“Classified records on security in the custody of the Kenya National Archives and Documentation Service shall not be made available for public inspection until the expiry of fifty five years, or such further periods as may be specified in subsequent Order” – THE PUBLIC ARCHIVES AND DOCUMENTATION SERVICE (PUBLIC ACCESS TO PUBLIC ARCHIVES) ORDER, 2002.
The above order which is embedded in Cap 19, Public Archives and Documentation Services Act as a subsidiary legislation may have been sneaked in to guard interests of the ruling class. The implication of the above order is far an wide. Kenyans need to be told what exactly “security records” are.
The recent case of terrorist prisoners abuse by CIA in United State is a case in mind of how far in the name of security individuals case can be abused. In Kenya we have our own share of extremes in our effort to clump down on “enemies of the State” by the security agents. The famous Nyayo House Agents are a case in mind. To this day, none of the perpetrators of this form of atrocity have been brought to book and the explicit details of what exactly happened in those doomed rooms may remain hidden to surviving relatives of the victims. Classifying security files is one thing but going ahead and arbitrary closing such files for 55 years is a stub on the backs of citizens.
This country has been let down more by the elite than by the ignorant majority. Those charged with the responsibility of ensuring that the fundamental rights and welfare of the citizens have always acted to the opposite. The officer who advised and later signed the above regulation was not even a politician but a professional of great refute in the area of records management. Am saying advise, because the law gives him powers to advise the government on public records.Whose interest was he representing? Who was he protecting?
When a section of Kenyan’s has been campaigning for the enactment of the Freedom of Information Access, the professionals in government positions have been acting the opposite. Complacency by these officers who know very well that the guys on top are only serving their own interests and a far from being nationalists still baffles me. Our political class hate transparency, accountability and true democracy. In short, they do not like “being lectured on governance” despite presiding over failing and fallen institutions. (In other words, don’t tell the emperor that he is naked!).
The freedom of Information Access is a legislation that is long overdue in this country. Whereas enactment of this legislation is not a panacea, it will definitely empower Kenyans by bringing information about and public officers. This will in turn enable them to make informed decisions on who and how they want to be governed. Who would not want to know if that PC /DO or even the Minister in charge of security is the same fellow who tortured Kenyans in the dungeons of the Nyayo House?
Opening up records relating to activities of the security agents during such era will obviously give a glimpse of the role played by different public officers. The 55 year rule covers records closed in 1955! It is very sad given that this is the period when Kenyans were in the middle of the struggle for independence of this nation. When will Kenyans get to know the details of the Wagalla Massacre? If you are 35 years and above, you may never get to know the details of military operation on the SLF of Mt Elgon or even the Mugiki suppression by KweKwe squad! You may never get to know the details of security operations in Naiivasha, Nakuru, Eldoret and other places. Why? Because, the law does make sure that, you will be long dead or a senile cabbage by the time such information is ready for perusal by the public
Compared to US, Kenya is extremely secretive and protective of political and military operations (underlings?). In 2006, US passed a law requiring automatic declassification of files that are 25 years and older and are of archival nature. Applied to Kenya, that would have meant that files relating to 1982 coup attempt an the trial of Charles Njonjo and the rest would be available for perusal.
One of the the things that Kenyans want is to have responsible and accountable institutions. As of now, Kenya National Archives ought to have worked out a plan on migration and preservation of electronic records that are in the cutody of the public institutions. They ought to have provided guidelines on creation, use and disposition of the same records. They ought to have provided in-house training sessions to all ministries and public bodies on management of records in this new media.
Waiting until the situation gets out of hand could cost Kenyans heavily as far as preservation of electronic records is concerned (think of a situation where such records may be destroyed by way of deleting from the storage media, leaving no copy or evidence of their existence, think of situtions where, due to lack of guidance, public officers fail to transfer to an appropriate media records which are contained in an obsolate and unreadable media,… think of.. etc)
Kenyans expect the Kenya National archives to provide guidance and be at the forefront in the campaign and legislation of the Freedom Information Access Act. When the Act is operational, the KNA will have a great responsibility in regulating its operation. It is for this reason that KNA should be out there preparing the grounds for the operation of this Act.
Kenyans expect monthly communication from the Kenya National Archives giving information on which records have been opened to the public. As such the KNA website should be a breathing one but not one that is on and off.
Remember, it is your tax that supports these institutions, thus, the government is expected by law supposed to be delivering to us services. We want to see these services, every day not on certain occasions.