Two American elections observer groups have welcomed the decision by Acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i to suspend the clampdown on two civil society organisations.
The National Democratic Institute (NDI) and The Carter Center also joined the growing chorus of individuals and groups who have come to the defence of the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the African Centre for Governance.
READ: NGOs board de-lists KHRC
American ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec and Transparency International also criticised the government’s action, which was initiated by NGO Coordination Board boss Fazul Mahamed.
NDI said in a statement the two NGOs should be protected.
“The ability of civil society, religious leaders and the media to provide points of view and to provide credible information to the public is vital to democracy and electoral integrity particularly in light of incidents of fake news and other disinformation during the pre-election period,” NDI said.
The Carter Center, whose observers here were led by former United States Secretary of State John Kerry, said it had noted the attempt to deregister KHRC and shut down AfriCOG with concern.
“The rights of citizens to participate in public affairs and to enjoy freedom of association are core elements of a democratic society that the state has an obligation to protect,” the Center in a statement said.
It also welcomed Dr Matiang’i’s decision to suspend the action by Mr Mahamed, saying it hoped that a “swift and effective remedy” would be found and the organisations allowed to resume work”.
In a statement, Mr Godec emphasised the importance of a free and open civil society and the media to the growth of democracy despite Jubilee’s sustained clampdown on civil society organisations.
“Civil society organisations should be permitted to operate without the threat of deregistration and journalists should be protected from attacks and harassment,” he said.
“In this regard, we were deeply disturbed by the actions of the NGO Coordination Board against civil society groups.
“We welcome the decision by the government to reverse this action and urge that the reversal be fully implemented immediately.”
Jose Ugaz, chair of Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organisation, noted that the intimidation and raids on civil society organisations in Kenya is uncalled for even as acting Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i issued a 90-day freeze order on the action against the NGOs.
“The Constitution of Kenya guarantees freedom of association and the government cannot use illegal means to silence civil society.
“Civil society must be protected. These moves go against the spirit of the Constitution and are not in the people’s interests,” Mr Ugaz said.
Transparency International-Kenya executive director Samuel Kimeu said since the Jubilee administration came to power in 2013, there have been sustained attempts to restrict the environment in which NGOs operate.
Part of this, according to Mr Kimeu, includes provisions contained in the Public Benefits Organisation Act that has not been operationalised since it was signed into law in 2013.
“We call on the government to stop this harassment. If the government thinks there are legitimate non-compliance issues, there are established ways of dealing with this without undermining the freedom of association,” Mr Kimeu said.
“It is only when civil society can operate independently that it can work on behalf of citizens and hold the government to account,” Mr Kimeu said.
KHRC and AfriCOG said the action by the government could have been taken to stop from them filing a petition at the Supreme Court to challenge the re-election of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the recently concluded elections.
Africog director Gladwell Otieno was among individuals who petitioned the Supreme Court against the election of President Kenyatta in 2013 and lost.