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Better late than never. Kenya looks set to implement legislation that should make life easier for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), more than three years after the bill became law.

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta prepares to address a news conference after attending the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) summit in Somalia's capital Mogadishu, September 13, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

Earlier this month, the Kenyan government announced plans to immediately implement the Public Benefits Organizations Act (PBO). In January 2013, then-President Mwai Kibaki signed the measure into law, but implementation was derailed by the looming elections in March of that year. The incoming administration, under President Uhuru Kenyatta, should have put the law into effect, but that did not happen.

Instead, Kenyatta’s administration, just emerging from a toxic campaign in which his party blamed NGOs for instigating crimes-against-humanity charges against Kenyatta and others, proposed draconian amendments placing restrictions on independent groups. That included capping foreign funding for NGOs at 15 percent – a measure apparently modeled after Ethiopia’s repressive law.

The law should streamline registration of NGOs and strengthen accountability. The current regulatory body, the NGO Coordination Board, will be replaced with the PBO Authority. Over the past year, the NGO Coordination Board made a range of controversial decisions, including arbitrary deregistration of NGOs, that the incoming PBO Authority will need to confront in order to restore confidence.

Implementation of this law will be a challenging and time-consuming task, especially with the August 2017 elections looming. As Kenya waits on the cabinet secretary to make good on his promise two weeks ago, it is worth mentioning that the implementation must be done in good faith and should not lead to more proposals for repressive amendments. Most importantly, implementation should not lead to heavy-handed bureaucratic oversight of NGOs, or tactics that obstruct the work and impact of NGOs and, more broadly, undermines Kenyans’ rights to free expression, association, and assembly.

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