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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Oh dear, so how do we balance 'national security' and 'public interest'?

I am sad. Not because of the renewed opacity in coverage of parliament – we can go around that— but because of the way issues of immense public interest are discussed behind closed doors because of, you guessed it, ‘national security’!

I look at parliamentary journalism as one of those ways to expand the democratic space, to have people know what their leaders are talking about; the leaders to talk about the people’s needs, and for us – journalists and the people who read our stories— to keep these leaders on their toes.

But today, the second day of June, 2015, is a sad one.

The Senate had this pre-planned informal meetings – they are called The Speaker’s Kamukunji. They wanted to discuss insecurity in the country and terrorism.

When Haji and Nkaissery were the bosses at the Ministry of Defence, they loved the limelight. They were politicians too. You can see the smiles on this screengrab.

Now, that is a conversation that will help if Kenyans hear what their leaders are being told about what the authorities have done to keep us safe. I saw Inspector General Joseph Boinett, his deputies Grace Kaindi and Samuel Arachi, and a host of intelligence officials.

Now, these are people you would want to listen to and hear what they have to say. But they met senators behind closed doors for hours. Actually from 11am to around 3.30pm. Why close the doors? Someone said “these are security matters!”

I don’t know if Sen. Billow Kerrow (Mandera) asked about theal Shabaab take-over of villages and towns in Mandera and Wajir counties; I don’t know if Sen. Hassan Omar grilled them on the rationale of victimizing human rights groups like Haki Africa and Muhuri; I don’t know if Sen. Yusuf Hajj (Garissa) asked what the hell was happening with the attacks in Garissa County.

I have no idea what the security bosses said about the security situation in the country; I don’t know what political morsel they threw at the senators to hush them up; I don’t know if they lied. I don’t know if they spoke about concrete steps to deal with “radicalization of youth” (I hate that word!); I don’t know if they even spoke about the pullout of troops from Somalia. Would you not want to find out the details of why the presidential jet was being sent to a warzone?

I know my job is to find out. It is easy to find out what is spoken behind closed doors when you are dealing with people who do not feel “honoured and privileged” to grill people for errors of commission and omission. But when everyone is starry-eyed for meeting these mandarins, really, what do you expect?

Nobody knows what they discussed; but then, if and when something goes wrong, I am sure the senators will come out and defend the authorities. It will be difficult for us to believe their story; they will say we are ignoring them.

From my corner of covering the two-chamber Parliament, I know the Senate deserves a platform to say what they have to say; to show the people what the Senate does. Now, if some of these key meetings on crucial issues of immense public interest take place behind closed doors, how then do you cover these guys?


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