The Kenyan government wants you to spare a little hate for civil society

By a THTK contributor
In this week’s press wrap, the fireworks witnessed at the just-concluded ASP meeting underscore the fact that that the government and local NGOs just can’t get along.
Pop quiz: which of these three things poses a clear and present danger to Kenya’s future?
  1. Corruption
  2. Tribalism
  3. Civil society organisations that support the Kenyan cases at the ICC
The twin evils of corruption and tribalism are dangerous enough, but the Kenyan government really wants you to look for the new enemy within, which is behind door number three. Don’t take my word for it.
According to The Daily Nation, Attorney General Githu Muigai on Monday gave a section of local NGOs a dressing down for acting “like teenagers” and externalising “local problems”.  The reason the AG is so angry, of course, has everything to do with recent happenings at the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) meeting in The Hague, where government delegates clashed with representatives from local NGOs over the application of Rule 68 in the Ruto and Sang ICC case.
The AG wasn’t the only government-aligned voice – as The Nation so charmingly put it – to “slam” local NGOs. In many ways, he was late to the party. The assault was launched by Ngunjiri Wambugu, who heads a government-friendly political consultancy called “Change Associates”. Its entire remit seems to be to end the Kenyan cases at the ICC. Angry that some local NGOs had the temerity to stand in Kenya’s way at the ASP, Ngunjiri wrote an angry piece that was published by The Star. The piece called for NGOs that receive most of their funding from foreign governments – read the EU or the US – to be classified as “foreign agents”. It included this gem:
“Any NGO that gets most of its funding from foreign governments must be categorised as a foreign agency. This distinction is very important, especially during international meetings, as it will avoid the misuse of our national identity that I saw during ASP14.”
It’s worth noting that Wambugu hasn’t been transparent about the source of funding for his own outfit. But he was part of the government delegation that was flown to The Hague for the ASP meeting. He even hosted a panel discussion for the Kenyan government on the sidelines. All a coincidence to be sure.
At any rate, after Ngunjiri’s article was published, it was open season on NGOs that don’t see eye to eye with the government on the ICC cases. Aden Duale, the leader of the majority in the National Assembly, accused those NGOs of being used by the European Union to “meddle” in Kenya’s affairs. If you’re still confused about how the Kenyan government wants you to feel about NGOs, this tweet from Dennis Itumbi, the director of Digital Communication at State House, Nairobi should clear things up:
No mincing of words and very refreshing. Itumbi wasn’t alone in using the crude tag. Some even volunteered a definition.
But there has been a fierce backlash against the characterisation of NGOs as a dark entity. Some also – rightly – reject the notion that calling for justice for PEV victims is a “foreign” agenda:
Noting the anti-NGO-because-they-are-for-the-ICC trend, The Daily Nation this week responded with a stern editorial, taking particular aim at Duale, who it said “sees enemies behind every shadow and reacts in a manner that works against the Jubilee administration”.
“His argument is that the EU supports Kenya’s civil society organisations that vocally contested the government’s campaign for the withdrawal of Rule 68, which has been invoked in the William Ruto-Joshua Sang case.
“In the eyes of Mr Duale, the government is infallible and every one of its critics is a stooge of some foreign power out to destabilise it. The fact that the EU and civil society organisations may have taken a common stand on the matter does not mean that one is serving the other’s interest. Members of civil society, like the rest of the population, have their own minds and do not need any prompting from anybody.”
That needed saying. Hopefully somebody in the government is listening.
Lead image: Aden Duale (Photo: Facebook)