As New York Times – Kenya Controversy Continues, Kenyatta Suspends Four Staff

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Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

The controversy between the Kenyan government and the New York Times over a hard-hitting story on the International Criminal Court’s record in Kenya has shown no signs of abating. Late last week, the office of Kenyan President slammed the Times for its piece, questioning the newspaper’s place in the world media, suggesting the piece relied on faulty sources, and claiming its author hadn’t contacted the Kenyan government for their views on the ICC’s intervention in Kenya. Yesterday, the Times stood by James Verini’s article and insisted that the author had relied on good sources and done everything possible to include the Kenyan government’s side of the story. It rightly refused to apologize.

Today, it was revealed that Kenya’s response to the Times article has created sharp divisions within parts of the government. According to local media, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta took the dramatic step of suspending four members of his Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU). From one report:

Four directors of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit (PSCU) were on Wednesday suspended from office, over what sources said was “conflicting messaging.”

Those affected are Eric Ng’eno, Munyori Buku, Dennis Itumbi and James Kinyua.

At the heart of the latest spat is a story emanating from the New York Times on the International Criminal Court.

The NY Times gave details of lengthy correspondence with State House on the matter, but a statement ostensibly released by some of the PSCU Directors appeared to question the integrity of the NY Times.

A rebuttal sent out to media on official email appeared to suggest that the NY Times never made attempt to seek comment from State House, yet the newspaper has documented a series of correspondence from officials in the Presidency.

Perhaps this is a case of staff wanted to project an anti-West, anti-ICC, anti-media zeal to impress their boss? Or perhaps there’s some greater aim to this rather bizarre decision. Whatever the case, it’s an embarrassment to Kenya’s presidential office.

Questions remain, including whether Kenyatta ever approved of his own office’s statement on the Times article and, if not, how it ended up being released and published by the Kenyan media. Kenyatta himself is currently in the midst of a three-day visit to Botswana, the most vocal supporter of the ICC among African states.

It remains to be seen if there is any more fall-out from this controversy. If there is, I will continue cover it at JiC.

This story has involved a number of remarkable, controversial, and dramatic turns. For more, see:

A Brutally Honest Confrontation with the ICC’s Past: Thoughts on ‘The Prosecutor and the President’
A Comment In Defence of Luis Moreno-Ocampo
Kenya’s President Rips into New York Times Article Largely Favourable to Him
The New York Times Shoots Back, Won’t Apologize to Kenyatta for ICC Story
As New York Times – Kenya Controversy Continues, Kenyatta Suspends Four Staff
It Continues… Kenyatta’s (Suspended) Communications Staff Threatens to Sue New York Times

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About Mark Kersten

Mark is a researcher, consultant and teacher based at the Munk School of Global Affairs in Toronto, Canada. His research focuses on the nexus of international criminal justice and conflict resolution. Specifically, Mark's work examines the politics of the International Criminal Court and the effects of its interventions on peace, justice and conflict processes.
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