Why Uhuru, Ruto must not be allowed to kill civil society

Saturday May 11 2013



Uhuru Kenyatta has had a dream start to his presidency.

In Parliament, his Jubilee Coalition is having an early romp, helped in no small measure by the tyranny of numbers and a toothless Opposition.

The coalition’s move to take control of two key watchdog committees in the National Assembly, last week, though perfectly within the parliamentary rules, means that the Uhuru administration can get away with a Goldenberg or an Anglo Leasing without as much as a debate on the floor of the House.

And talking of Goldenberg, the Mutunga Judiciary continues to unravel with a High Court judge stopping the prosecution of the architect of the biggest financial scandal in Kenya’s history.
Kamlesh Pattni being Kamlesh Pattni, this was not exactly surprising.

But few people would have seen this coming so soon after some senior judges found themselves on the wrong side of similar decisions in a clean-up job by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and the vetting board. More importantly, it adds to the crisis of confidence at an institution that is still recovering from the self-inflicted bruises of the recent controversial Supreme Court judgment in the presidential election petition.

With Parliament harmless and the Judiciary subdued, the only institution that appears capable of checking the inevitable excesses of the Uhuru administration is the organised civil society.

But early signs indicate that civil society groups have quite a fight on their hands to reclaim their rightful space on Kenya’s democratic arena.

Recent public pronouncements by State officials and pro-establishment mouthpieces questioning donor funding of non-governmental organisations suggest that the Uhuru administration might at some point resort to a Russia-style crackdown to silence critical voices.

A long-running hate campaign on social media targeting prominent civil society groups and personalities has the fingerprints of State agents all over it.

Not that these groups were going to have it easy anyway.

An organisation like the African Centre for Open Governance (Africog), which has been on the receiving end of much of the smear campaign lately, must have upset the power elite when it filed a petition in court challenging the election of President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto in March.

The two most powerful men in Kenya also have an axe to grind with civil society groups and personalities whom they associate with their prosecution at the International Criminal Court over the post-election violence of 2007/8.

Unfortunately, a lot is at stake for all Kenyans in this battle to silence civil society. If President Kenyatta and Mr Ruto win, we will have effectively lost the war on impunity and corruption, and must be prepared to say goodbye to transparency, accountability, integrity in government and the other nice values in the Constitution.

Otieno Otieno is chief sub-editor, Business Daily. [email protected]; Twitter: @otienootieno