Dr. Fred Matiang’i has exited the Information Communications and Technology (ICT) ministry for the education docket in the reshuffle announced by the President yesterday. The ICT sector has been observing his tenure and three years down the line, it has been a loss to the growth of the industry.
One would look at the big shows that Dr. Bitange Ndemo left and tangibly feel the huge hole. Dr. Bitange had inspired the growth of the sector. One would remember support to Nailab, to the tune of sh100M, a fund that is helping nurture future tech-solutions companies, initiation and growth of the Kenya Open Data Initiative (KODI) and pushing through Konza techopolis among others. He also espoused confidence to industry players.
Exit Ndemo, comes in Dr. Fred Matiang’i from State University of New York (SUNY), where he was the Executive Director of the Kenya chapter. At SUNY, he had done well to support governance and democracy initiatives to both government and non-governmental organizations. For instance it is under his leadership that SUNY funded the media center at Parliament. He also negotiated a core funding from USAID called AHADI that is currently being implemented to support devolution.
At ICT, Dr. Matiang’i has been scampering on loss after the other, not knowing where to go and what to do. He had taken this incompetence to the lands ministry, as seen by the acrimonious concerns in the various legislation on land issues primarily Community Land Bill and Land Act amendments.
When you meet Dr. Matiang’i and talk to him about various issues in the sector, whether media or ICT, he sounds very promising and abreast with issues. For instance during the launch of the State of Blogging and Social Media 2015 report by BAKE, Boniface Mwangi asked him to assist photographers who are being intimidated and arrested. He met him with representatives from the Photographers Association of Kenya (PAK) and they were advised on what to do. They however have yet to take the challenge up.
Soon after assuming office, he was at logger heads with media fraternity over the Media Act 2013 and the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Act 2013. They argued that the two laws, which had just been passed were unconstitutional. The case is still in court but the complainants, Kenya Correspondents Association, The Kenya Editors Guild and the Kenya Union of Journalists have already won some preliminary rulings like blocking the Ministry from implementing the contentious provisions until the matter is heard and determined.
Specifically, the court barred Dr. Fred Matiang’i, as the Cabinet Secretary for Communication, Information and Technology from setting up panels to reconstitute the Media Council of Kenya Council Board, the Council’s Complaints Commission and setting up the Multi-Media and Appeals Tribunal until the full case is heard and determined
For instance, setting up the Appeals Tribunal could trigger a climate of fear and intimidation on media practitioners and media establishments as it would commence levying financial penalties of sh500,000 ($5880) on journalists and Sh20 million($235,200) on media houses judged in violation of the KICA Act by the tribunal.
The Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, perhaps the most contentious in the life of the 11th Parliament, had proposed that, among others, that police must approve publication or broadcasting of information relating to investigations on terrorism. It took the intervention of the opposition CORD to have these repugnant provisions struck out by the High Court.
Section 66A (1) of the Law had said
A person who publishes, broadcasts or causes to be published or distributed, through print, digital
or electronic means, insulting, threatening, or inciting material or images of dead or injured persons which are likely to cause fear and alarm to the general public or disturb public peace commits an offence and is liable, upon conviction, to a fine not exceeding five million shillings or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both.
During the deliberations of the law, Dr. Matiang’i was silent, a tacit approval of the regressive provisions.
In the proposals under the Powers and Privileges Bill (2015), Hon. Adan Keynan had made some further proposals infringing on media and access to information freedoms that Dr. Matiangi’s saw appropriate. For instance, live coverage of events was to be done only after approval by the Speaker, a very backward provision. But pressure from media saw these provisions removed before the final Bill was passed.
When Daily Nation’s Parliamentary editor John Ngirachi was arrested by the police to be compelled to reveal sources of a story he had done, the minister for information was silent. He should have at least made efforts to enlighten the Interior Minister that sources of stories by journalists are sacred while also reminding him that he was the source of the story.
As of today, Kenya lacks an Access to Information Law, Data Protection Law and Cyber Security Law. All these are critical to the growth of the ICT industry. Last week, the Access to Information Law was brought before the Second Reading in the National Assembly. It is being sponsored by Hon. Priscilla Nyokabi who despite sitting n the House Business Committee, the agenda setting arm of the House, couldn’t marshal support to prioritize the Bill.
When Matiang’i was called and asked by the House Committee on Information Communication and Technology, chaired by Hon. Jamleck Kamau, he said the ministry was working on a separate Access to Information Law and Data Protection Law and intends to bring them together to the House.
You should remember that these laws should have been passed with five years of the implementation of the Constitution. The ICT ministry has ably dragged it and even pushed for an extension of these Bills, among others to August 2016.
Konza Technocity, despite some calling it a white elephant, has yet to make tangible progress, over five years since it was conceived.
It is comfortable to say that the only good thing the Cabinet Secretary did was to stand firm on the digital migration issue. Beyond this, history will judge his contributions to the growth and development of the ICT sector are minute, considering the huge demands and expectations, spring-boarded by the Jubilee government’s digital mantra.