Choose between a blogger and an Al-Shabaab militant

Monday January 7 2013

PHOTO | FILE Political punditry in Kenya has always been a full-on contact sport. This is especially true in an election year.

PHOTO | FILE Political punditry in Kenya has always been a full-on contact sport. This is especially true in an election year. You cannot control discussions on social media because they simply are an extension of bar talk and gossip that Kenyans use to occupy themselves. If the talk is tribal-based, chances are that so is the bar talk and gossip. NATION MEDIA GROUP


As the general election date nears, some people are determined to make a mark with a burst of empty political noise. But do not be fooled it is noise. This din will not amount to absolutely nothing.

The noise I speak of is coming from the National Steering Committee on Media Monitoring (NSCMM). Good work, guys. Keep those capital letters coming.

The NSCMM is now on the bloggers’ case. This comes after it warned us earlier in the year against sending hate SMS through public networks. (By the way, Bulk SMSes spreading hateful political messages have migrated to the Net, and the committee, which warned of hefty fines, has been unable to stop or charge those behind the messages).

Now that they have been unable to control texts that are within CCK’s control, they have decided to pick on an even bigger and more challenging target. After failing and flailing around in the shallow end with text messages, they decided to head on straight for the diving board and police the deep waters of Internet blogs and social media.

Can you imagine a more pointless public gesture and waste of time than calling a press conference to say that you are monitoring blogs (aside from, say, the National Prayer Day)?

For the few out there keeping score, this is the second time that bloggers have been warned that they are being investigated for hate speech peddling by the committee.

The last time, they asked those with information concerning hate speech to come forward and present the evidence. I presume that the public was not forthcoming with names. Now the committee will have to perform its own investigations.

Sites promoting hatred and intolerance of other people are few and rarely visited, and this dark claustrophobic recesses of the Internet will never rise to the levels of respectability with elections approaching. Most Kenyans, according to Internet figures, choose to receive news from reputable media sites.

If the commission is hell bent on tracking down determined hate mongers, those targeted will simply use cyber cafés, different e-mail addresses and multiple identities to thwart the efforts.

What about social media? I get worried when bloggers are dragged to court over something they said on social media because, frankly, I do not think we should take what happens on social media too seriously.

Social media’s use is clear. It is an open arena for character assassinators and poseurs, and serves as important therapy to the severely mentally ill.

Facebook was invented for the sole purpose of stalking your exes, while the default condition on sites like Twitter is seething and apoplectic, spittle-flecked, politician-lynching, combustive indignation. Anyone with more than 100 followers has the temper of a moderately powerful bishop’s catamite who has been ignored by a waiter. Should we really start to police it?

Courts have better things to do than mediate on arguments that happened in public networks. Similarly, the government has better things to do than monitor its citizens for idle tribal gossip as opposed to terrorism.

While newspapers are generally aqueducts of reason, the comments after the articles they publish are usually boiling torrents of emotion, especially when political matters are concerned. I agree with the media monitoring commission that the comments after articles should be moderated due to the sheer amount of traffic they receive.

If the law is followed through, amateur controversialists trying to get attention on social media will be targeted while politicians doing the same in public rallies with more clout will be left.

Political punditry in Kenya has always been a full-on contact sport. This is especially true in an election year. You cannot control discussions on social media because they simply are an extension of bar talk and gossip that Kenyans use to occupy themselves. If the talk is tribal-based, chances are that so is the bar talk and gossip.

Will the commission also listen in on our private communications to get rid of hate speech? Trying to stop hate speech by law is a bit like King Canute ordering the tides to subside. It is impractical and a waste of resources.

I believe that freedom of speech should be allowed to reign. Opinions should be aired, whether or not it is about a grave or inconsequential matter.

Why, also, is hate speech somehow only associated with politics and political parties? I recall a radio personality making jokes on air about wife battery.

Everyone understood it was humour and no one claimed he was encouraging men to bash their wives.

People with regular access to the Internet are a minority in the country. Many are in the supposed middle class and I would think that they are usually detached from actively participating in election violence. Radio should be more strictly monitored for hate speech than, say, the Internet.

De minimis non curat lex. The law is not concerned with small things. Hate speech in the Internet is a small matter. Move on, there is nothing to see.


Damn the Nile agreement and dam the Nile

In a Nyandarua pub recently, I was surprised that a bar only had one type of juice. It was an imported brand I was unfamiliar with. It tasted good though.
My usual compulsion caused me to read the nutritional information on the container.

I was surprised to see that the juice was actually of high quality. It wasn’t any of those types that are sold as “100 per cent fruit juice” brands that we find locally.

I read the place of manufacture. Gaza? So in between intifadas and occupation they export fruit juice? I looked again and I noticed that the place of manufacture was Giza, not Gaza. What a difference a letter makes. This drink was from Egypt.

A desert, this country is able to export higher quality fruit juice and sell it at a lower price than brands manufactured locally.

Sometimes you need an experience like this to understand how unfairly the ancient Nile Treaty favours Egypt. You only need to look at their exports.

Despite being a desert, Egypt has a higher water per capita use than Kenya, which receives considerably more rainfall.

The Nile agreement was signed in pre-colonial times and it unfairly grants Cairo the largest share of the waters of the river. The agreement can be summarised as: All for Egypt and Sudan, the rest can take the hindmost.

This inequitable distribution of a common natural resource has given Egypt a head start in irrigation and electricity generation in Africa, enabling it to have a thriving industry.

I say Damn the Nile Treaty and dam the Nile. There is no law explicitly stopping us from utilising our own resources. Ethiopia is already moving to siphon billions of litres of water from the Blue Nile for electricity and irrigation. The country is building The Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which, when completed, will be the largest in Africa.

Other countries in the agreement should follow suit. Egypt and Sudan refused to sign a deal to renegotiate the waters in the Nile in 2010, but it was signed by all the upstream countries. It should serve as a statement of intent.

Hosni Mubarak, the recently deposed president, made it known that the waters of the Nile were a national security issue.

However, more countries are questioning the logic in the agreement in light of decreasing water sources and burgeoning populations.

Egypt might have to rethink all those lovely golf courses in their world-famous Sharm El Sheikh resort city. You cannot live so lavishly on a resource that flows from your neighbours.

Most upstream countries want to use the water for irrigation and electricity generation. A few less golf courses with fewer man-made lakes never harmed anybody.

Either they do that or they start building desalination plants.

It is time Egyptians, who have had a fleeting dalliance with democracy, start acting like good neighbours. They should renegotiate the Nile Treaty or pay upstream countries money with which these countries can expand their other water sources and set up irrigation projects.

In the meantime, I think imported Egyptian juice is an insult because all they are really selling back to us is water whose use through Lake Victoria they deny us on pain of military action.

Is he right? Send your comments to [email protected]