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WHAT DID RUTO REALLY SAY ON PRESS FREEDOM IN ADDIS ABABA?

Mr William Ruto is the Deputy President of Kenya. Mr Macharia Gaitho is the chairman of the Editors Guild. Both men attended the 6th Annual Africa Media Leaders Conference on ‘Press freedom and Freedom of Expression’ held last week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Mr Ruto was in attendance to address the conference, Mr Gaitho to observe and report it. There, agreement ends.

MACHARIA GAITHO – RUTO STRATEGY TO SHUT DOWN DISSENTING VOICES

Macharia Gaitho, chairman of the Editors Guild

Macharia Gaitho, chairman of the Editors Guild

Writing in the Sunday Nation two days after the conference (‘Ruto: Media freedom an alien Western concept’), Macharia Gaitho declared that Mr Ruto’s speech ‘was a confounding repudiation of the entire principal of media freedom’.

Mr Gaitho reported Mr Ruto as suggesting that ‘a conference theme focusing on media freedom and freedom of expression was a misplaced regurgitation of values imposed by Western interests bent on subjugation of Africa.’

Ruto’s theme, said Gaitho, was that ‘colonial exploitation, slavery and apartheid were living in the campaigns for media freedoms in Africa today’ and that ‘Campaigns against dictatorship and totalitarianism and authoritanism (sic) in Africa… ‘were owned and driven by Western interests as part of the continuing drive to exploit African resources.’

Macharia Gaitho concluded his column with the view that Ruto’s speech ‘indicated the Jubilee government’s attitude toward the media’ and was ‘probably is an indicator that the controversial laws being passed against the media [in Kenya] and other critical independent voices, civil society, are not incidental, but part of a deliberate strategy to shut down all dissenting voices.’

If Deputy President Ruto’s speech in Addis Ababa was as described by Macharia Gaitho it is truly disturbing.

HARKS BACK TO KENYATTA AND MOI ‘DICTATORSHIPS’

Just in case we did not get the point the first time, Mr Gaitho returned to his theme in an ‘opposite editorial’ in the Daily Nation two days later (‘Chilling messages by Ruto and his Ethiopian host on media freedom’, November 12).

Ruto’s speech was, wrote Gaitho, ‘A speech that bore all the hallmarks of President Kenyatta’s most hardline strategists’ which was ‘heard in stunned silence as the audience tried to digest a message that seemed to hark back to the era of the Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel arap Moi one-party dictatorships.’

Let us leave the report to Mr Gaitho for three paragraphs.

‘The speech sought to lend an intellectual sheen to repression, arguing that campaigns for media freedom and freedom of expression that formed the theme of the conference were, in fact, foreign, Western, imperialistic “narratives”.’

‘His message was that anyone agitating against repressive media laws and against curbs on freedom of expression, speech, association, assembly and other guarantees in the Bill of Rights was not a patriotic and loyal Kenya, East African and African; but a tool and agent of imperial and neo-colonial powers.’

‘But his cardinal message was heard. We are all agents of foreign interests, and therefore fair game to be treated as traitorous, treasonous, saboteurs.’

MEDIA BILL AND RUTO’S SPEECH CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Kenya Forum readers will know that we are deeply opposed to the ‘Media Bill’ currently in front of the President

Ruto - What did he say in Addis Ababa?

Ruto – What did he say in Addis Ababa?

Kenyatta for signature (see ‘President Kenyatta – Please do not sign this bill into law!, 1 November) and Macharia Gaitho’s two articles gave us further cause for concern, for if that is what Deputy President Ruto said then to put it mildly, it did not bode well for press freedom and freedom in general in Kenya. So we began to research an article on the subject, only to find, one way or another that the story did not add up.

RUTO – AFRICA SHOULD OWN ITS OWN NARRATIVE

Below are extracts from other media outlets and their coverage of Ruto’s speech in Addis Ababa.

For example, Kenya Today (Ruto: Press Freedom in Africa confusing’) painted a different picture of Ruto’s performance.

‘Deputy President William Ruto revealed, ‘to the amusement of his listeners’, that press freedom in Africa is very confusing… The Deputy President urged Africa media to ‘tell its own story, beat its own drum, sing its own song and dance its own beat’…

“I am speaking about Africa owning its narrative. That is the one true gift Africa and AU can give to the people of this continent: the chance to have our voices heard. That is the Uhuru of our time. The true meaning of freedom,” Ruto told the conference.

Press freedom and freedom of expression was, to Hon Ruto, a paradox of sorts as it contradicted the perception of Africa as created by the ‘western media’.

“According to the prevailing international narrative, it actually is hopelessly contradictory, or at least, thoroughly confusing,” said Ruto adding that the western press portrays African governments as authoritarian, dictatorial and repressive while ignoring the positive things happening in the continent.’

“FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND PRESS IS A WAY OF LIFE”

The Ethiopia Observatory meanwhile reported that, ‘During the round-table, William Ruto said, “Freedom of expression and press is a way of life in our country,” adding, “Jailing people for publishing opinions, no matter how disagreeable, is unacceptable. It is backward and primitive.”’

It also recorded: ‘Regarding the latest Media Bill passed by the Kenyan legislature, he said, “Our parliament passed a bill. We admit it is contentious, so discussion is already underway to resolve the contentious issues.”’

“AFRICA HAS SUFFERED RACIST, COLONIAL NARRATIVES”

The Hindu (‘As African media rise, leaders justify controls’) may have come nearer to Macharia Gaitho’s interpretation of Ruto’s speech

‘In a keynote address delivered on behalf of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, his Deputy William Ruto said Africa had historically suffered from racist, colonial narratives propagated under the guise of free expression.

“Freedom of expression is not about truth, it is about the freedom of the sponsors of the media, of advertisers to propagate these old narratives,” said Mr. Ruto “It is the freedom to sponsor exploitation and manipulation …through an unbalanced narrative of change.”’ 

GOVERNMENT-MEDIA RELATIONSHIP NEED NOT BE ADVERSARIIAL

The Agence France-Presse (AFP) is the oldest news agency in the world and one that the Kenya Forum has always regarded as a professional and trusted source.

How did AFP report Ruto’s speech?

‘On Friday, Deputy PM William Ruto told a gathering of African media leaders in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa that “our parliament passed a bill that we admit is contentious.”

“The President has undertaken to refer the bill back to parliament so that these matters can be ironed out,” he added.

He also said that “discussions are underway between various stakeholders – executive parliament and the media – to resolve the contentious issues”.

In his address, Ruto heralded the role of a free press in Africa, saying “the relationship between government and media does not need to be adversarial”.’

WHO IS REPORTING THE TRUTH?

So this is the Kenya Forum’s dilemma.

If Mr Macharia Gaitho’s reports as to what Deputy President William Ruto said to the 6th Annual Africa Media Leaders Conference on ‘Press freedom and Freedom of Expression’ is correct, we should all be very worried and there should be an outcry from press and public, and Mr Ruto should answer both to them and hopefully, to the President.

If the media outlets quoted in this article are reporting nearer to the truth of what Ruto said then Mr Gaitho, as a journalist and as chairman of the Editors Guild, has questions to answer as to the nature and accuracy of his reporting.

RUTO, RELEASE THE SPEECH…

It is difficult to see how both stories can be true. If Ruto spoke as reported by Gaitho then freedom of the press in Kenya is under threat for sure. If Ruto did not speak in such terms then Mr Gaitho has abused the freedom of the press.

The truth is that the Kenya Forum does not know which version is correct but there is a solution: Mr Ruto, please release the full text of your speech in Addis Ababa. Mr Gaitho please respond when you have read it. Either way, the press and people of Kenya need to know the answer.

Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration

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