Global Pulse: A crackdown on the Kenyan media puts their democracy in danger

Uhuru Kenyatta
The President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta | Photo from his official Twitter handle @UKenyatta

Crackdown in Kenya

Kenya runs the risk of going back to being an autocracy, writes the Washington Post in an editorial. The President, Uhuru Kenyatta, won the election last year against Raila Odinga. But the victory isn’t enough: Kenyatta has been vindictive in trying to invalidate Odinga. Last week, he implemented a media crackdown and has been trying to change election legislation.

“The situation deteriorated further last week when Mr. Odinga elected to stage a demonstration in which he swore himself in as the “people’s president.” It was a political stunt that, had Mr. Kenyatta ignored it, would have served only to discredit Mr. Odinga. Instead, the president warned Kenyan television stations not to cover the event, then shut down four of them when they did. That was a clear violation of the country’s constitution, and when a court ordered the stations reopened, the government did not respond. Only on Monday, four days after the court order, were two of the stations allowed back on the air, and there were reports that they had been forced to agree to coverage restrictions.”

Kenyatta has begun a campaign against Odinga’s supporters, arresting a lawyer and suspending the passports of other opposition leaders.

“The wave of repression has prompted demonstrations among Mr. Odinga’s supporters in the Luo community. It risks reigniting ethnic violence that killed more than 1,000 people following a 2007 presidential election. That tragedy led to important constitutional and other democratic reforms that Mr. Kenyatta is disregarding.”

“Kenya’s African neighbors and Western donors ought to be demanding that the president reverse course before it is too late,” the Washington Post writes.

In Iran, the US is repeating the mistakes it made in Iraq

In the New York Times, Lawrence Wilkerson writes about how he once “helped sell the false choice of war” as the chief of staff of George Bush’s Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Colin Powell championed an American intervention in Iraq, which, as the last few years have shown us, led to detrimental results.

“That effort led to a war of choice with Iraq — one that resulted in catastrophic losses for the region and the United States-led coalition, and that destabilized the entire Middle East.”

“This should not be forgotten, since the Trump administration is using much the same playbook to create a false impression that war is the only way to address the threats posed by Iran,” Wilkerson writes.

Wilkerson writes that his cause for concern lies with the way the Trump administration is behaving right now, and the striking similarity with the situation fifteen years ago. “It’s astonishing how similar that moment was to Mr. Powell’s 2003 presentation on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction — and how the Trump administration’s methods overall match those of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. As I watched Ms. Haley at the Defense Intelligence Agency, I wanted to play the video of Mr. Powell on the wall behind her, so that Americans could recognize instantly how they were being driven down the same path as in 2003 — ultimately to war. Only this war with Iran, a country of almost 80 million people whose vast strategic depth and difficult terrain make it a far greater challenge than Iraq, would be 10 to 15 times worse than the Iraq war in terms of casualties and costs.”

“The strategy positions Iran as one of the greatest threats America faces, much the same way President Bush framed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. With China, Russia and North Korea all presenting vastly more formidable challenges to America and its allies than Iran, one has to wonder where the Trump team gets its ideas.”

“As I look back at our lock-step march toward war with Iraq, I realize that it didn’t seem to matter to us that we used shoddy or cherry-picked intelligence; that it was unrealistic to argue that the war would “pay for itself,” rather than cost trillions of dollars; that we might be hopelessly naïve in thinking that the war would lead to democracy instead of pushing the region into a downward spiral,” he writes.

“The sole purpose of our actions was to sell the American people on the case for war with Iraq. Polls show that we did. Mr. Trump and his team are trying to do it again. If we’re not careful, they’ll succeed,” warns Wilkerson.

A surveillance state in China is becoming a thing of reality

Digital surveillance and rating citizens are now becoming things of reality, and don’t just exist in an episode of Black Mirror. In the Atlantic, Anna Mitchell and Larry Diamond write about how China is implementing a form of social control that could have wide-ranging repercussions across the globe.

The state, they write, is implementing a “citizen score” that rates each person. A high score allows access to better opportunities, the vice versa of which can gravely affect the lifestyle conditions of a poor-rate citizen. “This society may seem dystopian, but it isn’t farfetched: It may be China in a few years,” they write.

“The stated goal of this system is to capture and deter criminals. However, it also poses obvious and massive risks to privacy and the modicum of freedom Chinese citizens have managed to gain since the Maoist era. The penalties for small crimes seem unreasonable: Authorities in Fuzhou are publishing the names of jaywalkers in local media and even sending them to their employers. More ominous, though, are the likely punishments that will be inflicted on people who associate with dissidents or critics, who circulate a petition or hold up a protest sign, or who simply wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time. Thus, the installation of an all-seeing-eye for the government alarms civil liberties and privacy advocates worldwide. The government already constantly monitors the cell phones and social media of human-rights activists in the name of “stability maintenance.” A video surveillance system would enable further pervasive and repressive surveillance. Making streams publicly available, too, would threaten every citizen’s privacy: A busybody neighbor could easily spy on the activities of the family next door as they run errands or go on vacation.”

“China’s experiments with digital surveillance pose a grave new threat to freedom of expression on the internet and other human rights in China. Increasingly, citizens will refrain from any kind of independent or critical expression for fear that their data will be read or their movements recorded—and penalized—by the government. And that is exactly the point of the program. Moreover, what emerges in China will not stay in China. Its repressive technologies have a pattern of diffusing to other authoritarian regimes around the world. For this reason—not to mention concern for the hundreds of millions of people in China whose meager freedom will be further diminished—democracies around the world must monitor and denounce this sinister creep toward an Orwellian world.”

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