Saturday, May 02, 2009


Migingo: Why is the Kenyan media so militant?

If you read the Kenyan and Ugandan papers or monitor other regional media , it would be understandable if you conclude that both countries are about to go to war over a disputed island that is about the size of half of a standard football field, with no much room for supporters to watch if there was a ‘5-a-side’ football match.

Why would two countries with very warm relations in recent years , both committed to further regional integration through an expanded East Africa Community, both members of several regional multilateral organisations, go to war or escalate border dispute to this level? I think the ease with which an African State is more prone to violent dialogue as opposed to peaceful settlement of disputes has to do with the nature of these states artificially built to satisfy other people’s interests and largely unchanged in its anti- people character, decades after independence. Otherwise we have to ask ourselves why States that cannot defend their own people from hunger and disease, are ready and able to go to war whatever the cost in human and material terms. Unfortunately the citizens for whom the State could not provide basic services are mobilised and driven into frenetic nationalism.

There are differences between the reaction of Uganda’s and Kenya’s political leadership. Kenya has held out the position that this conflict should be resolved diplomatically and politically. Uganda says the same but typical of the way and manner in which President Museveni and the NRA/M came to power: prepare for war while talking peace. But the reaction of the media in both countries’ contrasts the political responses. In Uganda the media is not that gung ho whereas the Kenya media is spoiling for war and quite critical of what they see as a weak response from President Kibaki’s administration. Indeed Uganda has virtually been at war with all its neighbours at one point or the other with the exception of Kenya and Burundi (though many in Bujumbura may dispute this!). But Kenya is not known for interstate militarism even though its internal politics has been very violent with ethnic clashes, high profile assassinations culminating in the violent post election disputes of 2007/8. So Kenya’s political elite could be violent towards each other in their battles for supremacy but they seem to have kept it within their borders whereas Uganda’s political violence is historically externalised. So why is the Kenya media so militant? Partly because they are already frustrated with the coalition government for its non delivery but in particular, President Kibaki’s ‘hands off’ approach to many controversies.

The Kenyan President is infamous for remaining quiet in the face of burning issues that sometimes there is an impression that the country is on auto piloting. Migingo merely provides yet another opportunity for the media and the wider public to vent their spleen, this time using the threat of aggression by their gun-totting neighbours to whip up patriotism. It is really sad that our patriotism and nationalism are brought out mostly in the negative. Where is the patriotism of the media in the face of corruption that is destroying the country; compromising the delivery of services, maintenance of roads and killing people in badly maintained hospitals?

Where is the media’s patriotism in an aspiring middle income country that has 10 million of its citizens facing mass hunger and starvation when there is plenty of food, why are they not waging war against corruption and hunger? Hunger in Kenya is not because there is no food but because the poor do not have the resources to buy food. The middle class professionals and the indolent political elite, who do not produce anything but milked the country dry, have money to buy any food they want whereas the poor and powerless cannot farm due to drought and cannot eat due to lack of economic means occasioning famine. Where is the patriotism about this?

If militarism really works, President Museveni should have annihilated Joseph Kony and the LRA. Unfortunately, as they say a leopard cannot change its spots. However, this conflict needs to be resolved through legal, diplomatic and political means. President Kibaki has been pressured into ‘vowing’ to defend Migingo but ‘defence’ does not and should not mean going to war. It is not a sign of weakness to give politics and diplomacy a chance. All conflicts on this continent eventually are resolved by negotiations even if one side ‘won’ militarily. It is a setback for the fast tracking of East Africa integration of which President Museveni is a key champion.