We say the words: “Je ne suis pas #CharlieHebdo” (“I am not #CharlieHebdo“) with due respect to all those affected by the terrorist attack at the Charlie Hebdo offices yesterday in the French capital, Paris. As Kenyans, we are all too familiar with the pain, loss and damage caused by acts of terror. So, we empathise with the French people and we say to them: “Poleni sana”. However, as #CharlieHebdo continues to flood timelines, media outlets and newspapers, we must decolonise our minds and remember not to get sucked into the Western Media frenzy. As Kenyans and Africans at large, we have very complex and pressing problems of our own that are not so fortunate as to receive the worldwide coverage currently being given to #CharlieHebdo.
“The persistent controversy about the reach of the state’s power to restrict free thought and speech in a democracy suggests that freedom of expression has still not made an unassailable case for itself.” – Githu Muigai, Esq. (September 1993).
To speak or to otherwise express oneself is a natural, and indeed an essential human activity, part of what it means to be human. Expression is therefore a means of fulfillment of the human personality. On a larger scale, freedom of expression is essential to the functioning of a democratic state. For people to make political choices they must have access to information and to different view-points. In a democracy, the right to express grievances and to propagate or criticise policies enables people to contribute to peaceful progress and change their society.
Well, atleast in theory.
Enter the curious case of Robert Alai.
“The homage we can pay to truth is to use it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882).
Imagine Robert Mugabe decides to sue Nandos and the creatives behind this ad for defamation. I’m almost sure that in addition to disputing whether or not the Nandos ad is defamatory of the Zimbabwean President, the legal team for Nandos would also rely on the right to freedom of expression which is a basic political right found in almost all the Constitutions of the world.
Freedom of expression is closely linked with freedom of the press and other media as one of the essential ingredients of democracy. The press, especially for countries committed to the path of democratisation, is meant to serve as the medium of delivery and transmitting ideas to and from the People. There is however a danger of unnecessarily and irresponsibly hiding behind democracy to justify every action of the press. It is within the context of these two extremes that the following comments are made on South Africa’s latest Bill to be tabled before Parliament: The Protection of Information Bill aka ‘Secrecy Bill’