News & Updates

Tanzania: Declining Respect for Civil Liberties amid Economic Boom

On July 1, 2020, the World Bank declared Tanzania as a lower middle-income country, coming second after Kenya in the East Africa region.

Despite the good progress on the economic front, there are many challenges in the area of press freedom, freedom of expression, access to information and general respect for human rights, including repression of the civil society sector.

On the same day the World Bank declared Tanzania as lower middle – income country, the Tanzania Communication Regulatory Authority (TCRA), the regulator for the electronic media, fined six radio and television stations a total of 30 million Tanzanian shillings (USD 12, 937) for alleged infringement of broadcasting ethics.

According to TCRA Content Committee Vice Chairperson Joseph Mapunda, the punished radio and television stations are East Africa Radio, Clouds FM Radio, Star TV, Sibuka TV, Global Online TV and Duma Online TV.

 Duma Online TV was also suspended for two months from publishing any media content. Mr. Mapunda said the media house had violated the communication regulations at different times.

During the past six months from January to June, 2020 the situation of press freedom in Tanzania was difficult, which largely affected journalists and the media industry as a whole.

In addition to that, other acts of infringement of freedom of information and freedom of expression are the latest incident of the closure of Tanzania Daima newspaper.

On June 23 this year, the Tanzania’s Information Services Department, which registers print media, announced that the license for publication and distribution of Tanzania Daima newspaper had been revoked with effect from June 24, 2020.

According to the statement, the publication was accused of breaching the law and professional ethics, and banned its distribution both within and outside Tanzania. The newspaper is associated with the leadership of the main Opposition Party, CHADEMA.

The statement did not cite specific content from the newspaper that was allegedly breached professional ethics nor did it specify which laws the paper was accused of breaking.

The Media Services Act, passed in 2016, gives the government the power to restrict and limit the independence of the media. The Act requires journalists to be accredited by the government.

The law also gives inordinate oversight powers to the Director of Information Services,  include the power to arbitrarily suspend or cancel the licenses of newspapers, which is part of a wider pattern of repression targeting freedom of expression over the past few years, including creating an excessively high fee for setting up and running blogs, criminalizing posting certain content online, fining TV stations, and prohibiting the publication of independent statistics without government permission.

Since March 2020, authorities have fined or suspended at least eight media outlets including the famous online content provider, Mwananchi Digital which has been suspended from publishing online content for six months.

Within the same period, at least four journalists have been arrested for various reasons. A report on investigation of increased threats and interference to editorial independence released by the Media Council of Tanzania (MCT) in 2019, urges individuals, groups, institutions and other actors who were involved in violations against the media to stop immediately for the sake of securing peace and harmony between the media and government.

According to the report, there is deterioration in the working relationship between the media and government, institutions which are ideally expected to work as partners in enhancing the access to information to the public.

The report suggests different measures to be taken by media stakeholders in order to strengthening the relations between media and government institutions. It proposes continuous dialogue and smooth collaboration based on common agenda, interests, national values and respect duties and obligations as opposed to the current situation.

During the past six months from January to June, 2020 journalists in the country have also faced other challenges when they report news stories related to COVID -19 pandemic.

The COVID – 19 pandemics has led to threats and suppression of freedom of expression to the journalists, opposition politicians and human rights defenders when they report news or take actions in combating the pandemic.

Some of them have found themselves threatened or arrested by state security officers as relates to freedom of information and expression as stipulated in the article 18 of the Constitution of United Republic of Tanzania of 1977.

Among the press freedom violations issues linked to COVID -19 coverage is the arrest of famous advocates and human right defender Albart Msando, shortly after handing over protective gears including masks to the Arusha Regional Press Club members.

Apart from that, also, there is declining of freedom of assembly and association and increased actions of intimidation for opposition politicians, human rights defenders and the civil society community.

Over the last six months, the nation has witnessed atrocities carried out against opposition party politicians, with the latest example of attacks on Opposition party, CHADEMA Chairperson, Freeman Mbowe in Dodoma region.

On June 23, another opposition party leader,  Zitto Kabwe of ACT – Wazalendo, Kilwa South MP, Selemani Bungala and ACT – Wazalendo Lindi region Chairman Isihaka Mchinjita were arrested by the police for holding a demonstration without a permit.

Currently, Tanzanians do not enjoy absolute right to freedom of assembly. The right to assembly is controlled by the police force, which must license any demonstration or public rally. Those who fail to abide by this requirement are intimidated, or brutally attacked by the police.

The shrinking civic space in the country has infringed on democracy as shown in the Zanzibar archipelago recently where Zanzibar Election Commission (ZEC) cleared four constituencies without involving electoral stakeholders including political parties.

The decision, made on July 2, this year and the ZEC Chairman, named the constituencies as Kijitoupele, Kiwengwa, Chukwani and Mtopepo.

Since president Dr. John Magufuli came to power five years ago there has been a massive repression of democracy and freedom of information and expression in the country, including blocking opposition party meetings while the ruling party CCM continues with its meetings as usual.

News & Updates

Kenya lacks Coherent Framework Response to COVID-19

Militarized models and approaches produce a public health approach that is not trauma-informed. This breeds confusion and cannot generate the parameters for modelling a clear end game. Without moral imagination and political will that roots for an all-government and all-people approach to COVID Management Star Gazing will remain the hallmark of our national response, an unhelpful place to be both in the short and the long term.

On 13th March 2020 Kenya recorded its first case of a patient who turned positive for Corona one day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID 19 a Global Pandemic. This flu like epidemic, was then reported to be ravaging the small town of Wuhan in China, but unknown to the world, a pandemic was in the offing as related deaths were growing. As the virus acted more aggressively in several nations, the steep rise in infections and fatalities exposed how frail health systems all over the world were.

The exponential spread of the virus imposed the instant expansive need for adequate infrastructure, public awareness, critical equipment and sufficient training and numbers of healthcare professionals as well as financial and other resources to cope with the emergency situation and efforts to control new infections.

In Kenya where the government had the benefit of learning from Countries that had experienced the worst effects of the pandemic, the Health Ministry declared a raft of draconian measures to contain the spread, control personal and community infections and mitigate the medical emergency as well as prevent deaths from the virus.

Due to the pandemic’s long and unrelenting embrace the extraordinary measures have included an aggressive information campaign, through a daily media address to the country, a fund to support the war, tax austerity measures to release resources to critical areas of need.

The public health measures have been four pronged. One, containment and control of movements (closure of institutions and businesses, dusk to dawn country-wide curfew, cessation of movement into and out of select counties, self-quarantine, forced quarantine). Two, measures to frustrate personal infection (promoting frequent hand – washing with soap and running water/use alcohol-based sanitizer, sensitizing the public to avoid handshakes, hugs and sensitizing the public to avoid touching mouth, eyes and nose), Three, measures to frustrate chronic corona-caused sickness and deaths (identification and deployment of adequate and appropriate: physical infrastructure, specialized equipment, well-trained and kitted personnel and tools of trade and an information infrastructure ). Four, measures to frustrate the spread within the community (by appealing to the public to embrace ‘stay home’ approach except for essential needs, appealing to the public to maintain social distancing of at least 1.5 metres between persons and promoting the wearing of masks by anyone venturing into public spaces).

These measures impose restrictions to freedom of movement and the freedom to enjoy many other human rights and in the process have inadvertently affected peoples’ livelihoods and security, their access to health care (for other ailments), food, water, sanitation, work, education and leisure.

The impact of these measures have been swift and dramatic and the consequences on the economy, the poor, politics and democracy far reaching, in a country that has been a victim of destructive politics, unaccountable governance and frail institutions.

The measures come at a time when civic and democratic space was already deteriorating as a result of recent amendments to various laws (Public Order Act, The Prevention of Terrorism Act, Prevention of Torture Act, Cyber Crimes Act, Kenya Information and Communications Act) and administrative actions that criminalize the work of human rights defenders and the media. Vocal civic actors have had to bear unprecedented personalized attacks by state institutions a situation that has had far-reaching ramifications on civic space – limiting the enjoyment of the freedoms of expression, assembly and association.

In Mombasa County and the Coast in general communities have been at the forefront in pushing back state-led assaults such as the crackdown on individual human rights defenders and organizations, deregistration of citizens’ groups on flimsy grounds, threats and intimidation of actors among other things.

Though the Covid crisis has been with us for a full four months, government does not seem to have a coherent framework that is guiding its decisions in managing the pandemic. Government response is largely militarized, is confused and lacks a clear end game. There does not seem to be moral imagination or political will to consider a long term horizon in managing the impact of this pandemic. Here are three postulations that explain why government response so far has short legs.

  1. The National COVID response strategy does not advance a pro-poor agenda. Social distancing, cessation of movement and staying at home as mitigation measures in an emergency have serious limitations when implemented in communities of density, the homeless, wage employees, rural and urban poor, fishermen, farmers, street vendors, boda bodas, wet market traders and small businesses in the informal economy if they are not accompanied by safeguards to address the needs of these populations. Most households in Mombasa as elsewhere have had to make difficult choices for example between having to stay at home and go hungry or buy a face mask and forego a bunch of Kales for the family’s subsistence.  Balancing these realities with the need to protect these groups from catching the virus and transmitting it at home remains a delicate act.
  • The public health approach has not been trauma-informed. The militarized models and approaches have produced the unintended consequence of over and above restricting free movement and association, also restricting the freedom to enjoy other human rights. Inadvertently many people are finding their lives, livelihoods and security compromised because they cannot access food, water, work, education, leisure, sanitation and healthcare for other ailments. Although this was later rescinded, the decision to impose blanket quarantine for people found in breach of the curfew produced mixed results. Apart from chaos that was witnessed in most centres the centers were also found to be sub-standard, unfit for habitation and too crowded to guarantee social distancing. The quarantine centres turned out to be breeding grounds for the spread as curfew offenders were mixed with traced contacts and saddled with bills most were unable to afford irrespective of their economic status. Additionally most County Governments do not have the physical facilities and equipment needed to handle patients from diagnosis, treatment and contact tracing and neither do they have the preparedness that healthcare workers need for effective response. A public health approach would pay attention to allocation of emergency funds for mass testing and diagnosis, make criteria for admission, testing and quarantine a purely health matter and limit the involvement of the police and language to the effect that Kenyans lack disciplined.
  • Without an all-government and all-people approach to such a crisis and with a government that is known for its firm reputation for dithering converting the COVID grief and rage in to a massive solidarity movement has been hampered by the lack of transparency in the use of funds, grants and loans extended to the government for its response. There are no attempts to include citizen organizations on state committees to win public support for mass testing, strong contact tracing and tools from indigenous and other forms of knowledge from community practices. Even the COVID Emergency Fund launched by the President lacks representation from civil society.

Mr.  Patrick Ochieng is an activism shaping narratives on exploitation, inequality and injustice. He has been associated with Ujamaa Center, a social justice NGO based in the Coastal region of Mombasa, for the last 20 years.

News & Updates

KCA Holds Meeting with Uganda Stakeholders on Enhancing Media-CSO Partnership

July 10, 2020

Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) on Friday July 10, 2020 held a meeting with stakeholders from Uganda to discuss strategies for enhancing partnership between the media and civil society sectors to protect the right to the enjoyment of civil liberties in the country. 

The online meeting reviewed the civic space situation in the country and expressed concern at the increasing restrictions on civil liberties during the Covid 19 pandemic period and additional layers of regulations on the country’s General Elections process due in February 2021. 

The participants who were drawn from the media and civil society sectors observed that government regulations on tackling Covid 19, including the complete lockdown of the country, had worsened the situation leading to increased human rights violations.

The government had imposed severe restrictions on freedom of movement, assembly, and access to information for the media leading to the arrest and incarceration of a number of journalists on trumped up charges meant to intimidate the media.

In some regions, selective application of the covid 19 regulations had seen security forces facilitate “favoured business associates” to carry on with cross border trade in livestock and other goods when a majority of Ugandans were forced to close their businesses.

A number of participants expressed worry over the move by the country’s electoral body’s to declare that the next General Elections will be conducted using “scientific methods”, due to the covid 19 pandemic, largely through radio, TV, and social media, which they feared will exclude large sections of the population from accessing credible information to make informed choices at the elections.

They said the media landscape, especially, media ownership favoured the ruling party with most radio stations controlled by ruling party “fanatics” who will not allow alternative views and opposition politicians access to the airwaves. 

The poor internet infrastructure, radio and TV reception in many rural regions of Uganda, they said, would exclude large numbers of people from access to reliable information which could undermine the credibility of the electoral process.

The forum agreed on the need to enhance solidarity and collaboration between the media and civil society groups in the country and the East African region and build “a resilient mechanism for sustained resistance” to the ongoing efforts by the governments to restrict the civic space. 

Speaking at the forum, KCA Chairman William Oloo Janak called for sustained dialogue between the media and civil society groups to develop strategies for a common push back on the encroachment on the civic space by governments in the region.

“It is clear to all of us in East Africa that the civic space is under threat and we therefore urge the media and civil society sectors to work together to mount a strong push back on the threats on behalf of the citizens of the region and to engage the states constructively to address the emerging concerns and actual violations of human rights,” said Janak.

Janak said KCA’s initiative, in partnership with the International Center for Not-for profit Law (ICNL), was meant to create opportunities to enhance the collaboration between the CSOs and the media to better defend civic space and help correct the emerging negative narratives and perceptions of civil society and the media in East Africa meant to undermine their role of holding the states, agencies and leaders accountable.

Some of the participants said private prosecution of human rights violators was being undermined by the state prosecution department which often took over such cases and simply closed them. 

They added that critical journalists and media outlets were being targeted through the spread of fake news and misinformation by state agencies slow them down and undermine their credibility. 

News & Updates

Securing Civic Space by earning Public Trust

Early last month, four men broke down the door to social media activist Edwin Mutemi Kiama’s house in Nairobi, seized him and confiscated his phones and laptops.

It is notable that his seizure occurred during curfew hours, when he was not in the act of committing a crime. Nonetheless, after a night in police custody, no charges were preferred against him, but police instead sought to detain him for seven days as they investigated him. Although he was released on personal bond, his phones and computers continue to be detained.

Threats to civic space in Kenya and in the entire East African regional are increasingly shifting away from the formal realm of law to the informal instrumentalisation of police and state power, as evidenced in the Kiama case.

Besides trampling on individual rights only intimidates those who robustly exercise their right to free expression, the seizure of personal mobile telephones and laptops compromises the integrity of confidential information and the identity of whistleblowers who often reach out to active individuals.

Civic space questions have been bifurcated as affecting media differently from how they impact on civil society and the public at large, but all three draw their freedoms from the same fountain of human rights.

Human rights is the home of the media and of civil society, but broadly, societies need to preserve the space for civic discourse and action to allow a robust oversight of governments and the defence of the public interest. Media freedom thus occurs within the broader human rights framework that safeguards civic space.

Yet, the influence and power of legacy media has been declining due to a combination of factors. The corporatization of media through conglomeration and consolidation severely interrupted public interest journalism, and undermined plurality and diversity of voice by swallowing up small start-ups. The promise of financial independence, which was the value proposition of media consolidation, suffered mission drift by turning journalism into defenders of business rather than the public interest. The private sector stampede into the media produced atrophy in public media and the pursuit of profit alone has alienated the public. Matters have not been helped by official negative rhetoric in critiquing the media practice, thus undermining their credibility and stature, and thus the space they occupy in democracies.

It is not in doubt that privateers in the media have done well by their shareholders, even though the same cannot be said for the public. Over the past decade, the Nation Media Group which has holdings in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, has made over Sh20 billion in profits on the backs of journalists. The corporation has been so financially comfortable as to buy a modern printing press and a digital broadcasting system in cash without seeking financing from any institution. Yet, barely a fortnight after announcing Sh856 million in after tax profit, it began a ruthless retrenchment targeting journalists. It is ironic that at the slightest sign of financial decline, private sector media are scrambling to lay off hundreds of journalists.

Media regulators appear to have been captured by the state and corporations and are therefore unable to rein in excess from either.  

The shrinkage of civic space, which was already apace for years, has been exacerbated by government measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

Some of the invasions into civic space are evident in proposed amendments to the law to allow the government to seize communication equipment without a court order.

At the individual level, many people are physically gagged by the requirement to wear a face mask in public; to adhere to dusk-to-dawn curfew; and not to travel into or out of the country’s two largest cities. Enforcing these measures through the use of compulsive police power has resulted in deaths, physical injuries, and loss of liberty.

Public gatherings have been disallowed, and so the population has been pacified and gagged, and the prohibition of physical meetings has taken away the right to assemble; the right to petition authorities; and to participate in the management of public affairs.

Similarly, public grief has been silenced, and the state has appropriated burials through restrictive requirements that bodies be buried within 24 hours of death, with police supervision and attendance limited to 15 people.

The revocation of rights is only mitigated by the use of the networked communication environment – including telephony and the Internet. In the Covid-19 era, online spaces have acquired the character of a public sphere as described by Jurgen Habermas, but the challenges of access that circumscribe legacy media continue to trouble it. The hurdles that have hampered legacy media continue to frustrate online civic space.

Digital migration has not harnessed online space to give effect to the charters of freedom in the Constitution.

Ordinarily, media is considered free when there is free entry into and free exit from the market, but it is circumscribed by capital – around the costs of a printing press and a distribution network. Online and broadcast versions of media are constrained connectivity and gadget costs, as well as gaps in digital literacy. In the absence of sufficient positive investment to entrench freedoms, their promise remains unfulfilled. This means that civic space guarantees would be enhanced by legacy media working in concert with new media.

First, a coalition of necessity between the media and civil society is now required to mount legal challenges using the law and the constitution to contest assaults n civic space. In the event that people continue to be constrained by illegal and unjust laws and regulations, defiance should be seriously considered as a legitimate option.

Proficient journalists who are leaving regular employment require support through grants for independent and freelance journalism. Resources need to be directed to converting some of the crises into opportunities.

Second, the academy needs to undertake research that tracks practice trends, behaviour. There is need for a political economy analysis thoroughgoing that increases understanding, discourses to restore credibility and collapsing the dichotomy between civil society and the media. Scholars and researchers need to gather data around the structural violence perpetuated in media organisations undermine the ability to organize, unionise or demand rights.

Finally, the media’s role as watchdog is largely unsupervised, and that needs to change so that its power is also accountable. Watching the media should be expanded to cover civil society, to bring to life the aphorism that sunshine is the best antiseptic. Building credibility through greater transparency can also earn public support.

News & Updates

KCA Discusses Media-CSO Partnership with Tanzanian Stakeholders

July 7th 2020

Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) has concluded a meeting with media and civil society stakeholders in Tanzania which focused on forging stronger partnership between the media and civil society sectors to protect the right to the enjoyment of civil liberties in the country.

The online meeting held on Tuesday July 7, 2020 discussed the situation in Tanzania regarding the role of the two sectors in working together to promote greater enjoyment of civil liberties. The forum called for more proactive engagement with the government and other players to create an enabling environment ahead of the country’s General Elections in October.

“We wish to urge the media and civil society sectors to work together, not just in Tanzania but across East Africa to raise critical human rights and governance issues on behalf of the citizens of the region and to engage the states constructively to address the emerging concerns and actual violations of human rights,” said KCA Chairman, William Oloo Janak during his address to the forum.

Janak said KCA’s initiative was meant to create opportunities to enhance the collaboration between the CSOs and the media to better defend civic space and help correct the emerging negative narratives and perceptions of civil society and the media in East Africa meant to undermine their role of holding the states, agencies and leaders accountable.

The forum reviewed the civic space in Tanzania within the Covid19 period with a number of participants saying information about the pandemic was only communicated by key state officials making it difficult for what was happening within the communities to emerge in the public domain.

Journalists at the forum said the media in the country faced hard economic times which had led to job loses adding that some media outlets faced complete shutdown, which they said would undermine access to information to many Tanzanians.

The stakeholders agreed to enhance collaboration between the CSOs and the Media in their role as citizens’ voices and would seek to engage the government in dialogue to discuss areas of concern in the civic space arena.

Participants from Rwanda and Burundi, who joined in the discussions, appealed to both media and civil society organizations from the other East African states to help highlight ongoing human rights violations in the two countries saying lack of adequate inclusion in regional conversations was making them suffer. Janak said the initiative to enhance media –CSO collaboration will seek to bring in all actors from the East African region to create a stronger voice and capacity in the ongoing efforts to protect the civic space in the region.

News & Updates

CSOs, Media, join hands to resist Threats to Civic Space in East Africa

Stakeholders in democratic participation in East Africa are stepping up efforts to protect the civic space from limitations that come with the government’s measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Kenya Correspondence Association (KCA), the East African Civil Society Organizations’ Forum (EACSOF) hosted online forums to create awareness and exchange of ideas among journalists and CSOs.

The KCA recently started a WhatsApp Civic Space Protection Group, while EACSOF-Kenya has hosted the Protection of Civic Space in East Africa Platform (PCSEAP) in conjunction with the International Centre for Not-For-Profit Law (ICNL) for the last two years. Even though participants in both webinars affirmed the need for the restrictions in regards to the containment of Covid-19, there were genuine concerns raised to the possibility of the restrictions being weaponized to further shrink the space for free expression and association.

In the region, different governments have had different reactions to Covid-19 and therefore instituted different measures to contain it. Uganda and Rwanda initially had some of the most restrictive measures, both governments embracing lockdowns early after Covid-19 was declared a pandemic.

Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame instituted the first of Africa’s lockdowns on 21st March, 2020. Borders were completely closed, save for returning citizens and cargo. And the returning citizens were put under a two-week quarantine. Private and public workers were ordered to work from home and to stop unnecessary movements in and out of the home except for shopping errands. Public gatherings and travel between cities had been banned even before the announcement of the lockdown.

Uganda declared a countrywide lockdown towards the end of March 2020. Before the lockdown, in February 2020, the country had put 100 people who had travelled from China under quarantine at Entebbe Airport. Then it banned gatherings, closed schools and intensified screening.

But the Ugandan authorities have been criticized for using disproportionate amounts of force in implementing the restrictions. Assault on journalists, arrest of protesters and alleged shooting at citizens are some of the human rights and freedom restrictions witnessed in the country.

Tanzania and Burundi seem to have preferred a totally different approach. Tanzanian leader John Magufuli and the late Burundi president Pierre Nkurunziza, departed from the approach of imposing restrictive measures, claiming divine protection. Whereas Magufuli had initially imposed measures such as closure of schools, these were lifted after the leader declared Tanzania Covid-19 free.

However, it has been difficult to verify the president’s assertions because Tanzanian authorities long stopped giving updates on infections. This lack of information has raised questions as to whether the authorities in that country are covering up the real situation in the run up to elections expected later in the year.

Burundi’s approach to the pandemic was brought to serious question when president Nkurunziza succumbed to what are widely believed to be Covid-19 related complications. The president died on 8th June, 2020 less than three weeks after the country held elections on 20th May 2020. The official cause of death was given as a heart attack. It was noteworthy that his wife had been on treatment for Covid-19 in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, at the time of his death.

Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta imposed a countrywide curfew soon after the first case of Covid-19 was reported on 13th March 2020. Public gatherings were banned, schools were closed and a national dawn to dusk curfew imposed. Further restrictions were imposed in the hotspot counties of Nairobi, Mombasa, Kilifi, Kwale and Mandera,. However, the country avoided the harsher lockdowns imposed by its neighbours.

Kenya scored poorly in implementing the measures, with the police killing at least 15 people in just about a month and a half of the restrictions. The high level of police brutality, reported by among others the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) forced the Cabinet Secretary in charge of Internal Affairs, Fred Matiang’I, to issue a warning that action would be taken against perpetrators.

Kenyan police are known for brutality against citizens, including many cases of extrajudicial killings around the country. In a few cases, those responsible for extrajudicial killings have been brought to book. However, police killings have continued unabated.

During the KCA-hosted webinar, both presenters and participants emphasized the fact that Covid-19 had only made a bad situation worse in regard to civic space in East Africa. As pointed out in a number of reports, civic space has been under threat in the region for many years. Governments have used legislation, regulatory, administrative and other measures, to limit citizens’ ability to associate, assemble and express themselves freely.

There was consensus that anti-Covid-19 measures had merely been “instrumentalised” by authorities to attain political ends. This certainly explains the brutality meted on citizens in enforcement of the measures and the resultant injuries and deaths that resulted from these extreme enforcement actions.

The need for collaborative efforts to expand the civic space in the region is urgent. The efforts of KCA and EACSOF-Kenya are a first step towards coalescing a movement that will act to achieve this goal. A coherent strategy will include building partnership with like-minded organisations across the region to harness the resources required for this endeavor.

Morris Odhiambo is the Chairman, East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum, Kenya Chapter (EACSOF).

News & Updates

Stronger Media-CSO Partnership will Protect Civic Liberties

July 3rd, 2020

Stakeholders at a forum convened by Kenya Correspondents’ (KCA) to review the civic space situation in Kenya have called for stronger partnership between the media and civil society sectors to protect the right to the enjoyment of civil liberties as provided for in the constitution.

The online meeting held on Friday July 3, 2020 reviewed the civic space situation in Kenya and expressed alarm at what the stakeholders said were “systematic effort” by the state to either violate citizens’ right to the enjoyment of civil liberties or failure to guarantee the enjoyment of those rights.

Speaking at the event, KCA Chairman William Oloo Janak said: “The civic space, including press freedom continues to be under severe strain, and has worsened with the enforcement of the Covid 19 health regulations.  We at KCA wish to call on the media and civil society organizations in Kenya and the region to work together on strategies to expand and safeguard the civic space and promote the enjoyment of civil liberties as enshrined in our national constitutions, regional and international instruments,”

Janak said KCA had launched an initiative to create opportunities to enhance the collaboration between the CSOs and the media to better defend civic space and help correct the emerging negative narratives and perceptions of civil society and the media in East Africa meant to undermine their role of holding the states, agencies and leaders accountable.

The President of the Civil Society Congress Morris Odhiambo led the forum in discussing the role of civil society in democratization and protection of civil liberties adding that the media and the CSOs had a responsibility to work together to safeguard public interest by protecting the civic space from being constrained.

Odhiambo said debate on civic space protection must take a broader regional view given the tendency by the states to borrow from one another negative practices and draconian laws that limited the rights of citizens in the region. 

Veteran journalist Kwamchetsi Makhoha discussed the role of the media in protecting civic space, which he said was increasingly being undermined by the focus on commercial interests at the expense of public good. He called for “a watchdog” for both the media and civil society sectors if they were to effectively discharge their public interest role of protecting the civic space.

The forum reviewed the civic space in the Covid19 period with regard to press freedom, police brutality freedom of assembly, expression, access to information, economic rights and social-cultural rights which participants said were increasingly being violated by the state and other actors.

The stakeholders called for robust CSO- Media joint interventions and the need to get more players from the two sectors on board the initiative and to win more champions committed to advocating for the protection of the civic space.

A number of speakers said the online space had become an important public arena for discussing important public issues.  Grace Githaiga, the Convener of an online forum, KICTAnet called for more participation of the media and CSOs in protecting the online space whenever the government other anti- freedom actors tried to introduce bad laws.

Janak said the initiative to enhance media –CSO collaboration will seek to bring in other actors from the East African region adding that similar forums were planned for Uganda and Tanzania within July to rally bigger efforts to protect the civic space in the region.

News & Updates

The Covid-19 Containment Strategies: Where is the Citizen Voice?

The fight against the spread of the Coronavirus in Kenya, as in a number of East African countries, will not be won unless public participation and buy-in becomes is prioritised. For now, governments are imposing lockdowns and restrictions that borrow heavily from global Covid-19 hot spots with little or no local contextualization.

 The government measures are enforced by an overzealous police force that quite often violate civic liberties and freedoms. Some said the police “will beat you to death to save you from the Covid-19 pandemic”. Some people have been arrested because they were not wearing masks inside their cars – even if they were alone. Inside a car or a home are certainly private spaces that cannot be policed.

At a funeral in Eldama Ravine, a policeman threatened mourners to “spoil this thing for you” when he realized that onlookers were not observing social distancing rules. The family of the disease said they had no control over onlookers. One elder reminded the cop that they were conducting a funeral. They were not partying and there was nothing to “spoil” because death was an ultimate loss.

When the police killed three residents of Lessos, Nandi district, following an enforcement on mask wearing that went terribly wrong, a protester was heard asking: “who will die when I don’t wear a mask- the police or me?” That citizens felt that their rights were being violated- including the right to make bad choices-tells a lot about how risk and crisis were communicated to the public. All we see is tough talking government officials telling the people what the government wants them to do. We do not hear the citizen voice and view. Any wonder that people carry along masks but only wear them when they see the police? They shouldn’t be obey rules to avoid arrest but rather to safeguard their health.

Other than involving the citizens in decision making on Covid-19 strategies, there is need to train the police on how to “catch a virus”. The police do not observe social distancing when arresting those who violate measures on the pandemic. In addition, our view on prevention and managing of the pandemic needs to change. What we strive to achieve really is physical distancing and not social, political or economic distancing. Every effort therefore should be made to ensure the disruption to normal life is at the minimal. Perhaps people will take individual responsibility if government tells them all it wants to do is help them make the best of a bad situation.

News & Updates

The Congress of African Journalists (CAJ) Launched

23rd June, 2020

The Congress of African Journalists (CAJ) has been launched to address the current challenging effects of COVID-19 on journalists in the course of their work. The challenges include the collateral impacts on press freedom, the safety of journalists and access to information. The Congress set-up an Interim Governing Council of six (6) members presided by Alexandre Niyungeko (President of Union of Burundi Journalists).

The Chairman of the Kenya Correspondents Association, Mr. William Oloo Janak, was elected the interim Secretary of the Congress of African Journalists (CAJ). The inaugural meeting to launch the Congress was hosted by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) with the attendance of participants from Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, and Zimbabwe.

Other members of the Interim Governing Council consists of Foster Dongozi (Secretary General of Zimbabwe Union of Journalists) Vice-President, Patricia Adjissekou (Secretary General of Togo

Union of Independent Journalists) Treasurer; Christopher Isiguzo, (President of Nigeria Union of Journalists), and Aicha Ahmed Youssouf (President of Djibouti Union of the Press and Audiovisual).

  “On the launch of this Congress of African Journalists we commend all African journalists for their dedication to press freedom and access to information for the general public. We call on African Governments to empower the journalists and media organisations to do their work efficiently in this trying moment of COVID19.” said the Interim President of CAJ

Reports have noted that many journalists have fallen sick or died of COVID19, and others have been victimised in the course of their duties as essential workers in the frontline to inform the general public: “We condole with the victims and their families” the CAJ added.

The CAJ condemns all attacks on journalists, and calls for the release of all journalists in prison in Africa. The CAJ will continue to engage with all Governments, the African Union and partners in expanding freedom of expression and access to information for good governance and welfare of the people in Africa.

News & Updates




  1. The Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya) held the fifth in a series of webinars on the impact of Covid-19 on the poor and vulnerable in society. 
  • Over 100 people participated in the webinar while others followed the deliberations through social media and online streaming services including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. The participants were drawn from civil society, the private sector and the government.
  • The topic of the webinar was informed by the fact that the measures taken by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19, though necessary, have posed serious socio-economic challenges for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised in society. 
  • The panellists and participants discussed the following:
  • The role of the criminal justice sector in ensuring petty offenders are not exposed to Covid-19, and the justice needs of the poor and marginalised are prioritised;  
  • How the pandemic has affected the mental health of the poor and vulnerable; and
  • The ongoing disregard of economic and social rights of the poor and vulnerable by the government in the measures it has taken to mitigate Covid-19
  • Based on the extensive and highly interactive deliberations guided by thematic experts, the following resolutions were adopted:

A. To the Judiciary  

  1. Continue implementing the guidelines issued by the National Council on Administrative Justice (NCAJ) to ensure that criminal justice actors address the justice needs of the poor and vulnerable while ensuring citizens are not exposed to Covid-19. These measures include: the use of technology for the continued delivery of justice; review of bond and bail terms; prioritising non-custodial sentences such as community service orders, especially for cases relating to public health offences and breach of stipulated guidelines; and the withdrawal of cases under section 87(a) in instances where witnesses are not available;
  2. Encourage the use of open court spaces where possible to enable access to justice for all citizens while ensuring compliance with the Ministry of Health guidelines;
  3. Partner with relevant institutions to ensure courts in rural areas and in prisons are equipped with the necessary infrastructure to enable cases to be disposed of expeditiously;
  4. Put in place measures to secure the release of petty offenders from the detention centres;
  5. The Rent Tribunal to avoid issuing eviction orders for persons with rent arrears during this period and instead advocate for alternative amicable arrangements between landlord and tenant agreements.

B. To the National Council on Administration of Justice- Criminal Justice Committee

  1. Develop a mental health criminal justice policy which would inform justice actors on how to handle accused persons with mental disability;
  2. Put in place measures to provide psychosocial support to those released from detention centres; 
  3. Continue to advocate for the decriminalisation and reclassification of petty offences;
  4. Issue and publish relevant guidelines towards sustained prison decongestion;
  5. Develop sustainable measures for access to justice for all citizens in lieu of the fact that the pandemic may soon become an epidemic;
  6. Advocate for the uptake of technology by all justice actors to encourage expeditious disposal and case management. 

C. To the Senate of the Republic of Kenya

  1. Continue addressing challenges faced by the poor and marginalised in the five thematic areas identified by the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Covid-19 namely: health, economic and finance, public social order and human rights, access to food, water and basic commodities, and ICT;
  2. Continue oversight on the various ministries on the measures taken in addressing Covid-19;
  3. Advocate for coordination amongst national government and county government to ensure seamless utilisation of resources especially those targeted towards the alleviation of the suffering of the poor and the vulnerable;
  4. Continue seeking input from key stakeholders, particularly civil society organisations in developing laws and policies that prioritise the needs of the poor and the vulnerable;
  5. Develop or advocate for the development of social welfare policy for emergencies and pandemics;
  6. Desist from engaging in politics and instead focus on the development of sustainable solutions for the poor and the vulnerable;
  7. Use innovation and technology to create awareness on the laws and policies passed that safeguard the rights of all citizens;
  8. Invoke the oversight mandate of the Senate to summon the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government to explain the demolition exercise in Ruai, Kariobangi and other parts of the country. 

D. Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government   

  1. Put on hold the all demolitions and instead allow for dialogue between the parties to ensure that Kenyans are not rendered homeless and exposed to Covid-19;
  2. Observe and respect the rule of law by adhering to court orders issued by the Judiciary;
  3. Exercise transparency and accountability in the management of the Kazi Mtaani initiative wherein 26,000 youth have been engaged by the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government;
  4. Encourage vigilance in the distribution of the KES 1,000 fund per week to the 250,000 vulnerable households identified by the Members of County Assembly in the various counties through the nyumba kumi initiative.

E. Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services  

  1. Urge the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Labour to update the registers for Inua Jamii Initiative to ensure that elderly persons who qualify for the fund are included in the dissemination exercise;
  2. Urge the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Labour to incorporate the use of cashless fund transfer to ensure that elderly persons who are vulnerable are able to access their monies without having to travel to banking halls;
  3. Ensure that the government stimulus package caters to persons in the formal and informal sector. As a Commission of Jurists, we have noted that the current package only benefits those employed in the formal sector;
  4. Review the social welfare register which is currently outdated and incorporate other classes of vulnerable persons;
  5. Provide safe houses and shelters for homeless persons who are affected by the demolitions and persons living on the streets. 

F. To the National Police Service

  1. Desist from detaining persons who are poor, vulnerable and marginalised;
  2. Sensitise police officers and county administrators on the appropriate way to handle persons living with psychosocial disabilities;
  3. Issue Bail and Bond in accordance to Article 49(1) (h) of the Constitution of Kenya and ensure that the bail terms issued are in tandem with the National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ) Guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic period; 
  4. Desist from extorting, harassing and soliciting bribes from Kenyans who are seeking legitimate access to areas that are under lockdown;
  5. Put in place appropriate measures to allow for reporting and investigation of errant police officers who are acting in contravention to the National Police Standing orders. 

G. To the Ministry of Health  

  1. Ensure access to medical facilities for persons who have psychosocial disorders;
  2. Coordinate with the National Police Service/County Administration to ensure that registered health care professionals to give movement passes to persons in need of medical attention;
  3. Ensure access to dignity kits in the instances of gender-based violence;
  4. Create awareness on the existence of victim centres where persons may seek assistance within communities, especially those in lockdown and during curfew hours. 

ICJ Kenya Commits and undertakes to:

  1. Continuously assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms with a view to ensuring that the highest protection of these rights are guaranteed and offered during the pandemic;
  2. Continuously advocate for decriminalisation and reclassification of petty offences;
  3. Engage with the criminal justice actors to advocate for the decongestion of detention centres; 
  4. Advocate for the strengthening of the legal aid service to ensure access to legal aid for the poor and the vulnerable;
  5. Engage with the Legislature to ensure human rights principles are factored into the development of law and policy;
  6. Advocate for legal services to be classified as essential services during this period.