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Sunday, April 30, 2017

The state is profiling NGOs

The state is profiling NGOs
The state is profiling NGOs

Over the past couple of months, we have seen the government take a hardline position on a number of issues that impact on the country’s relationship with the international community.

Apart from expressing strong reservations about the International Criminal Court, senior government officials recently expressed their displeasure with the United Nations over the dismissal of Kenyan force commander to the UN Mission in South Sudan, Lt Gen Johnson Ondieki.

Lt Gen Odieki was dismissed after being blamed for failures at the mission that the said Kenyan authorities said were not of his making. President Uhuru Kenyatta went ahead to order the withdrawal of KDF soldiers from UNMISS.

In his Jamhuri Day speech, the President fired another salvo aimed at the international community, saying some unspecified foreign financiers have conspired to effect regime change in Kenya. He stopped short of saying that the foreign forces were hell-bent on bringing down his government.

Eight days later, the NGOs Coordination Board, through its CEO Fazul Mohamed ordered, the US-based International Foundation for Electoral Systems to stop its Sh2 billion electoral assistance programme. It was also banned. IFES has worked on programmes related to election management in various African countries, including Uganda and Tanzania. It is normally contracted by the US government, through USAID, to manage and coordinate election-related civic education programmes. The order to close it, therefore, comes as a shocker.

There is no doubt that the government, through the NGO Board, has the powers to decide which foreign entity operates or does not operate in Kenya — after all, that is what state sovereignty means. However, when making such a decision, the government is required to make a proportionality analysis.

First, let us look at the role that IFES plays — its main role being facilitating civic education with regard to elections. Being a young democracy, Kenyans need as much civic education as possible for them to make informed choices at the ballot. Civic education is not just something we wish for the way we wish to have the latest fashion. It is a requirement under various provisions of our Constitution.

IFES facilitates the achievement of a key constitutional requirement with regard to civic education, and if the government stops or restricts civic education programmes, then it should know that it is denying Kenyans a key constitutional right. There must be good reasons for that. But as it stands right now, there is absolutely no good reason to deny Kenyans their right to civic education by ‘chasing away’ friends.

Second, the reason given by the government that IFES is not registered in Kenya attracts scorn from right-thinking people. As a mere facilitator, IFES is nothing but an agent of the US government. Under the law of agency, an agent carries out instructions of the principal and since IFES is just an agent, it means Kenya’s leadership has problems with the activities of the US government.
The last time I checked, the US was a committed ally of this country and when President Uhuru sent his congratulatory message to US President-elect Donald Trump, he reiterated the close ties between the two countries.

In July last year, President Obama visited Kenya, and he and President Kenyatta spoke of the close ties between the people of the two countries.
If today Kenya is shutting down activities supported by the US government citing a conspiracy of regime change, are we then saying that US-Kenya relations have suddenly soured to the extent of the US seeking to undermine our sovereignty?

Third, even if IFES is not registered in Kenya, is shutting down its operations, freezing its accounts and deporting its staff the best option? What about the large number of Kenyans who were to secure employment and pay taxes through the Sh2 billion fund? Are we not shooting ourselves in the leg by aiming at an imaginary or perceived ‘enemy’?

Such hardline positions taken from a position of anger and misinformation will certainly isolate the country from the international community and ordinary Kenyans will be the losers, hence the need to re-evaluate our positions.


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