Supreme backlash: State shuts down international NGO with links to the Judiciary

Judiciary building in Nairobi

The government has ordered the closure of a key organisation behind the funding various programmes in the Judiciary.

The State has also asked the Central Bank Governor, Dr Patrick Njoroge, and the Director of the Financial Reporting Centre, to freeze the accounts of the International Development Law Organisation (IDLO) held in Kenyan banks with immediate effect.

IDLO spearheaded judicial reforms ahead of the August 8 General Election.

In a two-page letter dated October 5, the chief executive of the NGO Coordination Board, Mr Fazul Mahamed, also ordered the immediate shutdown of IDLO offices in Nairobi and asked that all active operations and programmes in Kenya be stopped immediately.

Election disputes

IDLO worked with the Judiciary on programmes around the handling of election disputes and the government thinks it is because of that, that the Judiciary was emboldened to make the historic ruling nullifying the re-election of a sitting president.

Part of the IDLO activities in Kenya are contained in the organisation’s quarterly report complied between January and March this year.

The report, titled Justice Sector Reforms to Enhance Access to Justice, highlights the objective of the programme as to enhance access to justice for all Kenyans, through strengthened institutional capacity to administer justice by the Judiciary.

Direct beneficiaries of the programme are listed as Office of Chief Justice (OCJ), the Office of the Deputy Chief Justice (ODCJ), the Office of the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary (CRJ), the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ), the Judiciary Training Institute (JTI), and the Family Division of the High Court.

The decision comes hot on the heels of another shocking move by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs taken on September 13, 2017 to suspend the privileges and immunities accorded to the IDLO as part of a bilateral agreement signed with the government of Kenya.

“Following the revocation of the Host Country Agreement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IDLO has effectively lost its legal status in Kenya… the Board therefore directs that you must immediately seek to obtain a certificate of registration under section 10 of the NGO Coordination Act to enable you to acquire the requisite legal status to allow you to operate in Kenya. In the meantime, all IDLO activities are hereby suspended with immediate effect,” Fazul said in his letter.

The letter is also addressed to IDLO’s advisory board chair Makau Mutua, an avowed critic of President Uhuru Kenyatta, and copied to the Director of Immigration Gordon Kihalangwa, the Central Bank governor, the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Anne Amadi and the JSC which is chaired by Chief Justice David Maraga.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed had first called the Director General of the IDLO, Irene Khan, in a very tense telephone conversation. After the conversation, Amina fired a letter telling Khan that the agreement had been “suspended until further notice”.

While Amina’s letter was scanty, a confidential ministry report seen by Saturday Standard accused the IDLO of “radicalising the Kenyan Judiciary using funds they have received from abroad”.

The report details Amina’s meeting with Egypt’s Foreign minister Sameh Shoukry. The meeting took place on September 21, 2017, a day after the Supreme Court gave its full ruling nullifying President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win. Though in that meeting Amina hinted that the government was “thinking” of shutting down IDLO, and even told the Egyptians to watch out, it is Fazul’s letter issued this week, also seen by Saturday Standard, which makes good the Executive threat shared first with a foreign minister.

Fazul accuses the IDLO for diverting money for its charitable programmes to engage in “nefarious operations”. He doesn’t elaborate on this in the letter. The closest he comes to making an accusation of malfeasance is when he argues that IDLO ought to have registered with his office because under the agreement with the government, it said it was going to offer “charitable” programmes, but never did so.

“The NGOs Coordination Board has noted that IDLO claims to operate in charitable activities which include but is not limited to governance, peace and justice, rule of law, women and children, public health, access to justice, and which fall squarely within the ambit of its charity regulatory mandate as is espoused under the provisions of the (law), “ reads the letter.

IDLO, which has worked in Kenya for the last eight years, becomes the second organisation to face the wrath of the government through Fazul. The first was the International Foundation for Electoral Systems. IDLO has been instrumental in Kenya’s judicial reforms, but ever since the ruling nullifying the presidential election result, the Jubilee administration has consistently blamed it and civil society groups like the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) for influencing the Judiciary. President Kenyatta termed the nullification of his win a “judicial coup”.

It is perhaps for its work with the Judiciary that Fazul saw it fit to copy his letter to CJ Maraga and to the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, and to the JSC itself, a clear call to Maraga’s attention.

IDLO gets its funding from donors and government agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAid), and the Danish International Development Agency.

Out of Africa

Meanwhile, Amina is busy marshalling support from 14 African countries to kick IDLO out of the continent. She made her intention known to the Egyptian minister, who asked her to get the other 13 members who host IDLO in their countries round the table. The other countries where IDLO operates in Africa are Benin, Burundi, Liberia, Mozambique, Mali, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia.

Amina said she’d love to have a meeting with all the other foreign ministers “so that Kenya can provide all the information they have on the organization”, the tenor being that IDLO was undermining the authority of the government.

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