By Ogova Ondego
Published January 10, 2017
You could end up with a 10-year jail term or lose US$50,000 in fines for placing that innocuous ‘chama’ or ‘rite of passage’ message poster on an electric light pole in Kenya.
Yes, you heard right: spend 10 years in jail and pay a US$50000 for pasting a poster on an electric power post!
Though Kenya has good laws, policies and agencies charged with protection of the environment, the country’s towns and their environs could be described as areas in which there is no king and everyone does what is right in everyone’s own eyes.
So bad is the situation that national power utility company, Kenya Power, is threatening to haul people to court and have them fork out Sh5 Million (about US$50000) and get jailed for 10 years for defacing or vandalising its street light poles with adverts it has not approved.
Kenya Power, that distributes electricity in the East African country, may be addressing the formal sector: advertising, PR and marketing agencies. But almost everyone in Kenya is guilty of printing and pasting their posters on Kenya Power’s electric poles, people’s private walls and sign posts, public road signs, accident scene signs, ‘Stop. Police Check’ signs and even on trees!
So what has caused urban Kenya to mirror ancient Israel that Judges 21:25 describes as a land in which “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” as far as advertising is concerned?
Almost a month ago, in mid November 2016 to be precise, Kenya Power gave advertising agencies and marketers an ultimatum of two weeks to remove adverts they have put up on its poles or face prosecution.
“We wish to inform all advertising, PR and marketing agencies that it is illegal to place any kind of advertising materials on our concrete street lighting poles,” said the State utility in a public notice.
“Please take note that the use of such properties without Kenya Power’s consent… is contrary to the Energy Act, 2006. This offense attracts a penalty of up to Sh1 million or imprisonment of one year or both. Where our structures are damaged, it may amount to vandalism with a penalty of a minimum of 10 years imprisonment and or a minimum fine of Sh5 million.”
Why would Kenya Power decide to take action against people it accuses of impropriety in a country that has a constitution, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Film Classification Board (KFCB), by-laws of local or county government, and the National Police Service, for instance? Are these agencies not enforcing the law as per their mandate?
The introduction of the Outdoor Advertising and Signage Policy of the Nairobi City County, one of the 47 local administrative units in Kenya and the commercial, political and cultural capital of the country, notes that “Advertising is a multi-million shilling industry [that] forms part of everyday culture, often adding colour to our streets. It . . . can be a valuable source of information and is viewed by many as a form of entertainment in itself.”
The policy, one of the most comprehensive I have seen and which should be used countrywide, further says that the benefits of outdoor advertising notwithstanding, “care [should be] taken with the display of outdoor advertisements so that they do not prejudice amenity or public safety, having regard to the specific circumstances of each proposal. Overall, the County intends to encourage the provision of well-designed advertising which respects the building or location where it is displayed and which contribute to a quality environment. There is a particular need to protect the unique qualities and amenity of the countryside and important townscape features, such as listed buildings and their settings, conservation areas and areas of townscape character, among others.”
Does Nairobi City County enforce its own by-laws? Then why is Kenya Power crying foul? Or does the Nairobi City County Government only take care of its own property and not that of others in the area of its jurisdiction?
All public posters are supposed to be regulated by KFCB, aren’t they? And what is the role of NEMA if not taking care of environmental issues?
The Outdoor Advertising and Signage Policy of the Nairobi City County aptly notes that “The Constitution of Kenya under schedule 4 part 2 (3) gives the county functions and powers to control outdoor advertising among other public nuisances. Under the Bill of Rights article 42, it gives every person the right to a clean and healthy environment. The county’s main function is therefore geared towards environmental protection and preservation. The Constitution of Kenya provides for the control of environmental pollution from the business of advertising in general. The large billboards advertising products and services will not be associated solely with revenue generation without their impact on visual pollution being critically addressed.”
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Then why is the Government of the Nairobi City County not living up to the mandate it gets from the supreme law of the land, the Constitution of Kenya that came into force in 2010?
Though the Outdoor Advertising and Signage Policy of the Nairobi City County policy identifies 12 types of advertisement–Billboards,Sky Signs, Wall Wraps, Bus Shelters and Transport Termini, Light Emitting Diode (LED) Screens, Street Light Pole Adverts, Street Furniture Adverts, Guard Rail Advert Panels, Wall Branding, Vehicle Branding, Mobile Advertisements, Construction site hoarding advertising–this article addresses posters on street light poles by non-formal players, i.e. individuals.
The Government of the Nairobi City County forbids anyone from, among other acts, erecting or causing or permitting “to be erected or maintained any of the following signs:
j) Any poster otherwise than on a hoarding legally erected for the purpose of accommodating such poster
o) Any poster or sign attached to a tree, and
q) Any sign or poster attached to a Road Traffic Sign.
Oh, what is causing people not to advertise with established advertising, Public Relations and marketing agencies that use billboards, Legacy Media (Newspapers/Magazines/Radio/TV) and Social Media (Facebook/Twitter)? Don’t advertising avenues abound in Websites and blogs? Or is the cost of advertising on these platforms prohibitive?
What is the response of organisations like Marketing Society of Kenya, Public Relations Society of Kenya, Law Society of Kenya, ‘Civil Society’ and individuals like me and you?
Meanwhile, we wait to see how Kenya Power shall use the courts in dealing with all the people doing whatever seems right in their own eyes, there being no king in the land.