Coast CSOs worried over shrinking civic space

The activists saay if nothing is done, their efforts will be muzzled

In Summary
  • He said county resources in the region are not benefitting residents, eroding the essence of devolution
  • Adika said Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks for instance, do not benefit Taita Taveta residents as much as they should
Coast human rights defenders at Hotel Continental on Friday.
STEADFAST Coast human rights defenders at Hotel Continental on Friday.

Civil Society Organisations at the Coast have  warned against the shrinking civic space in the region.

The activists said if nothing is done, their efforts will be muzzled. 

The Coast Civil Societies Network chairman Zedekiah Adika said CSOs can work best in the right environment.

“We feel that our environment is being infringed on by state and other non-state actors. We are finding ways to fight back,” he said.

He spoke on Friday during the first ever Coast CSO/Human Right Defenders annual conference at Hotel Continental in Shanzu, Mombasa.

He said county resources in the region are not benefitting residents, eroding the essence of devolution.

Adika said Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks for instance, do not benefit Taita Taveta residents as much as they should.

Kwale residents also do not benefit as much as they should from the minerals being mined.

“In Mombasa, they want to privatise the Mombasa Port which does not make sense. Coast people must benefit from these resources, which also come with some cost implications,” Adika said

He said their voices have been threatened or intimidated by police action and court cases.

"Anytime we notify the police of intended peaceful demonstrations, we are told the demonstrations will breach peace and are a threat to national security," Adika said.

“Police are then deployed not to protect us but to infringe on our rights.”

The CSOs, are, however, working on strategies to make their voices louder and more credible.

Muslims for Human Rights director Khelef Khalifa said all the CSOs must work together.

He said although they have different areas of focus, they serve the same audiences.

“There could be an issue touching on governance. That does not mean that a CSO focusing on extrajudicial killings cannot be involved is such a matter because we believe all matters are interrelated,” Khalifa said.

He said the government is going against the 2010 Constitution, which devolved the housing function.

“But we see the national government pushing the affordable housing agenda despite it being a devolved function. And there was never any public participation on the matter,” Khalifa said.

He said the problem is the unnecessary competition by governments to create a legacy.

The previous regime created SGR as its legacy and the current one wants to make housing its legacy.

Mombasa Deputy Governor Francis Thoya said CSOs need to be more vocal because the country will soon have no opposition.

Thoya said as soon as ODM leader Raila Odinga the African Union Commission chairmanship, there will be no strong voice to keep the government in check.

“It is obvious that the democratic space in this county has started to become challenging,” he said

He said funding for CSOs mostly comes from foreign countries and entities, who are now more concerned with bilateral and trade relations with governments than human rights, thus the rapidly reducing funds for CSOs.

“If you look at most of the donors today, their biggest contribution is actually on bilateral agreements,” Thoya said.

“Their foreign policies have shifted and are now focused on the geopolitics and many other things.”

He said this means CSOs now have to generate their own funds.

The Deputy Governor warned that if donors stop funding CSOs, county governments and the national government will run amok.

“The truth is that the biggest contributing factor is how our democratic space is shifting. Don’t you see how things are going?” Thoya asked.

“Things are going to be much worse now that Raila has been told he is going to the AU. The Senate, which is supposed to protect devolution, is also under immense threat. It has been captured by the state."

Khalifa and Adika said despite promises that extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances will end, they are still happening. 

During Gen Francis Ogolla’s burial ceremony, President William Ruto said there will be no more political assassinations and extrajudicial killings.

“The two are still going on,” Khalifa said.

on April 17, Jamil Jamal, a 26-year-old man was taken from his parents’ house in Kidogo Basi, Mvita subcounty, in the middle of the night and has never been seen again. Nobody knows his whereabouts.

Abdalla Mohamed, 21, was lucky the people who went to their house in the middle of the night on April 16, could not recognise him.

He surrendered to police on April 24, was interrogated and released with instructions to report to the Anti-Terror Police Unit every week.

On Friday, Khalifa said they will not relent.

The Missing Voices documented 118 people who died in the hands of the police in last year.

“So, whatever the government has pledged is theirs. We need to see a real end to this,” Adika said.

He said people will only be safe, happy and prosperous if devolution is allowed to work.

“We believe if devolution works, people’s lives will positively change,” Adika said.

The CSOs are concerned with the adverse opinions that the Tana River and other county governments at the Coast have been receiving from the Auditor General’s office.

“We see things that do not go right like the mortuary in Tana River whose funds have been lost and the Mombasa county stadium whose renovation has stalled for over a decade,” Adika said.

He said the six counties at the Coast have also had problems giving their residents the state of the county address.

The governors’ state of the county address is done to update the residents of how the county as utilized their funds.

Mombasa, Tana River and Lamu counties are yet to update their residents about their counties and there is no mention of when this will be done.

“Mombasa had set a date but then postponed it indefinitely, leaving the residents hanging,” Adika said.

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