The Kenyan government is legislating to cut foreign funding for Kenyan NGOs and place new limits on media freedom, and a rights group sees this as a drive to silence critics of the government
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Kenyan government plans to make large cuts in the foreign funding of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are designed to silence its critics, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
On October 30, the office of the attorney published in the official gazette the Miscellaneous Amendment Bill of 2013, which would slash foreign funding for NGOs in Kenya. Publication is the mandatory first step before a bill is introduced to parliament.
“A public benefit organization shall not receive more than 15 percent of its total funding from external donors,” unless otherwise approved by the finance minister, it said,
The bill also stops donors from funding NGOs directly, forcing them instead to channel funds through a new Public Benefits Organisations Federation
In Ethiopia, many human rights organisations had to close or scale down their activities after similar legislation was introduced in 2009.
“This new law requiring nongovernmental organizations to raise 85 percent of their funding locally may well have the effect of weakening independent voices,” Daniel Bekele, HRW’s Africa director, said in a statement.
PUNISHING CIVIL SOCIETY
HRW linked the proposed legislation to NGO support for the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) trial of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto on charges of crimes against humanity committed during Kenya’s 2007/08 post-election violence.
“The governing Jubilee administration seems to be punishing civil society for its role in the two Kenyan cases at the International Criminal Court,” it said.
Kenyatta and Ruto came to power in elections in March 2013 as the Jubilee coalition. During their campaigns, they accused NGOs of relying on funding from sources abroad that they alleged were against Kenya’s national interests.
In 2011, returning from an ICC hearing in The Hague, Ruto was quoted as saying “NGOs should stop interfering with government matters, writing letters to their donors abroad to support the ICC intervention and compiling reports about post-election violence. It is none of their business.”
In March, the president’s director of digital media, Dennis Itumbi, posted a blog on his website calling Britain’s Department for International Development, Open Society Foundations, Transparency International, the International Commission of Jurists, Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Africa Centre for Open Governance a “civil society web of evil”.
He said the web of NGOs “connected to the ICC cases how they were mooted, financed and witnesses coached”.
At the ICC, the prosecution and the defence have accused each other of bribing and intimidating or coaching witnesses. Several prosecution witnesses have taken back their testimony and withdrawn.
The government is also taking steps to restrict media freedom, through one bill passed by parliament and awaiting the president’s signature to become law, and a second measure which is at present a proposed bill.
The Information and Communications Amendment Bill passed by parliament last month would create a government-appointed tribunal with powers to revoke journalists’ accreditation, seize property and impose hefty fines on the basis of anonymous complaints.
It would also restrict foreign companies’ share of the advertising revenue of the Kenyan media to 55 percent. This could force some media companies to close down.
It has not yet been signed into law by the president.
Another proposed bill would give the government power to ban any media content that it deems “prejudicial to public or national interest”.
The government was embarrassed by media reports of soldiers looting Nairobi’s Westgate Mall in September when they were supposed to be rescuing hostages. Almost 70 people were shot dead by Islamic militants who held the shopping centre for several days.
The head of the police threatened to arrest journalists reporting on the crisis for inciting Kenyans against the authorities.
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