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Police should enforce curfew with restraint

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EDITORIAL

By EDITORIAL
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The curfew announced by President Uhuru Kenyatta this week took effect last night as the government intensified efforts to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Unlike other countries that declared a complete lockdown, stopping every public activity and forcing everyone to stay indoors, Kenya opted for a dusk-to-dawn restriction, allowing citizens to go about their business during the day.

Informing this is the understanding that our economy is largely driven by the informal sector, supporting more than 80 per cent of the population, for whom daily work is non-negotiable because that is their only source of upkeep.

For that population, failing to go to work even for a single day means their families going without a meal and rendered unable to meet all other socio-economic obligations.

A complete lockdown would have grave consequences on the economy: production would grind to a halt and that would affect the entire business chain, including sourcing of raw materials and securing markets for them.

A curfew, therefore, is a compromise to enable the economy to run while creating restrictions to limit infections.

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In this context, it is hoped that the curfew will cause people to stay indoors and avoid irresponsible activities that would expose them to arrest by the police.

Reckless behaviour that may trigger further and harsher actions has to be avoided.

Simply, citizens have to obey the law and implement the protocols spelt out by the Ministry of Health. With the number of infected standing at 31, all efforts must be channelled towards controlling the spread.

Indeed, the police and other agencies have been roped into this fight, yet, ideally, they are better off dealing with other critical security matters.

Even so, the government has to handle the situation with restraint. It should provide clear guidelines about the curfew, explaining the protocols involved.

For instance, the curfew does not translate into abrogation of individual rights. Whatever the authorities do must be within the law.

On Friday, Inspector-General of Police Hillary Mutyambai highlighted what would be done to those violating the directives.

However, he did not provide details, for example, on how the police will handle the arrests.

Where will they take those arrested, given the government is seeking to decongest police cells and prisons to curb the spread of the virus?

How and where will the cases be handled without compromising public health? What are the safety precautions in the custodies?

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There are legitimate fears that, given the characteristic behaviour of the police officers, chances are that some will resort to extortion to cash in on the situation to make money from hapless citizens.

Public assurance is pertinent in this regard. Systems ought to be put in place to eliminate corrupt practices in the entire process.

Thus far, the public has not been sufficiently apprised of what is expected of them or better, their rights and entitlements.

Police will certainly do random checks and arrest those found to be violating the curfew directive.

But unless professionally executed, that is bound to be counter-intuitive and cause bad blood between the public and the police.

Put simply, the police should publish the dos and don’ts to make it easier for everyone to understand and do the correct thing.

Public education is paramount and, in particular, the police service requires new orientation to enable them deal fairly, humanly but firmly with the citizens.

It is noted that although the government has provided a list of the essential services to be exempted during the curfew, there is no clarity of how they will be identified.

This is the first time in nearly 40 years that the country is going through this painful experience and a majority of the population is strange to it.

The last time the country had a curfew was in 1982, following the failed political coup by a section of the military.

Contexts are different and so are the objectives. To date, the country is grappling with a killer medical crisis that requires minimal social contact and which goal is best achieved through limiting movements.

Getting the public to understand that objective is vital. The country is not at war but is dealing with an unprecedented medical challenge that requires totally new thinking.

All said, the public is apprehensive about the way the curfew will be implemented and how their life will change, and they need assurance that everything will be done within the law.

Covid-19 has occasioned unprecedented pain and disruptions in our midst; the way it is handled will determine how far we go in eliminating it and emerging a stronger, vibrant nation.

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Leadership is a public service not a political reward

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TEE NGUGI

By TEE NGUGI
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At long last, Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane resigned. He had resisted doing so since his second wife was accused of murdering his first wife.

If this were a plot in a Shakespearean play, it would make for entertaining literature. Unfortunately, this real-life drama is being enacted in one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world.

Half of the population in Lesotho lives below the poverty line. Unemployment rate hovers near the 30 per cent mark. It has the second highest Aids prevalence rate in the world.

Most of its foreign exchange earnings come from remittances from citizens working in South Africa. The country’s beautiful landscapes mask extreme rural poverty.

Like most of Africa, the country has not escaped occasional coups or attempted coups. By contrast, Lithuania, a European country with almost similar population and geographical size is many times richer and more functional than Lesotho.

You would think that for a country with such an epic task of rescuing its people from dysfunction and poverty, Lesotho’s leaders would be the last in the world to be mixed up in such drama.

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You would expect a prime minister, tainted by the drama either by association or because he was complicit, to immediately resign in order not to hinder the country’s progress in any way. And yet the prime minister resisted calls for his resignation for months, and when he eventually did, he claimed he was retiring due to old age.

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This unfortunate episode once again calls attention to how African leaders view power. To them, political authority is not a tool within the matrix of governance whose purpose is to bring transformation. It is a perquisite, a reward.

In his essay, The Monarchical Tendency in African Political Culture, Ali Mazrui discusses this conception of power, and its consequences.

We know too well the gruesome fate of those in Africa’s post-colonial history who were seen as trying to take away these “personal gifts.”

For a country of three million people, the country labours under a costly royal family.

The most successful societies in history are those that figure out the most efficient and productive ways of organising themselves. A long monarchical tradition does not confer efficiency and productivity to that system of governance.

True, there are rich countries that have constitutional monarchies, but they can afford it. Many other countries have found monarchies to make no sense or cents.

The Russians and Chinese got rid of theirs. The French guillotined their last monarch. I’m in no way advocating the French solution to the monarchy problem in Africa, only asking whether monarchical governance in desperately poor countries such as Lesotho and Eswatini is the most efficient and productive way to organise society.

But more urgently, we must find ways of depersonalising political authority in Africa and restoring it as a function of governance for public advancement. Perhaps an African Union summit will put this on its agenda. But don’t hold your breath.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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Hunger, poverty strips human dignity, photographs should not

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WAIRIMU NDERITU

By WAIRIMU NDERITU
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Recently, my attention was drawn to a picture of an African child used by an inter-governmental organisation in its publication on Facebook. It was captioned, Urgent: The coronavirus emergency threatens the delivery of vital food assistance to nearly 100 million hungry people. Help us continue our life-saving work. Send life-saving food. Hungry children cannot wait.

The child in the picture was striking; First, because she or he didn’t look hungry in the usual stereotypical ribs-sticking-out-of-skin picture, beloved of such organisations when appealing for donations; Second, she or he had visible saliva drool.

As an adult, I wouldn’t show anyone a photograph of myself as a child drooling, let alone broadcast it to the whole world.

The conversations on the post’s timeline were enlightening.

Many questioned the motives of using such a picture as donor bait. Why do international organisations use photographs that take away the dignity of the same people they claim to be helping? The Covid-19 crisis has brought hunger, however, people still need to be represented in respectful images, despite their desperation.

What is the link between the child in the photograph to coronavirus and the help the organisation is seeking?

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The conversation on the comments section then turned to the huge salaries that international organisations get from fundraising through the usage of such photographs. Why, it was asked, since they were so kind and generous, didn’t they get paid on the same scale as nurses and teachers?

Soon, a crescendo of demands to report the post grew.

Unlike the lurid, agonising and heart wrenching photographs of African Ebola victims, the dignity, through photography, given to the Covid-19 sick and dead in Europe and the US is commendable.

Did we hope too early, that Coronavirus would change the world, to be kinder, particularly towards those in the global south photographed when sick, dying or for purposes of raising funds?

When did the use of images of poor children from the global south become acceptable for fundraising? Photographs of global south adults are used in the same way too.

International organisations that deal with violence in communities, splash their websites with pictures of people, usually brown or black, holding guns or crude weapons.

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Gun Violence Archive, an organisation tracking down mass shootings, reported of there being more mass shootings in the US in 2019 than there were days in the year, laying out details of 417 mass shootings, with 31 being mass murders.

Twenty ceasefires have been broken since the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution began. In Memorial Book to the Fallen, Shapovalenko, Vorokh and Hirchenko write that Ukrainian government forces have lost 4,428 service men with overall deaths being more than ten thousand.

American mass shooters or Ukrainian fighters do not headline the appeals of international organisations seeking donor aid as they do not fit the profile of photographs donors are conditioned to seeing, of the archetypal image of the global south needing help from the global north.

It is true that extreme poverty and violence are a reality in Africa, but so is in many areas of the US and Europe too.

Why is it taken for granted that photographs of global south people can be used to show them at their most vulnerable? Shared to the world for posterity, these photographs strip them of any shred of dignity they may have.

The overall effect is that those from the global south developing an inferiority complex based on their persistent portrayal as being dependent on Western ‘’saviors.’’ On the flip side, donors see themselves as Western ‘’saviors’’ of the global south poor and violent.

In 1981, Jorgen Lissner criticised these kinds of photographs, calling them poverty porn. Matt Collin defined poverty porn in 2009 as ‘’any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor’s condition to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause.”

Photographs such as that of the child drooling call into question the oversimplification of poverty, without dealing with the cause, which is the need for structural change.

Coronavirus offers an opportunity to do things differently. The African continent must redouble efforts to be self-sufficient and provide its basic needs.

Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism, Mukami Kimathi, Mau Mau Freedom Fighter and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides [email protected]

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Trump vs Twitter – what’s the beef?

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By JOHN WALUBENGO

President Trump finally picked a fight with the platform that has kept his political base intact by constantly consuming his unrelenting tweets on a twenty-four hour basis.

Over a week ago, he tweeted about the vote-by-mail – ballot papers that the California Governor was issuing to voters with respect to their upcoming elections.

Voting by mail is a common practice in the US and is a widely accepted way of electing leaders, but Mr Trump posted a claim that the ballots the governor was issuing were fake and fraudulent.

Twitter fact-checked the allegations and took the unprecedented action of flagging the tweet with a message that basically indicated Trump was spreading fake news.

A few days later, as the US erupted in riots over the unfortunate murder of George Floyd, a black man, by some white Police on patrol, Trump unleashed another tweet that claimed that the rioting mobs are thugs and once they start looting, the shooting would begin.

Twitter ‘integrity’ team again flagged this tweet as inappropriate and glorifying violence.

This was one tweet too many, to be flagged in just a couple of days. 

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The President was not going to accept this lying down and he swiftly promised to deal with social media platforms that were suppressing freedoms of speech under the pretext of abiding by their corporate terms and conditions of service.

And true enough, Mr Trump unleashed an executive order aimed at bringing Twitter and other like-minded social media giants into line. This executive order is quite long but the thrust of it demands that the communication regulator in the US reviews the legal protections that online platforms have enjoyed over the last two and a half decades.

LIMITED LIABILITIES

This legal provision is copied across the globe and considers social media platforms and Internet Service Providers and Internet intermediaries with very limited liabilities with respect to what transpires on their platforms.

The rationale is that as an Internet platform, you are not responsible for what users post, read or delete on the platform since the content does not originate from you, but is instead ‘user-generated’.

The only restriction or action expected from the platform owner is to flag and remove content considered harmful to minors or the general public good. This would include but not limited to promoting hate speech, obscene, violence, genocide and related content.

Lies and fake news has traditionally not been an issue of concern for platform providers since it is considered a price to pay for freedom of speech.

But recent events such as social media live broadcasts of terrorist activities, election related illegal activities introduced by Cambridge Analytica amongst others has put pressure on platform owners to take a more aggressive ‘censorship’ approach on user-generated content.

It is a very thin line to walk since once you start blocking and fact-checking user-generated content, your legal status changes from a platform provider to a publisher.

A publisher is generally a media house and has more restrictions, liabilities or penalties for content appearing on their platforms.

Mr Trump’s argument is that by censoring his posts, Tweeter has crossed over and become a media house or publisher. They should therefore be held liable for all the truths and lies that come from their entire three hundred million plus user base.

The American president is basically saying that if you chose to fact-check him, you must be ready to fact-check and flag everyone. Furthermore, you should then not run away from bearing the costs and liabilities of failing to flag some false posts under the libel laws.

To push this thinking, he has appointed a taskforce to do the study and hopefully arrive at this conclusion that would then be translated into a revised or updated law to ‘fix’ some of these social media giants.

I am sure African dictators are eagerly waiting for this type of solutions.  Only time will tell if Congress will agree with the recommendations of the taskforce.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT.
Email: [email protected], Twitter: @Jwalu

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