Allowing the airing of political satire a show of press freedom

Friday August 14 2009


I have been too critical of the grand coalition government in this column. I have called for the formation of social movements to effect the necessary fundamental changes in the country that I feel cannot take place under this government.

And I have called for alternative political leadership to deliver the country from the coalition’s misrule and save Kenya from disintegration. In a nutshell, I have seen only naked negativity in the coalition government’s performance.

After seeing the 12 sessions of the XYZ TV show, however, I was happy to note that the coalition government was tolerant about its airing.

I know that the show faced criticism from some quarters of the coalition leadership, who felt that their faces and voices were distorted.

Well, they had to because the voices were not theirs and latex and rubber would not reproduce our leaders’ beautiful faces. It was to the credit of our leaders that they watched the show and laughed with us as this political and social satire was launched.

POLITICAL AND SOCIAL SATIRE HAS been popular in developed countries. Indeed, the so-called beacon of democracy in Africa —South Africa — has not been able to air its political and social satire through puppets.

The XYZ show, therefore, placed Kenya in the rare company of developed democracies when it came to press freedom.

Just as I was celebrating this positive development in the promotion and protection of press freedom in Kenya, Public Service minister Dalmas Otieno announced that the show was “weird”, seeking to speak for President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

It is true, old habits die hard because, in the case of Mr Otieno, here was a performance that reminded me of his performance during the Moi-Kanu one-party dictatorship.

Information director Ezekiel Mutua was more astute in his reading of the politics of the show than Mr Otieno. Mr Mutua emphasised press freedom and gave credit to the coalition government for protecting it.

Why Mr Otieno cannot see what Mr Mutua has seen as politically positive in the show clearly shows that political sycophancy is still alive and well in our political system.

The airing of XYZ is a shining example of the successes we have made as a country in our struggles for freedom. In the dark days of the Kenyatta-Moi-Kanu dictatorships, XYZ would not even have been conceived.

We should remember those days when Attorney-General Charles Njonjo warned us that even imagining the president’s death was treasonable.

I guess that imagining that a president has crooked teeth or nose would have fallen in the same category as XYZ.

It is very important for Kenyans to consolidate the gains we have made in the past two decades. I know much more needs to be done to achieve total freedom in Kenya, but we must not lose sight of successes we have made, and continue to make, in our struggles for democracy and development.

XYZ is simply one of the many successes we have made. Gone are the days when a bar was like a morgue.

Kenyans in bars were quiet and speechless. They knew that any word critical of the Government would result in their being picked up, tortured, and even made to disappear.

Today, our bars are lively and full of dance, song, and speech. It is in the bars and other public and private places that Kenyans have sat to watch XYZ in the comfortable knowledge that the machinery of state violence was watching the show, too.

HE ‘XYZ’ SHOW WILL AIR ITS 13TH episode tomorrow and bring an end to its first series. It is hoped that the show’s donors, including the Ford Foundation which also funds the Godown Arts Centre, where the offices of Buni Limited that produces the show, are based, will continue to support it.

Kenyans should also put money where their mouths are and contribute to the cost of airing the show. The private sector should consider advertising with Citizen TV, which airs it, and resist the normal fear of business about projects that are seen to be critical of the political leadership.

XYZ is the product of brilliant editorial cartoonist Geoffrey Mpembwa, alias GADO, whose cartoons have been part of the struggle for a better Kenya.

His creation of Wanjiku, the radical woman we have all come to love and admire, and, indeed, his entire work, will be reinforced by this show. We must all promote and protect XYZ.