Kenya again cracks down on Civil Society Groups

November 8, 2017, 10:26 am

Days ahead of the deadline for filing petitions against the repeat presidential election results on November 6, Kenyan authorities, again, cracked down on civil society groups critical of the vote in which Uhuru Kenyatta was once again proclaimed winner.

On November 3, the Kenya Non-Governmental Organizations Co-ordination Board, the regulatory authority for nongovernmental groups, summoned three civil society organizationsInuka Kenya, Katiba Institute and Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI) – to respond to allegations of money laundering and employing foreigners without valid work permits, among other reasons.

And on November 6, the board banned the operations of, “Kura Yangu, Sauti Yangu” (“My Vote, My Voice”), an election campaign initiative by a coalition of civil society groups, and, “We the People,” a citizen’s alliance that focuses on good governance, for allegedly operating illegal bank accounts and funding political operations in Kenya.

These organizations say they were targeted because of their work. The head of MUHURI said his organization was targeted because of its involvement in filing elections petitions. He believed the board’s action amounted to a “witch-hunt.”

This is not the first time the board has targeted civil society organizations that were critical of the government or that challenged the credibility of results during this election season.

On August 14, days after Kenyatta was initially declared the winner of the now-annulled August 8 presidential election, the board announced it had cancelled the registration of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) – one of the oldest human rights groups in Kenya – citing alleged tax evasion and other issues.

A day later, the board wrote to the director of criminal investigations with a request to shut down the offices of the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) and arrest its directors. AfriCOG is an organization that specializes in governance issues and has criticized Kenyan authorities for corruption. A high court judge in Nairobi temporarily stopped the board from shutting down AfriCOG and the acting interior cabinet secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, put on holdthe deregistration of the two groups, pending further investigations.

Then on October 5, the board also suspended the activities of the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO), an organization engaged in funding the judiciary including programs concerning the handling of election disputes.

The recent crackdown is part of a wider repression of civil society in Kenya in recent years. The government urgently needs to change course and instead of harassing these organizations, Kenyan authorities should respect their rights and their role in meaningful dialogue.