You are on page 1of 19













DATE: 20th May 2009

1. Introduction
1.1 Definition
1.2 Types of Censorships
2. Censorship in Kenya
2.1 Background
2.2 Previous Censorships
3. Reasons for Censorship
4. Methods of Censorship
5. Critique of the Methods
6. Challenges to Censorship
7. Limitations to Censorship

1.1 Definition
Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which
may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government
or media organizations as determined by a censor.
Censorship is the systematic control of any content of communication by means of
constitutional, judicial, administrative, financial, or physical measures imposed directly
by or with connivance of the ruling power or ruling elite. It may be accompanied by
violence or may not.
If a government wish to impose censorship, there are broad categories of information that
has to be brought under control; internal and external sources of information.
Censorship assumes that certain ideas and forms of expression are threatening to
individual, organizational and societal well-being as defined by those in power or those
involved in a moral crusade and hence must be prohibited. It presupposes absolute
standards which must not be violated.
Much censorship assumes that all individuals, not just children, are vulnerable and need
protection from offending material --whether pornography or radical criticism of existing
political and religious authority. Individuals can not be trusted to decide what they wish
to see and read or to freely form their own opinions.
Some censorship is largely symbolic, offering a way to enhance social solidarity by
avoiding insults to shared values (e.g., a prohibition on flag burning). It may be a form of
moral education as with prohibitions on racist and sexist speech. Or masquerading under
high principles of protecting public welfare and morals, it may simply involve a desire to
protect the interests of the politically, economically and religiously powerful by
restricting alternative views, criticism and delegitimating information.
Among the most common historical rationales are political (sedition, treason, national
security), religious (blasphemy, heresy), moral (obscenity, impiety), and social (incivility,

irreverence, disorder). These of course may be interconnected. What they share is a claim
that the public interest will be negatively affected by the communication. Censorship may
be located relative to other legal forms of secrecy. Censorship is justified by the
protection of public welfare. Rationales for other legally supported forms include: the
protection of private property for trade secrets; economic efficiency and fairness
justifications in common law disputes over secret information; the encouragement of
honest communication and/or protection from retaliation underling forms such as lawyerclient and doctor-patient confidentiality, the secret ballot, and a judges en camera ruling
that the identity of an informant need not be revealed; the protection of intimate relations
in the case of spousal privilege; the protection against improperly elicited confessions
underlying the 5th Amendment; the strategic advantage justification of sealed warrants
and indictments and the respect for the dignity and privacy of the person justification for
limits on the collection and use of personal information, whether involving census, tax,
library or arrest (as against conviction) records. There has been little empirical research
on whether, how well and with what consequences and under what conditions these
justifications are met.
1.2 Types of Censorship

Moral censorship, is the removal of materials that are obscene or otherwise morally
questionable. Pornography, for example, is often censored under this rationale,
especially child pornography, which is censored in most jurisdictions in the world.

Military censorship is the process of keeping military intelligence and tactics

confidential and away from the enemy. This is used to counter espionage, which is the
process of gleaning military information. Very often, militaries will also attempt to
suppress politically inconvenient information even if that information has no actual
intelligence value.

Political censorship occurs when governments hold back information from their
citizens. The logic is to exert control over the populace and prevent free expression
that might foment rebellion.

Religious censorship is the means by which any material objectionable to a certain

faith is removed. This often involves a dominant religion forcing limitations on less
prevalent ones. Alternatively, one religion may shun the works of another when they
believe the content is not appropriate for their faith.

Corporate censorship is the process by which editors in corporate media outlets

intervene to halt the publishing of information that portrays their business or business
partners in a negative light

Self-censorship is a common thing in Kenya where a writer or a journalist may be

faced with a brutal choice in case of disagreements with the views of the censors. In
most cases, he will remain silent thus disqualifying himself from his proper work and
condemning himself to helplessness or penury, or suppresses and disguises some of
his views and ideas that he knows that will not pass the censor.

2.1 Background
The political transition from British colony to independent country was mirrored by
changes in the mass media in Kenya. In 1963 when Kenya became independent the vast
majority of broadcasts on government-owned radio and television stations were imported
British and American programmes, but this was set to change. Kenyan culture was
promoted via the mass media under the presidency of Jomo Kenyatta as more
programmes were broadcast in Swahili and there was a focus on African music and
dance. Likewise, newspapers covered more African traditions and culture.
The press later suffered under Kenyattas successor Daniel Arap Moi and his one-party
state, which was written into the constitution in 1982. A clampdown on journalists led to
arrests and imprisonment as state officials were worried about the media challenging the
The scene changed and the press expanded markedly with the birth of multi-party politics
in 1992, which was a response to pressure from Kenyan activists and the international

community. The daily newspaper market increased to four when the People Daily was set
up and the alternative press -commonly called the gutter press- also emerged. Harsh
criticism of the state by the press went hand-in-hand with the emergence of opposition
politics and this environment was a far cry from the conformist media of the earlier era.
Yet journalists were still intimidated, threatened and imprisoned by the government and
in May 2002 a new unpopular media bill was passed. It requires publishers to purchase a
bond for 1million Kenyan shillings (6,900) before publishing. The move scared off a
number of small time publishers, especially in the magazine sector, as they could not
afford the bond.
Censorship has been in Kenya since pre-independence and became more pronounced in
the 1970s onwards.
To control the internal sources, the government controls the press, the television, the
radio, book publishing and education. For the external sources of information, the
government controls postal services, telephone, telegram communication, external radio
and television, etc. Just for mention, there is Official Secrets Acts and Sedition Acts,
which were introduced by the colonial government, mainly to intimidate the writers and
the recipients of information.
The years of the early 70s were the worst period in the history of censorship in Kenya. It
was also the period when many writers and intellectuals fled the country to escape
harassment, arrest and possible detention. Many leading writers such as Ngugi wa
Thiong'o, Kimani Gecai, Micere Mugo and Ngugi wa Muriu sought refuge in various
countries in Africa, Europe and America. Some of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's books such as
'Matigari' were seized by security agents from bookshops and libraries.
Theatre groups have to be registered and each play requires a police license before each
public gathering. Scripts have also to be vetted before performance is allowed to be
staged. Some of the plays that have faced the wrath of the censors include a French
translation of 'Can't Pay, Won't Pay' and 'The Swords of Kirinyaga by Oby

The libraries in Kenya which grant access to public are either controlled directly or
indirectly by the government or corporation e.g. the Kenya National Library Service,
University libraries, those run by ministries, etc. A book can be ordered or removed from
the shelves by the censor without the librarian asking why.
Kenya Library Association is the professional body comprising of Kenya librarians. It has
not fully addressed itself to the issue of censorship or the Library Bill of Rights like its
colleagues in the developed countries. Decisions and policies will affect the need of
better access to information and the ability to disseminate information to Kenyan citizens.
The media industry opposes the governments position and favours self-regulation. It set
up the Media Council of Kenya in 2002 to pursue this aim, resolve complaints and
improve journalistic standards. The Council has also drawn up a code of practice for
ethical journalism.
The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Act, 2008 is a Kenyan Act of Parliament
that was passed by the 10th Kenyan Parliament and signed into law by President Mwai
Kibaki on January 2, 2009. It is a controversial amendment of the Kenya communications
Act, 1998 which gives the state power to raid media houses and control the distribution of
content. It also gives the government the right to:

penalize media infractions with heavy fines and prison terms

sole discretion in granting broadcast licenses

Control of programme content and broadcasts.

The bill was opposed by Media houses and the Kenya Union of Journalists and the
President had to form a team to look further into the contentious issues which were to be
used to censor or gag the media.

2.2 Previous Censorships in Kenya

In February 1995, the government banned all past, present and future issues of
Inooro, a new weekly publication of the Catholic Church. Inooro had been published
in the Kikuyu-language and distributed in the Central and Rift Valley Provinces as
well as in Nairobi.

In December 1994, members of the government made two public attacks on the
Nation Newspaper group the largest in the region with a daily circulation of some
First, President Moi warned the group against thinking that it was too large to be
"This newspaper can be banned and its licence revoked." Then, the Minister for
Information and Broadcasting, Johnstone Makau, threatened to ban Nation
newspapers "if they continue with irresponsible journalism".

On 1 February 1995, two armed men burst into the offices of Finance magazine,
doused it in petrol and set it on fire. Ruth Gathiga, secretary to the publisher, Njehu
Gatabaki, was assaulted with a gun butt by one of the attackers. Finance had only
resumed publishing in October 1994, after a sustained campaign of legal harassment
by the government had temporarily forced it off the streets.

In February 1995, the government banned CLARION, an academic research

organization headed by Professor Kivutha Kibwana of Nairobi University. CLARION
had recently published a detailed report on corruption in Kenya, accusing the
government of complicity in high-level corruption.

In what amounts to an excellent impact indicator, the Government of Kenya is

blocking access to one of its own websites according to a Daily Nation story by Fred
Mukinda. The website in question belongs to the Kenya Anti Corruption
Commission! For the last year or so, the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission has
been using an anonymous whistleblower reporting web based system developed by a
German firm. The BKMS system allows whistleblowers to open accounts online and
to make anti-corruption complaints, and if necessary submit documents; safe in the

knowledge that no-one will know who they are (not even KACC) unless they choose
to reveal their identity.
According to the Daily Nation story Whistleblowers Computer Link Cut which
quotes the KACC spokesman, Nick Simani, a few Government departments are
trying to monitor or restrict access to the KACC system by government computers.
Some senior officials have instructed IT personnel to monitor civil servants visits to
forbidden web pages such as those of the KACC corruption reporting system. Until,
we have a whistle blowing law in Kenya such behaviour by Government (as
suspicious as it looks) is not illegal. Whistle blowing legislation will come, and it will
criminalize such behaviour, because Kenya signed and ratified the United Nations
Convention against Corruption on December 9th 2003 and is therefore obliged to
make what these senior officials are doing illegal. In the meantime, KACC should put
its foot down and publish the names of the Government Departments involved.

On 2nd March 2006, hooded men raided the Standard and KTN offices in the
Companies head offices and printing plant and destroyed publications. Thereafter,
the then Minister for Internal Security, while speaking on the press said that the
operation was a matter of state security and was in effect conducted by and with full
knowledge of the government. Subsequent reports from the media alleged that the
raid was to stop publication of damaging information on the first family.

On 07/10/2008 an American author who penned an anti-Barack Obama book was

detained by immigration authorities in Kenya after plans to launch the book there, the
Times of London reported. Jerome Corsi, of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth fame, was
being held Tuesday morning while his immigration status was checked in a nation
where Obama is widely popular. Kenyan airport officials said they plan to deport
He had been planning to launch his book, entitled "The Obama Nation: Leftist
Politics and the Cult of Personality," before traveling to one of Nairobis slums to
donate money to the Senators half-brother George, who was found living in squalid
conditions two months ago. But officers swooped hours after Corsi was described as

"author of a smear crusade" by local newspapers. Immigration officials claim he had

been detained because he did not have a work permit, however one of Corsi's
assistants said he was "just answering some questions. Journalists were turned away
from the hotel suite where the launch was due to be held. "He shouldnt have had
anything in the paper this morning," said one. "That was his mistake. He should have
kept it secret."

Legislative provisions like the Secrets Act and Seditions Act are also some of
censorship initiatives that have been instituted by the government.


3.1 Irresponsible journalism
For example attempts to shut down vernacular radio stations, first by Former President
Moi and second by Minister for Information, Samuel Poghisio under President Kibaki
regime. The arguments for these actions were that the stations were fuelling tribalism
and animosity through irresponsible broadcasts.
3.2 National/State Security
In some cases the governments censors information on allegations that the information
could pose a state security risk. A case in example is the raid on The Standard & KTN
media houses on 2nd March 2006. Thereafter the Minister for Internal Security and police
spokesman said in a statement hours after Thursday's early morning raid that authorities
conducted the sweep to collect evidence about a plot that would threaten national
security. The police spokesman said journalists at the Standard had been paid to write a
series of fabricated articles about the government, and that police were acting on
intelligence information about "an intended act" that would threaten national security.
During post election violence in 2008, the government banned all live broadcasts
allegedly to control rise in tensions as Kenyans increasingly got aware and exposed to
what was happening countrywide. This was to control fueling of the violence through
information access.

3.3 Political Insecurity

On 20 December 1994, Minister Makau told the press that there would be no licensing of
private radio stations in the immediate future. He linked private radio to allege opposition
plans to launch guerrilla warfare from neighbouring countries, noting that "All
applications and requests to start independent electronic media are ill-intentioned."
Lawyers for Royal Media Services, whose suit was being heard by the High Court,
applied for leave to sue the Minister for contempt of court on the grounds that he was
stating, in effect, that he would not abide by the court's ruling if it went against the
government. Justice Githinji granted leave to file a lawsuit against the Minister.
In a speech on 8 January 1995, President Moi attacked Justice Githinji, saying that
government policy could not be interfered with by the courts apparently contradicting
his undertaking a week earlier to implement constitutional reform which would, it was
assumed, make the government more accountable. Four days later, Samuel Macharia
announced that he was withdrawing the contempt application.
Some of Ngugi wa Thiong'o's books such as 'Matigari' were seized by security agents
from bookshops and libraries fro fear of insighitnig political unrest.
3.4 Fear of Accountability in Governance
In the case of CLARION, the banning order claimed that CLARION had disseminated
"inaccurate and unsubstantiated material of a political character which gravely injured the
credibility of the Kenyan government". The report, which was funded by the Danish
government, came at an embarrassing time for the Kenyan government, which was
preparing to receive an International Monetary Fund/World Bank team to review
economic reform. There has been no attempt to ban the report itself, which, however, has
not yet been widely circulated.
Earlier, on 18 January 1995, the Attorney-General, Amos Wako, announced that he was
removing legal registration from the Mwangaza Trust, think-tank involving opposition
politicians, church leaders, human rights activists and others. Mwangaza's publication,


Nuru, which was published in eight Kenyan languages, was impounded by the police,
Who subsequently threatened newspaper vendors with arrest if they were found selling
the publication.
3.5 Immorality
The government has previously tried to censor selling of information materials especially
those of pornographic nature to curb the impact on morality. The elastic quality of a
standard such as pervasiveness could be used to justify censorship of any form, even
books and newspapers which also pervade society
Three major means of direct censorship are preventive in nature. Their goal is to stop
materials deemed unacceptable from appearing, or if that is not possible, from being seen
or heard by prohibiting their circulation:
Formal pre-publication review requires would-be communicators to submit their
materials for certification, before publicly offering them. Soon after the invention of the
printing press, the Church required review and approval before anything could be printed.
However impractical and difficult to enforce in the contemporary period, to varying
degrees such prior restraint is found in authoritarian societies, whether based on secular
political (as in Cuba) or religious doctrines (as in Iran and Afghanistan ) at the turn of the
century. It may be seen in democracies during emergency periods such as a war. There
may be formal review boards or censors may be assigned directly to work at newspapers
and broadcasting stations.
Government or interest group monopolization of publication. Here the censors in
effect are the producers and are the only ones allowed to offer mass communication. For
much of its history the church was intertwined with government and in effect was the
only publisher. In the former Soviet Union the press and media were government
controlled and private means were prohibited.


Licensing and registration. The means of production and transmission of information

may be limited to trusted groups who agree to self-censorship in light of prior
restrictions. In England in the 16th century printing was restricted to one official
company and all books had to be cleared by religious authorities prior to publication.
Four centuries later China required that all internet content providers be registered with
the government and abide by vague content restrictions. Permission may be required to
own a printing press, and in some countries even ownership of a typewriter has been
Government subsidized programs for the arts and journalism may come with political and
cultural strings attached. In the Soviet Union sponsorship of artists and writers
associations stressed socialist realism, a doctrine which held that art should serve the
purposes of the state. Those rejecting this were neither subsidized, nor offered access to
the public and risked prosecution, as with Nobel Prize winning author Alexander
In addition to the above three major methods, the Government of Kenya use the
following censorship methods:1. Police and thugs raids to publishing houses
The Standard raids in 2006 and Finance raid in 1995 and the case of Corsi.
2. Notices/threats, either direct or indirectly, to information service providers like
bookshops, libraries and publishers. For example Corsis book on Obama and the
book on John Githongo with regard to Anglo Leasing scandal.
3. Legal approaches
Earlier, on 18 January 1995, the Attorney-General, Amos Wako, announced that he
was removing legal registration from the Mwangaza Trust, think-tank involving
opposition politicians, church leaders, human rights activists and others. Mwangaza's
publication, Nuru, which was published in eight Kenyan languages, was impounded


by the police, who subsequently threatened newspaper vendors with arrest if they
were found selling the publication.
The Kenya Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2008 bill, Official secrets Act,
Seditions Act, Freedom of Information Legislation is all legislations that have a
bearing on censorship.



1. Irresponsible journalism
To a greater extend the media is a powerful tool that can both build and destroy a society.
Irresponsible journalism that can fuel tribalism and hate should be controlled. However
this control should be administered objectively and not used as a scapegoat to gag the
media. Media become irresponsible if it fuels hate, propagates unhealthy information like
pornography, subject the country to security risks by overboard exposures, reports
subjectively rather than objectively, misinforms/misinterprets, hurts peoples reputation,
is politically biased.
2. State Security
Whereas state security is a critical issue for all Kenyans, all censorship actions previously
recorded in Kenya on grounds of state security have not been sufficient enough to
warrant censorship. For instance the raid on Standard on grounds of publication of
information on the first family (as alleged by Paul Muite) was not convincing enough to
warrant arrest.
3. Political insecurity
Censorship on basis of the information being a threat to a political establishment like
during the Mwakenya era is baseless. Political entities and regimes must be held to
account to curb the vices associated with politics and political maneuvers.
4. Morality concern
The censorship on basis of prevention of moral rot and decay is justifiable. This more so
important given Kenyas HIV & AIDS status, increasing rape cases, early pregnancies
and marriages, drug and substance abuse and general disintegration of the moral fabric.
To the extent that the information has explicit sexual and pornographic content, it
agreeable to censor such information for the sake of young generation.


1. The Internet
While government censorship makes a symbolic statement, it is often rather impractical
beyond the short run, given the ubiquitous nature and continual improvements in mass
communication technologies and the leaky nature of most social systems. Of course
computer based technologies may make it easier to track whom an individual
communicates with and what material they access. But on balance, technology appears
more likely to be on the side of freedom of expression than the side of the censors. The
ease of modern communications, in particular remote forms whose transmission can
transcend national borders such as the radio, television, fax and the internet and means of
reproduction that are inexpensive and relatively easy to use and conceal such as photocopiers, scanners, audio and video taping and printing through a computer, limit the
ability of censors. The internet, if available, has the potential to make everyone a
publisher. Its many to many communication through labyrinthian networks (chat
rooms, bulletin boards and e-mail) is far more difficult to censor than the traditional one
to many communication of the newspaper or television station.
Given the expanding scale of published material and the diffusion of communications
technology that began with the printing press, government and religious bodies are
forever trying to catch up. This is the case even in modern highly authoritarian settings.
For example in China during the Tiananmen Square protest, fax technology kept China
and the world informed of the events. In Iran the fall of the Shah was aided by smuggled
audio tapes urging his overthrow. Strong encryption which protects messages also makes
the censors task more difficult.
This incident shows clearly, that some people in the Government of Kenya are afraid that
internet whistle blowing can bring accountability to bear in frightening ways. They are
right to worry. Technology is making whistle blowing easier and safer and there is even a
Kenyan precedent.


2. Public demand
Increasing public demand for reforms and access to freedom of expression is steadily
challenging government efforts to enforce censorship. Beyond technical factors,
censorship is often accompanied by demand for the censored material. Censoring
material may call attention to it and make it more attractive (the forbidden fruit/banned in
Boston effect). Black market demand for such material makes it likely that some
individuals will take the risk of creating and distributing it, whether out of conviction or
for profit. Potential communicators often find ways to avoid or deceive censors whether
using satire, parable, code language, changing the name of prohibited publications and
through simply defying the law, as with the many underground samizdat presses that
challenged communist rule in Eastern Europe.
It is also the case that sometimes, the truth will out. In a democracy illegitimate
political censorship in the name of National Security or executive privilege is vulnerable
to discovery note Watergate and the Iran-Contra affair. In spite of its dependence on
government sources, the mass media may play an important counter-balancing role here,
watching those who seek to watch. Beyond investigative reporters often using the
Freedom of Information Act, such dirty data may be revealed by the legal procedure of
discovery in court cases, by leaks, experiments or tests, whistleblowers and participants
with a Dostoyevskyian compulsion to confess and by uncontrollable contingencies such
as accidents (e.g., the crash of an airplane carrying Watergate hush money). The more
complex and important a cover-up or illegal conspiracy, the more vulnerable it is to
revelation. Even most legitimately classified government secrets have a shelf life and
must be revealed after 75 years.
In the long run it is also difficult for censors to deny pragmatic outcomes and those which
are empirically obvious. This raises the intriguing sociology of knowledge question of the
relationship between culture with its significant, but not unlimited, elasticity and a level
of reality or truth that, when in conflict with culture, may erode it over time. No matter
what the power of the Church to prosecute Galileo for heresy and ban his work, or the


amplitude of its megaphone to assert the earth was flat, it could not suppress the truth
for long.
3. Freedom of Information
The Constitution already guarantees freedom of expression in Section 79:
Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his
freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference,
freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate
ideas and information without interference (whether the communication be to the public
generally or to any person or class of persons) ... .


The Kenya Anti Corruption Commission & Internet Censorship in Kenya an Exercise in
Futility May 29th, 2008 by Mars Group Kenya
UNHCR (1995) Censorship in Kenya. Government critics face the death penalty
available at:
IFLA/FAIFE (1999) World Report: Libraries and Intellectual Freedom
Baets, A. ( ) Cesnorship of a historical thought. Greenwood Publishing Group
Fox News (2008) Jerome Corsi in Kenya: Censored, Detained, deported?
International Encyclopedia of the Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2001. Censorship and
Secrecy, Social and Legal Perspectives