Attacks on Kenyan Media Seen as Gov't Bid to Bolster Support

July 7, 2008 - 8:17 PM

Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Following a raid by masked men on Kenyan newspaper offices, the government here is being accused of trying to scare off opponents of President Mwai Kibaki, to make sure he wins a second term despite high levels of public unhappiness with his administration.

Kenyans have held demonstrations protesting the vandalism at the offices of The Standard newspaper and its sister television station, KTN. Armed, masked policemen early this month burned thousands of newspapers and damaged computer equipment.

Employees were forced to lie on the ground, and some were beaten. Several were detained.

The U.S. Embassy called the events "acts of thuggery" and noted that they happened after government representatives had threatened the newspaper.

Kibaki came to power three years ago, pledging to combat corruption that flourished during the 24-year tenure of the autocratic Daniel Arap Moi.

The raid followed a series of economic and political errors, highlighted by Kenyan media over the past six months.

Matters came to a head after an official who had earlier been appointed by the president to advise him on an anti-corruption strategy, resigned during a visit to Britain and refused to return home.

Then he released a dossier implicating Kibaki's cabinet and government officials in a $215-million security equipment procurement scandal.

The revelations led to resignation of four cabinet ministers and showed Kenyans the level of corruption many hoped had eased off following the departure of Moi.

Then came the raid.

"It was essentially the last nail on the coffin for Kibaki government," political science scholar Dr. Kantai Mwangi said.

"The little trust, confidence and hope of leading the country into prosperity fizzled out that very night."

Concerns about corruption have joined worries about human rights violations. Even before the media raid, the type of abuses associated with the Moi regime had become more commonplace, including police harassment and ethnic violence.

Kenya's legal system allows for two, five-year presidential terms, but political analysts here such as Gabriel Dolan say Kibaki looks set for a one-term-presidency, given his administration's record.

"It is too late for [Kibaki] to put the lid back on. The genie is out of the bottle."

Njeri Kabeberi-Kanene, a human rights campaigner, said the raid had affected even those Kenyans who still siupport Kibaki's government.

Kibaki set up a coalition government based on a memorandum of understanding pledging to share political seats among the leaders of various political parties.

Critics say he failed to honor the MOU, however, splitting his cabinet and stoking ethnic tensions.

Kenya has 42 tribes and the main political leaders command much of their support from their respective tribal regions. The country has experienced serious ethnic violence in the past.

When Kenya held a referendum on a proposed new constitution, politicians who felt they had been short-changed by Kibaki campaigned for a "no" vote and won by a landslide.

"It was like a vote of no confidence in the government and it shifted the political focus to the next general elections," said Mwangi.

Kenya's next elections are due to be held in December 2007.

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