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Monday, December 15, 2008

Mr Speaker, your members have lost their marbles

By MUTUMA MATHIU

My MP, Mr Gitobu Imanyara was in the chair when Parliament passed a law to gag me, destroy my employer and hand over this beautiful land to the Mugabes who sit in the House.

I am not very conversant with Mr Imanyara’s politics today, but he is a man whose strength of conviction I have a lot of respect for. Let me tell you the whole story.

When I was a student, I gravitated, naturally, to the left. I used to hang around Mr Imanyara’s chambers at Tumaini House, doing odd writing and editing jobs and occasionally seeing from a distance the most radioactive dissidents of the day: Mr Paul Muite, Mr Raila Odinga, Mwalimu Mukaru Ng’ang’a, Dr Richard Leakey, Dr Gibson Kamau Kuria and so on.

Many years later when Dr Leakey was wheel-chaired into the House, a white man in a black man’s parliament, as a nominated MP for Safina, I was so proud I could have cried.

Anyway, one Friday, when I went to inform Mr Imanyara that I would not be hanging around any more because I was going to the Nation on attachment, he made me a deal. He offered me a job on the Nairobi Law Monthly, as its editor no less, and on a very generous salary.

I was a little taken aback and very flattered. First, I was all of 25 years and secondly, I was not a lawyer. I took the job, and I have never regretted because Mr Imanyara taught me many things they don’t teach you in journalism school.

He was a very impressive guy, Mr Imanyara. Like most dissidents in those days, the Moi regime had put him and his family through hell.

He had been detained without detention and tortured. But he still fought on — in the courts and with his pen — relentlessly. I remember when multiparty activists were arrested and sent to their home districts for trial, I and many university students flocked to the courts to offer moral support.

As he was bundled out of court, Mr Imanyara, defiantly flashed the two-finger salute which I thought was very brave at a time when Kanu politicians were urging their supporters to cut off the fingers of anyone who did not wag the Kanu sign.

At the Nairobi Law Monthly, the product was often mopped up in the streets by government agents. At one time, they invaded and vandalised the printing press, so few would touch us. We used to print it secretly. Many times Mr Imanyara had a tail.

In the midst of all these efforts to disorganise him, he never let up. I had been trained that a journalist’s first responsibility was to be circumspect, that a reporter in jail was of no use to his paper. At the Nairobi Law Monthly, that was not really a concern.

Mr Imanyara would write a particularly hostile editorial, or choose a particularly belligerent article and my cautious editorial instincts would kick in.

“Mutuma, they are wrong,” he would say with absolute certainty. And I learnt that the purpose of a journalist is to fight wrong, no matter the consequences.

Our offices were a point of call for Kenyans seeking justice. We took up campaigns that other organisations had given up on, for MPs who had been barred from contesting and old ladies who had been conned of their property.

We listened to and wrote up the stories of people no one else would listen to. I learnt that the purpose of journalism was to speak on behalf the weak.

I learnt that the most important thing about a human being is his rights and his dignity and that these things were the essence of life, that there can be no life without them. That a human being without his rights is not human, he is dehumanised.

There was something at the Nairobi Law Monthly which imparted an indelible ideology of human rights activism to all those young people who passed through.

Mutuma Rutere went on to become a human rights scholar and now works for the Kenya Human Rights Commission, David Makali is practising and campaigning for media rights, others work for various international rights organisations.

So I thought that it was quite ironical that this icon of the human rights movement chaired the session of the House which passed a law that the entire journalism fraternity, to which he has more of a claim than any other member of that House, regards as a violation of its rights and those of other Kenyans.

I think Mr Imanyara would have no respect for me as a journalist and as a man if I did not express myself plainly and honestly about this law.

I think it is a bad law, written by fools. I think it violates civil liberties using the oldest excuses in the history of dictatorship, obscenity and national security.

I am therefore going to fight it.

I think Parliament has lost its marbles. It has been taken over by transient interests and corruption, it is largely uncritical of the motives and intentions of the people who have control of its agenda and it is more concerned with the welfare of individual members rather than those of the nation.

This whole thing is being driven by people who have not felt the sting of a violated right, people who were teaching theory at a safe campus when others were feeling the bite of tear gas.

It is a stupid law because it pretends to assume that the government will act in good faith, politicians never act in good faith. Politicians always act in self interest.

There are some people in government who assume that there is an unlimited amount of money in the Treasury. They also assume that money rains on the Treasury from the clouds above.

These same people think they have a natural right to power and that when they oppress other Kenyans that somehow is “good” oppression because their intentions are allegedly “noble”. It isn’t: All oppression exists for one reason: to be fought and resisted.

If the MPs now attempting to oppress us are themselves oppressed, I will be the first to run to their defence.

That’s my job.

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