trying to get justice, it is possible to share incidents of injustice with Kenyans en masse and let them know what is happening. These tools enable people to become aware of their true power, and assert themselves and demand their rights and freedoms.
Kenyans no longer accept wholly what they read about, hear or see in the media as complete truth. People now question, and are not afraid, and this scares the ruling class. People make active efforts to identify lies and propaganda, making it increasingly difficult to manipulate the perception of the masses. As a result, we can expect that the onslaught by the rich and powerful against the ordinary citizen will become harder, but we must be willing to pay the price and stick the course. We can create the Kenya we want should we do so.