Murders and crackdowns: Who will save Kenya from this Mafia?

27Aug 2017
Anne Kiruku
Guardian On Sunday
Ea Wowen in Perspective
Murders and crackdowns: Who will save Kenya from this Mafia?

The opposition party in Kenya deserves to be congratulated for their wise move of moving to the Supreme Court to challenge the outcome of the general election.

It is commendable that the National Super Alliance coalition retreated from its earlier decision of seeking justice from the court of public opinion – which would have led to pain, chaos and bloodshed.

On the other hand, the government must ensure a peaceful environment is created during this delicate time as the country awaits the court ruling.

The recent murder of an Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) deputy presiding officer from Siaya County, an opposition stronghold, leaves a lot to be answered.

The death of the officer, who was said to have been gang-raped before being murdered, was the second suspicious one involving electoral staff, having followed that of the electoral body’s ICT Manager Chris Musando.

The latter hailed from the same region.

Moreover, the crackdown on civil society organisations following the now-rescinded deregistration of the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) shows a determined effort by the government to stop aggrieved parties from seeking justice through the courts.

It is instructive that AfriCOG had moved to the courts just before the August 8 elections to compel the IEBC to open the voter register for public scrutiny, something that the electoral body was not willing to do.

Still in 2013, the human rights body had moved to the courts to challenge President Uhuru Kenyatta’s election. Suspicions that the two human rights bodies were preparing to challenge President Kenyatta’s re-election through the courts could have triggered the recent clampdown.

This is a sad and unfortunate turn of events, especially in a country that prides itself in respecting human rights and the rule of law; intimidation of civil society should be a thing of the past.

But perhaps this should not have been wholly unexpected. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration has been unfriendly to civil society, and the president did make remarks during Kenya’s 53rd Jamhuri Day celebrations last year on December 12, that belittled the role played by CSOs in educating the masses on governance.

His remarks sparked anger among Kenyans, with many pouring their frustrations on social media and terming the president’s move unfortunate and unnecessary.

The role played by human rights bodies in pushing for transparency and good governance should never be underestimated.

In many countries, the civil society has been recognised as an essential “third” sector. Its strength can have a positive influence on the state and the market.

Civil society is an increasingly important agent for promoting good governance and the related values of transparency, effectiveness, openness, responsiveness and accountability.

Indeed, civil society can further good governance by policy analysis and advocacy, in addition to encouraging better regulation through monitoring of state performance and the actions and behaviour of public officials.

Civil society organisations are instrumental in building social capital and enabling citizens to identify and articulate their values, beliefs, civic norms and democratic practices.

The role of human rights bodies in mobilizing particular constituencies, particularly the vulnerable and marginalized sections of masses, to participate more fully in politics and public affairs also deserves to be underscored.

Such NGOs do play a key role in development work that has improved the well-being of minority and marginalised groups and communities in Kenya.

In Kenya, CSOs have been instrumental in identifying and addressing problems facing the country, bringing them to public attention. They have been key in protecting basic human rights and giving a voice to a wide range of political, environmental, social and community interests and concerns.

Belittling the immense contribution made by these organisations in development and governance is tantamount to crippling the basic human rights of citizens.

And while it is prudent for the government to carry out checks and balances to ensure the CSOs operate within the law and in accordance with the constitution, a heavy-handed clampdown of the sort seen recently is no solution.

Instead, the government should bring the CSOs to the table and discuss contentious issues, taking into consideration that both are working for the common good of the citizenry.

As Kenyans await the ruling by the Supreme Court, the government should ensure there is a conducive environment for Kenyans to continue with their daily activities.

Embittering those who lost and opposition supporters by clamping down on organisations that can pursue justice on their behalf isn’t one of the options.

East African News Agency