Parliament recently enacted regulations giving the National Counter-Terrorism Centre (NCTC) additional powers to regulate NGOs and civil society organisations involved in countering radicalisation and violent extremism.
The new rules have drawn a sharp reaction from NGOs and the civil society who claim they are not only draconian but unconstitutional.
The contentious rules are contained in the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Act signed into law by the President on July 5. The Act amends the Prevention of Terrorism Act in part to make the NCTC the approving and reporting institution for all groups engaged in preventing and countering extremism and radicalisation.
The overall effect of the new regulations is to bring community-based organisations involved in countering violent extremism (CVE) within the purview of the NCTC.
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Any discussion on this issue should, however, begin by accepting the fact that everyone is entitled to their constitutional rights. Second, community-based entities play a valuable role in CVE via public sensitisation and outreach. They work with individuals and groups susceptible to radicalisation and violent extremism, and then seek to de-radicalise and rehabilitate them.
As such, these organisations offer a direct, non-violent pathway to confronting and eradicating radicalisation and violent extremism.
But opposing the new rules, in my view, is misguided. Lack of a definitive framework to regulate the activities of such organisations creates ample opportunity for terrorists to infiltrate and use them to advance their criminal motives.
CSOs claim the requirement to report to NCTC is an attempt to control, manipulate and even silence them. That the new rules impede their work. Is this really true?
Violent extremism is a sensitive subject. It requires a multi-faceted approach involving all stakeholders. It is a no-brainer, therefore, that tough measures should be put in place to detect, deter, counter and defeat extremists and their sympathisers.
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This is the big picture that opponents of the new regulations are missing. For NCTC to effectively discharge its mandate, it must be clothed with jurisdiction to supervise community-based entities involved in CVE. Fundamentally, this entails tracking such entities to prevent criminals using them to conceal their real motives.
A close perusal of the amendments reveals that they do not target human rights campaigners per se as claimed by opponents. The truth is, they apply only to those “engaged in preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalisation through counter-messaging or public outreach, and disengagement and reintegration of radicalised individuals.”
Community-based organisations involved in CVE also claim the new regulations infringe on their right to hold confidential information regarding their activities. The State is the primary custodian of public safety and security. It logically follows that it has a right to be informed of the identity and activities of non-state actors in CVE.
Insisting on confidentiality only serves to fuel mistrust among various actors in the fight against extremism and terror.
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All said, the new rules should be seen as a mechanism to make the CVE space more transparent by weeding out elements likely to undermine public safety and national security under the guise of being bona fide NGOs and CSOs.
Left unchecked, there is a very real possibility that such organisations could become conduits for money laundering and illegal enrichment where unscrupulous individuals divert donor and public funding for CVE.
Most importantly, we should avoid playing politics with the lives of Kenyans. The terror attacks at Westgate Mall, Garissa University, Dusit Complex and places like Wajir and Mandera are poignant lessons that eternal vigilance is the price we have to pay to remain safe as a country.
-The writer is a lawyer and public affairs consultant. [email protected]