Kenya warned over NGO crackdown after disputed election

by FT

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Kenyan opposition supporters

 

Western governments have warned the Kenyan government over a crackdown against civil society groups, days after President Uhuru Kenyatta was re-elected in a disputed poll.

The interventions came after the state body responsible for overseeing non-governmental organisations ordered the deregistration of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Africa Center for Open Governance (AfriCog) for alleged administrative offences. The Kenya Revenue Authority also launched a probe into AfriCog.

Both NGOs have been critical of the perceived lack of transparency of the presidential election tallying process. KHRC has also indirectly linked the “state” to the murder of Chris Msando, the electoral commission IT manager who was killed a week before the August 8 election.

The poll in east Africa’s dominant economy has been marred by allegations of fraud and protests in parts of Nairobi and Kisumu, an opposition stronghold in western Kenya, in which more than a dozen people have been killed.

Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader, has refused to accept the result, which saw Mr Kenyatta win 54 per cent to Mr Odinga’s 44 per cent. Mr Odinga claimed the commission falsified the returns.

The British and US embassies in Nairobi and head of the EU election monitoring team all expressed concerns about the moves against the NGOs, saying a strong civil society was vital to democracy and that the government should ensure it could operate freely.

Fred Matiang’i, the acting interior minister, responded by ordering the state’s NGO board to “suspend any action on these organisations for up to 90 days” so they can meet the “regulatory and compliance needs”. But the revenue authority refused to back down on its probe into AfriCog.

John Githongo, AfriCog chairman and a former government anti-corruption tsar, accused the government of a “systematic attempt to shrink what has already been shrinking space for people who have been advocating for the rights of Kenyans”.

“There seems to be a very systematic effort to stifle those organisations that may be speaking truth to power, standing up for the issues that ordinary wananchi [members of the public] are not able to raise,” he said outside the AfriCog headquarters. “It’s a fraud, it’s a complete con and it’s a massive own goal.”

The NGO prevented police and tax officials from entering its offices on Wednesday.

The British High Commission tweeted: “Strong #civilsociety vital to #democracy. Need space to do their work. #UK continues to stress this to highest levels of Kenyan Government.”

The US embassy tweeted: “A free civil society is critical to democracy & fulfilling promise of #Kenya’s #constitution. US urges government to protect their rights.”

Marietje Schaake, the head of the EU election monitoring mission, said Kenya’s civil society played a “crucial role in the country’s evolving democratisation process”.

“Especially in the days after the elections, any restriction or intimidation is reason for deep concern,” she said. “I hope the Kenyan government will do what is in its power to ensure civil society can do its work unhindered.”

However, Sylvester Okello, the senior KRA officer leading the raid on AfriCog, said he was not bound by Mr Matiang’i’s order. “This is a tax investigation process about compliance,” he said.

Analysts say the government move against the NGOs makes it look like a police state and that it has something to hide about an election that appears to have been fairly won.

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