Kenyan Government Cracks Down on Rights Groups
— Lord Mutai (@ItsMutai) August 15, 2017
On August 14, the Kenya Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Coordination Board, Kenya’s national regulatory authority for nongovernmental groups, announced it had cancelled the registration of the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) – one of the oldest human rights groups in Kenya – citing alleged tax evasion and other reasons.
A day later the NGO Coordination Board wrote to the director of criminal Investigations with a request to shut down the offices of the Africa Centre for Open Governance (AfriCOG) and arrest its directors. AfriCOG is an NGO that specializes in governance issues and has been very critical of Kenyan authorities over corruption.
On August 16, police and Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) officials attempted to raid AfriCOG offices but were denied access by the organization’s lawyers.
Both groups have been critical of the conduct of last week's disputed national election and raised alarms about reported instances of police brutality in parts of the country in response to protests against the declaration of the elections results.
On August 15, a high court judge in Nairobi temporarily stopped the NGO Coordination Board from shutting down AfriCOG. While the acting interior cabinet secretary, Dr. Fred Matiang’i, put on hold the deregistration of the two groups, he directed further investigations into the compliance issues raised by the Coordination Board.
These developments recall the Kenyan government’s broader attacks on civil society groups in recent years. In April 2015, authorities included two human rights organizations, Haki Africa and MUHURI, on a list of organizations allegedly supporting terrorism, then deregistered and froze their bank accounts. A judge later cleared the groups of any links with terrorism after police failed to provide evidence.
Rather than investing time and resources in harassing civil society organizations, Kenyan authorities should focus on addressing the human rights concerns the groups have been raising. The government should respect the freedoms accorded to civil society in the Kenyan constitution and international human rights law.