It was a paradigm shift this weekend as the Kenyan media covered the elections in their country. I, just like everybody in Uganda and the region, watched the Kenyan election keenly and with bated breath! It seemed like my very being depended on the outcome.
It didn’t matter much to me who won, but I was silently voting for peace and praying for peace.
Growing up in the beautiful landlocked Pearl of Africa that neighbours Kenya, I remember the diffi cult years of the 1970s and 1980s, when, for every Christmas, our Kenyan brothers gave us ‘scarcity’ for a Christmas gift because for some reason they had been provoked into closing the border. How can I forget how, with child-like naivety, I earnestly prayed that we would be able to get sugar, Treetop, Blue Band and kerosene from our eastern neighbours for Christmas?
In my mind, the pains of being forced to sleep as soon as dusk set in because we had run out of kerosene are still vivid.
Even if our national economy has, over the years, greatly recovered and we no longer have to wait for basic commodities from Kenya, we are still dependent on our brothers, who are lucky to live next to the ocean and I, like many other Ugandans, have learnt that when Kenya sneezes, Uganda catches a cold.
This time round, alongside many other Ugandans, I salute our eastern neighbours for being their brothers’ keeper and giving the whole region the prized gift of peace. Over the coming hours, days, months and years, we pray this tranquillity will be kept.
As a media professional, I would like to commend the Kenyan media for their manifest contribution to the peaceful outcome of this election. With their well-thought out words of encouragement, they set the tone and mood over their land.
They literally sowed seeds of peace over their land.
To echo the words of Isaack Hassan, chairman of Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC): “The media deserves special mention, for their fair coverage of the election and raising temperature, this was it, and the media did this. Some local radio stations were running a campaign encouraging people to go to work.
Others were twitting messages telling fellow Kenyans to wait patiently”. On this occasion, all the Kenyan media, no matter their inclination, spoke one language, the language of peace and patience. Over and over again, they called for restraint. Their tone and demeanour was ‘proudly Kenyan’.
At one press conference, on Friday evening, when tempers began to flair, ignited by a dissatisfi ed professor, one renowned channel switched us to adverts!
The media were aware of their role in keeping this beautiful nation together. This was in sharp contrast to the experience in this region and in some other parts of Africa, where the media were accomplice in tearing their nations apart.
It was a paradigm shift where the virtues of goodness were repeated over and over again on the Kenyan airwaves.
It seemed like the Kenyan press had been coached to speak the same language. Indeed Raila Odinga, the Presidential runner-up in Kenya, intimated that the Kenyan media had conspired not to highlight any negative stories but, if this happened, who can blame them? How could they have shut their eyes and ears to the incidents of 2007, when the whole nation almost went up in flames?
Local media, unlike international media, usually have a deeper understanding of the existing social political structures, and they can influence society by either magnifying the fears or reducing them.
In Rwanda, Radio Libre des Mille Collines, through their hate campaign, had a significant part to play in the genocide of 1994, during which some 800,000 people were killed.
Nearer home, the incidents of September 11, 2009 are still fresh.
The media was again in the cross-fi re over our professional responsibility and by the time the dust settled, the government had shut down four radio stations accused of propagating the hatred that led to violent clashes in the city that left 10 people dead.
Of course, there is no justification for gagging the press. For any democracy to flourish, the Fourth Estate should be allowed to freely play their role. We work as the watchdogs of society and we in the media should never be intimidated into abdicating from this responsibility, which we should discharge professionally and with fairness and balance. We should report the news without fear or favour; we should expose corruption and all the ills that hinder our societies from achieving democracy.
However, I am also aware that many colleagues in the media dismissed the September 11 incidents in Uganda as the excesses of the government and have to-date never done any genuine soul searching.
As the Fourth Estate, in young democracies, the demands on us are greater. Our role stretches to nation building. We hold the mirror of society and determine the angle reflected to the public. As the Kenyan media has demonstrated, let us always remember to discharge this role responsibly.
I end with a quote from the grandfather of the journalism profession, Joseph Pulitzer, who looked at the media as a guiding light: “Put it before them so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.”
Editor- In - Chief, New Vision