[This piece was published in the Daily Monitor Newspaper of December 22nd, 2014 in print and the online version can be accessed by clicking HERE]
On December 16th, 2014, the NGO Co-ordination Board of Kenya gleefully announced that it had invoked powers bestowed to it by the NGO Co-ordination Act of 1990 and the NGOs Co-ordination Regulations of 1992 to deregister and freeze accounts of 525 NGOs on allegations of funding terrorism, failure to file audit reports and plethora of other offences created under the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
Like here in Uganda, the germane legal framework grants the state ambiguous sweeping powers prone to selective and malicious implementation. This presents far-reaching consequences to the legality of NGOs and general enjoyment of fundamental freedoms.
I abhor terrorism, organized crime or any other illegal activities but this development clearly presents a much bigger problem than what meets the eye.
This is what is coming home if the current proposed amendments live to see the light of day. This is no hyperbole. It is an incontrovertible fact that the footprints are all over the place already. NGOs such as Refugee Law Project, Walter Reed Project and many others which have failed to even secure registration have fallen victims.
The current NGO regulatory legal instruments primarily include the Non-Governmental Organizations (Amendment) Act 2006 and the NGO Registration Regulations.
In a recent wave of repressive laws born by the regime to curtail constitutionally guarded freedoms, a new bill titled the ‘Non-Governmental Organizations Registration (Amendment) Bill, 2013’ is in the offing.
The proposed amendments negate the letter and spirit of Uganda’s 1995 Constitution and flout major international legal obligations created by domestication of several international human rights instruments namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights among others.
Specifically, the amendments threaten the freedoms of expression, assembly, and association, and presents far reaching consequences on the right to civic participation.
I concede that it is good practice for government to make laws but such should enable a conducive environment for enjoyment of guaranteed rights and freedoms and not constrict the same spaces by granting overly broad powers to NGO Boards.
The principle of respect of autonomy and independence of civic organizations in pursuit of their declared objectives must be respected at all times.
It is concerning to note that the current bill seeks to grant the NGO Board powers to involuntarily dissolve NGOs on overly broad grounds with no clear appeal process, criminalizes acts or omissions of NGO directors and staff yet shields NGO Board directors and staff from the same, grants NGO board powers to deny registration or revoke permits without detailing objective ground for the same, grants ambiguous disciplinary powers to the board, constricts on NGO activities and purposes, provides no sufficient representation of NGO fraternity on the board, and creates far-reaching restrictions on operations of NGOs even after registration by proposing the “special obligations of organizations” under clause 14 (11E).
It is a sticky environment that civil society comes up against.
On one hand, regimes continue to look to tighten their grip on power for regime perpetuity and hence look to muzzle any dissenting voice of concern. On the other hand, which applies probably more for Kenya’s situation is a regime that is melting down at the hands of terrorists. One of the top agenda’s of terrorists is to use their attacks to cause a new world order. Attack and murder people until the ‘democratic’ governments give up their ‘free world’ ideals of freedoms in exchange for peace and stability. This we must detest in the strongest terms possible and demand that humans enjoy their freedoms at all times.
This bill must be challenged to the level of it’s inconsistency with constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.
Today, it is trendy to challenge the status of a right when you want to contest the ensuing freedom but that is naïve and pedestrian. We need to always remain true to our aspirations and bridge any chasm that threatens individual freedoms. That perhaps, is the best thing we can ever do to humanity.