Why can’t we take photos in Kenya wherever and however we like?

I am not photogenic, that’s why I am conspicuously missing in Instagram, but that does not mean I don’t once in awhile take pictures of things I consider beautiful, or pictures of myself when I am at places or buildings I consider important – memorable. Places like State House, Parliament, Likoni Ferry Channel, KICC, Times Towers, Central Bank of Kenya, Supreme Court, and many others places I am not allowed to take pictures at. In essence, I do not have the freedom to take photos in Kenya.

Early last year I wanted to test a phone camera I was given for review. While walking around Nakuru I spotted a very nice clean and beautifully looking street that I thought would make an extremely elegant picture. The street had flowers by the side, newly painted buildings, and clean well kept walkways. No trash, no dirt, no rusted roofing. I identified a vantage point from where I could capture a great landscape image of the street, then my buddy stopped me just before I pressed the shutter button. “You don’t want to spend a night in a police cell”, he warned. Reason? Since terrorists demolished Westgate, the Government banned taking photos in streets, near public buildings and at numerous other “protected areas”.

From that day I completely lost my freedom to take photos in Kenya. Unless I am at place I am completely sure is not contaminated by law┬áenforcement officers, I will not dare take out my phone to snap that great view, or record a dramatic event happening in real time. Hardly a month ago I was at Top Market in Nakuru when part of the market suddenly went up in flames. I wanted to take pictures of the fire, record a video showing how Kenyans were running towards the danger instead of away from it, and how others were trying to put off the fire the wrong way, but I couldn’t – I really have a phobia for police cells and this is because I have spent some horrible nights in those cells. Despite my fear, I always have this strong wish to have the freedom to take photos in Kenya however and wherever I like as long as I do not invade in anyone’s privacy.

Seth Odongo, a controversial Facebook personality, blogger and member of ODM’s Press team captured my wishes when he posted:

As a student on a US exchange programme, I visited Washington DC, stood outside the fence of White House and took a photo. Hundreds of other people where doing it, from everywhere around the world, people go to DC to stand outside those public buildings and take photos, at best.

DC tourism is fueled by people visiting public/government institutions. People visit the Hill (Capitol Hill), then the Mall (public monuments and memorials) then 1600 Penn Av (White House) etc. Each year, the world visits DC to see American democracy.

Here in Kenya, a high school student from Ndhiwa in Homa Bay visiting Nairobi for the first time cannot take photos in front of parliament because the parliament is a ‘protected area’.

He cannot take a photo outside state house because state house is a ‘protected area’.

In mature democracies; the two houses are public houses. They are the two main institutions of a nation’s democracy.

Every time I walk in Nairobi and see ‘no photography’ sign on a public building, it really disgusts me. The public should be able to connect with public spaces.

The thinking that not photographing public buildings protects those buildings from terrorists is so stupid and idiotic.

There is a man at the ICC charged with destroying some historical monuments in Timbuktu. That’s his crime.

It should be a national crime to deny people the right to enjoy the aesthetics of a nation’s democracy.

According to my friend who stopped me from capturing the best of Nakuru streets, reinforced by the post by Seth Odongo, the reason the Government has banned taking pictures in public places is because such pictures will aid terrorists in planning their attacks. I am not privy to the thinking of Government officials including Intelligent Security Personnel like those employed by NIS, but I do believe that the mere thinking that terrorists will use the photos to plan terrorists attack is rather stupid.

Let us assume that terrorists were to attack State House, or Parliament, or CBK, do you think they cannot access photos from the world wide web having images of those buildings? Doesn’t the Government know that there are hundreds of thousands of pictures of KICC, CBK, Parliament and the numerous other “protected areas” that already exist in the Internet that are only a click away from anyone? Including the terrorists? Even though the idea of┬ábanning photography in public places is archaic, colonial and indeed stupid, there are Kenyans who actually think that those public photos can actually increase the rate of terror attacks. One such person commented in the Seth Odongo’s post saying:

On the flip side Penn Ave 16 is the most protected area besides pentagon thou you may not see feds roaming around. I support the no photography as now but we should work on fortifying our security through soft approach as that of uncle Sam

When Kenyans on Twitter┬áwent up in arms against CNN after CNN captioned Obama’s visit to Kenya using the words;┬áSECURITY FEARS AS OBAMA HEADS TO TERROR HOTBED, many Kenyans wondered how they could promote Kenya as a beautiful peaceful country yet the Government had denied them the freedom to take photos in Kenya. It seems rather clear that banning photography in public places is a stupid cowardice act that we should be freed from. We can and should use our freedom of expression clause entrenched in the constitution┬áto strongly┬ádemanded for our freedom to take photos in Kenya however, whenever and at all public places and buildings.


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