Civil society must remain steadfast
3 months ago, 7 Dec 20:29
Civil Society is alive and well, despite attempts by the Executive to destroy it. The history of the Second Liberation and the development of health, education and infrastructure cannot be written without mentioning the efforts of civil society organisations. This is why it is depressing to see the government use NGOs Coordination Board chief executive Fazul Mahamad to harass, harangue and hunt down NGOs like hardcore criminals. The board is a state corporation established by the NGOs Coordination Act (Cap 19 ) of 1990. Its responsibility is regulating and enabling the NGO sector. It is responsible for registering, facilitating and coordinating all national and international NGOs in Kenya; advising the government on their contribution to development; providing policy guidelines for NGOs to align their activities with national priorities and analysing NGOs’ annual reports. It was never intended to undermine the constitutional rights of registered NGOs. Its mandate has been abused and used to undermine rights of the NGOs speaking out against rights abuses and nefarious activities undermining democracy. It is these strong-arm tactics by the board, which falls under the Office the President, that forced Parliament to pass the PBO ACT of 2013. The law meant to provide a more enabling environment for NGOs, with clear criteria regarding registration, enhanced accountability, set timelines for processing applications, as well as tax incentives and benefits for organisations conducting “public benefit activities”. It was passed in 2012 and signed into law by President Kibaki on January 14, 2013, but has not been operationalised under the Kenyatta administration. Meanwhile, many attempts have been made to introduce restrictive amendments prior to its commencement. The state has refused to comply with court orders to operationalise the Act. On October 31, 2016, High Court judge Louis Onguto gave Devolution CS Mwangi Kiunjuri, in charge of civil society, 14 days to commence the Act. Kiunjuri gave commencement notice, but nothing more. On May 13, 2017, High Court judge John Mativo ordered Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery to publish in the Gazette within 30 days the commencement date of the Act. The judge declared the government was in contempt of court over its failure to comply with Justice Onguto’s ruling. This order has not been complied with —clearly signalling the state has no desire to operationalise it. The role of NGOs in Africa is very significant, especially after the World Bank and IMF forced African governments to adopt Structural Adjustment Programmes that led to economic downtown and loss of jobs. NGOs have acted as schools of democracy, bridging societal cleavages and providing channels of representation for the most marginalised people. NGOs’ contribution to the process of democratic consolidation is significant, but highly dependent on an enabling external environment. Civil society organisations must be commended for helping make Kenya a better place to live. They must be encouraged to carry on fighting for social justice, economic emancipation and other issues define us as a people. They must continue to stand against the people who want to cannibalise and water down our Constitution and impose authoritarianism in Kenya. They must always remember the wise saying in the Holy Book, “A prophet is never recognised in his own home”. This will call for sacrifice and steadfastness in championing the fulfillment of our dreams as a free and democratic country where equality and justice will reign supreme.
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