Report: Handshake silenced civil society

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga. [Standard]

Civil society organisations have been weakened by the March 2018 handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga, states a new report.

According to the report released yesterday by Uwazi Consortium, titled Civil Society and the Post Handshake Politics in Kenya, the handshake has created an environment restrictive to the work of civil society organisations, ranging from outright crackdowns on civil societies to other subtler forms of curtailment. 

“In the recent past, there has been a crackdown by the Government on CSOs, the most effective being using the NGOs Coordination Board to threaten the existence of some groups. This was achieved by deregistering some NGOs or threatening to do so,” stated Dr Kenneth Orengo, the chairperson of Uwazi Consortium, during the report’s release.

The report further indicated that since the handshake, the Government has worked to undermine the Public Benefits Organisation Act, which was meant to govern the operation and funding of NGOs and would ideally allow these organisations to thrive.

Further, the report says, the Government has attempted to turn public opinion against NGOs by constantly connecting them to terrorist activity.

According to some experts cited in the report, these forms of crackdown by the Government have succeeded in destroying civil society organisations in the country.

The findings of the report are a result of research conducted by Uwazi Consortium between June and November 2018, which sought to investigate how the nature and organisation of civil societies had transformed as a result of the post-handshake political environment.

The research, according to Dr Orengo, involved review of various literature and discussions and interviews with leaders and members of different civil societies across the country.     

The study further found that civil societies in the country are troubled by lack of funding, reduced trust from the public, inability to mobilise mass support and loss of power in driving political agenda to politicians.      

However, despite these challenges, Dr Orengo remarked that there is a greater need for strong civil society organisations due to lack of an official opposition.                 

“The relative peace resulting from political unity may be good for the country in the short term but in the long term may ruin Kenya’s democracy by disrupting growth of opposition politics,” Dr Orengo remarked.

Ordinary Kenyans

Some of the panelists at the report release also criticised the handshake, faulting it as not carrying any benefits for ordinary Kenyans.

“Personally, I believe there is nothing in the handshake for Kenyans,” noted Farah Maalim, a former National Assembly Speaker.

Joy Mdivo, the CEO of the East African Centre for Law and Justice said the handshake was a vehicle of expediency for personal interests.

“It had nothing to do with the ordinary Kenyans. While it was highly popular, it was unlikely that it would achieve anything for Kenyans, said Ms Mdivo.