Why the Government Purged Civil Societies

KDuring last year’s Jamhuri Day celebrations, President Uhuru Kenyatta alleged a section of civil society groups were engaged in activities aimed at executing a regime change. The NGO Coordination Board took cue of the President’s remarks and suspended operations of the International Foundation for Electoral System (IFES). The Board claimed IFES was not a registered NGO in Kenya, and therefore lacked the legal status to operate in the country. The USAID funded organization ran the Kenya Electoral Assistance Program (KEAP).

“The purpose of this communication is to direct IFES to immediately cease operations in the country, including the implementation of the Kenya Electoral Assistance programme, KEAP 2017 that has been funded by USAID to the tune of Ksh 2 billion, to undertake electoral related programs until such a time that IFES shall acquire a certificate of registration under the Act,” read the letter by NGO Coordination Board Chief Executive Fazul Mahamed. IFES denied the allegations and a court order quickly overruled Fazul’s directive.

This was the beginning of the NGO Coordination Board’s onslaught on civil society groups with links to the elections. Less than a week after the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission (IEBC) announced President Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner of the August 8th elections, Fazul Mahamed, ordered the de-registration of Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) and the African Center for Open Governance (AFRICOG). Fazul claimed that KHRC operated four illegal bank accounts and had failed to file their tax returns.

In a letter dated August 14th Fazul alleged KHRC’s “financial statements do not give a true and fair view of their financial position as of 4th October 2016, and subsequently it cannot be ascertained that the Ksh 1.2 billion received by the organization during the same period is fully accounted for and whether the finances were utilized for the intended purpose.” KHRC was also accused by the NGO Coordination board for employing expatriates illegally. Fazul ordered the Director General of Immigration deport all foreigners working at KHRC without valid work permits. He further directed the Kenya Revenue Authority to recover taxes amounting to Ksh 100 million that were accrued by KHRC. The next target was the African Centre for Open Governance (AFRICOG). The Board alleged that AFRICOG was not duly registered.

“We have noted that AFRICOG is not registered under the NGOs Coordination Act 1990 as required by law. It continues to operate as a charitable organization in direct contravention of Section 22 (1),” he said. Two days later, Fred Matiangi, the acting Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National government suspended Fazul’s purge on civil societies for 90 days. The international community has censured the civil society purge and warned that the government was suppressing the democratic gains. The two organizations have a common feature of been vocal critics of President Kenyatta during his first term in office. AFRICOG filed a petition in the Supreme Court on March 16, 2013 after Uhuru Kenyatta was declared the winner of March 2013 elections. Gladwell Otieno and Zahid Rajan of AfriCOG argued in court that the IEBC had “failed to establish and maintain an accurate voter register that was publicly available, verifiable and credible, as required by Articles 38(3), 81(d), 83(2) and 88(4) of the constitution.”

This year, AFRICOG has filed three elections-related cases at the high court. And the organization is more likely to have a keen interest in Raila’s petition of the August 8th presidential elections outcome. Makau Mutua who serves as the chairperson of the KHRC board has vowed not to recognize Uhuru’s presidency. “The sins of 2013 have been compounded. That’s why as a matter of my conscience, I can’t, and won’t recognize Uhuru as President,” he wrote on August 12th. Government critic and anti-corruption activist John Githogo is the chairperson of the AFRICOG board.

He once described Uhuru’s regime as the, “most rapacious administration that we have ever had.” This is not the first time non-governmental organizations linked to the opposition have been targeted by the NGO Coordination Board for ‘non-compliance’. On August 1st, the NGO Coordination Board directed the Central Bank of Kenya to freeze the accounts belonging to Key Empowerment Foundation Kenya. The organization is linked to Rosemary Odinga, daughter of presidential candidate Raila Odinga.

The board claimed the organization had received Ksh 530 million from George Soros foundation. “The aid agency that has funded the foundation is associated with subterfuge political activities globally and nefarious regime change tactics,” Fazul said. Another organization that faced the purge in the run-up to the elections was Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation. On May 3rd the NGOs coordination board ordered a forensic audit of the organization’s financials. The Board asked the Central Bank of Kenya to freeze its accounts pending investigations. “The board has noted that the Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation cannot fully account for Ksh 146 million,” Fazul said.

Kalonzo denied the allegations and got reprieve from the court after the accounts’ freeze order was lifted. The Evans Kidero Foundation owned by former Nairobi governor, was deregistered on February 21st this year for financial malpractice. The NGO Coordination Board alleged that Kidero had appointed Nairobi County government officials to serve as members of the Foundation’s board. “The membership of the organization raises critical questions of possible conflict of interest between the county government and the Evans Kidero foundation,” Fazul said.

Why world leaders fear George SorosKHRC, AFRICOG and Key Empowerment Foundation Kenya have one thing in common – they receive substantial funding from organizations linked to George Soros. George Soros is a Hungarian American philanthropist and has given away more than $12 billion through his Open Society Foundations. His foundations have operations in more than 100 countries. He is accused of funding regime change activities in different countries.

The Israeli government faulted Soros for “continuously undermining Israel’s democratically elected governments.” This year, the Hungarian government threatened to deregister a university owned by Soros. The government alleged that Soros funds anti-government protests in the country. They carried out a media campaign urging Hungarians ‘not to let Soros have the last laugh’.

Florence Gichoya is an Associate Fellow with the Nkrumah Center for African Affairs and Global Peace (AAGP), at the Africa Policy Institute. Email: flogichoya@ gmail.com

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