Kenya government declares human rights ‘subversive’

On March 12th, 2014, the Kenyan government produced documents in the High Court declaring the presence of human rights defender Lucy Hannan “contrary to the national interest.”  The only reason given for making her persona non grata, after 18 years of residency and investment in Kenya, was that “confidential security reports indicate that (she) has been engaged in subversive activities against the Kenyan Government.” 

This is the first time accusations of “subversion” have been used in Kenya since the end of the one-party state era in 1992, when the charge was widely used to silence and subdue critics. It follows hard on the heels of the recent branding of civil society as “evil society”; and the proposal of new legislation designed to further close down Kenya’s once vibrant civic space. The vague and unsubstantiated charges are seen as a dangerous threat to all those involved in human rights, social justice and alternative information forums.

British journalist Lucy Hannan, co-director of the human rights organization InformAction, makes social justice films which are screened all over the country to highlight the crisis of impunity and governance in Kenya. She set up the not-for-profit organization in 2010 with prominent human rights activist Maina Kiai, now UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to Freedom of Assembly and Freedom of Association.  With seven field teams and more than 40 employees, some fifteen different films and video features are screened every week in rural areas, followed up by community discussions on justice, impunity, governance and insecurity issues. The organization has also leafleted tens of thousands of DVDs of the films in areas without Internet and television.

Hannan is a former BBC journalist, human rights advocate and authorof “Taking Liberties” for Human Rights Watch, 1991, and “Shadow Justice” for African Rights, 1996. Her award-nominated film Getting Justice: Kenya’s Deadly Game of Wait and See (2009), anchored by Maina Kiai, was shown on prime time local television and in international film festivals, but security forces in Kenya prevented it being shown locally in areas hard hit by the election violence (see above).

Her recent films include Unfinished Business: Power and Poverty in Kenya’s Central Region, launched in January 2013 at the Alliance Francais, Nairobi, which looks at Presidential Uhuru Kenyatta influence on his own Kikuyu community, and the crimes against humanity charges brought against him by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Other high impact films include Disputed
which looks at historical land conflict and expulsions in the Rift Valley; and No Man’s Land: Ni Yetu, a bold depiction of marginalization and insecurity in Northern Kenya.

InformAction also provided video evidence of electoral irregularities used in the Supreme Court, March 2013, when civil society challenged the presidential election process.

After the Supreme Court ruled in Uhuru Kenyatta’s favor, civil society was branded “evil society” and human rights defenders and organizations came under increasing pressure. New legislation threatened to restrict or abolish the activities of NGOs and further close down Kenya’s civic space. An onslaught on what was once overwhelming public support for the trials at the International Criminal Court, dramatically reduced when fellow-indictees, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto were declared President and Deputy President. Witnesses and victims withdrew from the trials out of fear and intimidation, making it increasingly difficult to prosecute the cases.

The charge of “subversion” is seen as the latest attack on Kenya’s human rights community.  It is an affront to human rights defenders, and an assault on civic space, designed to instill fear and intimidation in one of the few sectors in Kenya still courageous enough to maintain independent thought and challenge power.

Lucy Hannan is challenging it in court through Constitutional lawyer, Kethi Kilonzo, who represented civil society in the Supreme Court last year, on the basis that it violates the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution—which domesticates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

According to Ms. Kilonzo, “the discretion to decide that a person is a threat to national security resides only with the Courts of law.”  There are fears that Kenya’s progressive new Constitution– voted in decisively in August 2010–is being whittled away and de facto revised by the new regime, which is also showing an increased willingness to ignore and undermine the judiciary.

The Declaration announcing Lucy Hannan as a Prohibited Immigrant and persona non grata was signed by Cabinet Secretary for Interior Affairs, Joseph Ole Lenku, October 30th 2013, but was only produced in court on March 12, 2014, after Hannan challenged the government’s refusal to respond or officially acknowledge her application for citizenship and a work permit renewal.


African State Legislatures & Democratic Development: Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia & South Africa

In the context of African political development, scholars, policy makers, and activists have primarily focused their attention on the national government and the executive branch. Less often have they explored the roles of subnational governing structures, particularly subnational legislative bodies, in shaping democracy. How do state legislatures affect relations between governors and national executives? How do they influence budget accountability and transparency? What factors influence the capacity and willingness of subnational legislatures to effectively represent their constituents?

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the American Political Science Association (APSA), and the American University’s Comparative and Regional Studies Program cordially invite you to a discussion on African State Legislatures & Democratic Development: Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia & South Africa


Prof. Carl LeVan American University

Prof. Joseph Fashagba Landmark University, Nigeria 

Discussant Prof. Shaheen Mozaffar Bridgewater University

Moderated by Ambassador Robin Sanders 

Prof. Carl LeVan and Prof. Joseph Fashagba will provide a comparative foundation for understanding subnational legislatures in Africa, with case studies on Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, and South Africa. Their discussion will delve into how oil, revenue generation, political parties, the executive branch, and technology impact on democratic development at the subnational level. Furthermore, LeVan and Fashagba will suggest ways in which civil society and policy makers can foster democracy at the subnational level. Their presentation will draw on their collaborative research with academics from across the continent and the diaspora including; Rotimi Suberu of Bennington University (US), Oladejii Olaore of the World Bank (US), Olufunmbi Elemo of Michigan State University (US), Yahaya Baba of Usman Danofodiyo University (Nigeria), Westen Shlaho of Witwatersrand University (South Africa), Solomon Gofie of Addis Abab University (Ethiopia), and Majuta Judas Mamogale of the Limpopo Legislature (South Africa).

Wednesday, March 26 – 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. National Endowment for Democracy, 1025 F Street, NW, 8th Floor, Washington, DC. RSVP

IDP Kenya protests catalyze information into action



On Tuesday March 4, 2014, over 2000 internally-displaced persons (IDPs) took part in a successful peaceful protest in Nyamira, Kenya, demanding recognition as well as to be paid the same Ksh. 410,000 that some IDPs in Eldoret and Embobut Forest had been paid last year, the InformAction NGO reports.

For the last few years, InformAction (IFA) has been working in Kisii and Nyamira counties (among other areas in Kenya), screening social justice films and holding discussions aimed at empowering the local communities. The screenings and discussions, led by our Kisii Field Base, are always filmed and IFA has gathered a huge archive of unadulterated views, questions, and opinions from ordinary people.

By far one of the most persistent issues raised has been about IDPs in the two counties following the 2007/8 election related crisis.

The Kisii community—whose plight has been largely invisible—suffered greatly during that crisis, targeted by the Kalenjin in the Rift Valley, the Luo in Nyanza, and the Kikuyu in Nakuru and Naivasha. Hundreds were killed, and thousands were displaced with properties destroyed. Those living on the border areas trekked back to Kisii land, while some were trucked from major towns back to Kisii. Camps were set up for a short-time before being destroyed by the state leaving the IDPs to fend for themselves as best they could.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt has been a tale of suffering for most of them, barely eking out a living and finding odd jobs here and there. Even though the local community has by and large welcomed them back, their return has precipitated new problems related to the scarcity of land in already very densely populated Kisii.

The grievances by the IDPs have mostly been about abandonment and marginalization. Unlike their Kikuyu counterparts who have spoken loudly and often about Kikuyu IDPs, Kisii leaders have largely been silent, much like their counterparts in Luo-land and Luyha-land.

And the IDPs have also complained about the unfair treatment by the regime in Nairobi that seems to focus on Kikuyu IDPs (and now Kalenjin IDPs) simply ignoring Kisii, Luo and Luyha IDPs. The payment of Ksh. 410,000 to Kikuyu and Kalenjin IDPs only, excluding Kisii, Luo and Luyha has especially angered the communities.

It is in this context that IDP leaders in Nyamira approached IFA for assistance in facilitating and catalyzing peaceful actions to highlight their issues. For IFA, this was a test case for our next phase of work of turning information into action and working on our community organizing. The entire process has been filmed so as to provide a template to other IFA Field Bases, as well as to other NGOs that are interested in spurring community actions.

And in order to broaden this action, IFA teamed up with Kenya Human Rights Commission who ferried in the leadership of IDPs from western Kenya.


One of IFA’s fundamental principles is “contributive participation” that eschews payment of allowances for “lunch” “transport” or “tea”. This principle was at the center of this action. If this was to be an IDP-led activity, it was clear that they had to contribute their time and resources to make it work. Further, we believed that the only way to get full buy in was to avoid acting like politicians and providing resources.

The expectations for allowances came up as soon as we started meeting the IDPs, as many NGOs have taken up the culture of providing transport, lunch and tea especially to the “core team” of leaders, causing a scramble for positions of leadership when events and activities are planned. But when it became clear that we were not providing these allowances to the organizing team, a lot of the initial volunteers for leadership opted out, leaving us with a core of dedicated people to organize the protest.

We believe that much of the success of the protest, with the massive turnout, was because the community owned it from the start, and we avoided the common conflicts that provision of resources always generates.

It took a month of organizing and constant facilitation as the organizers mobilized their people, explaining why the protest was necessary. There was justifiably some fear, for often, and especially far away from Nairobi, the police can be really brutal.  One of our major functions was to maintain morale and build the confidence of the organizers and the IDPs.

Then on Sunday March 2 we held a screening and discussion with the “Beast” (a gigantic inflatable screen) at the grounds that had hosted the first IDP camp in Nyamira, attracting over 500 people. We screened clips from the MPIGs demonstration last year in Nairobi, as well as “Kesho Itakuja”. The speakers in the discussions that followed reiterated their determination to attend the protest, many of them saying that they had nothing to lose, even if the police intervened and beat them up. There were calls for unity and courage as well, and the screening clearly fired up many people.

On Tuesday March 4, people started streaming into the meeting ground to begin the protest from as early as 6am. Many of them walked, while others came by boda boda. They registered as they arrived and received a T-shirt on registration. IFA supplied 1000 T-shirts for the protest, as well as banners and placards that the IDPs themselves wrote on.

By 9am, the crowd was easily more than 1000–and growing–and the march proceeded, walking the 4 kilometers from Konate to Nyamira town. It was mostly a crowd of old women and men, some with walking sticks, and some on crutches, but all determined to be visible. They chanted and sang along the way and it was a sight to see old people walking at a brisk pace that many of our young staff could barely keep up with.

All through the police behaved well, directing traffic as the protesters neared Nyamira town.  On reaching the office of the County Commissioner the protesters who had increased to between 2-3000, congregated outside singing, waiting to hand over their petition. When he did not appear, the leaders of the protest then surged forward to go to see him and bring him to meet and see the protesters.

It was then that they first encountered agents’ provocateurs who blocked the entrance and said that the Commissioner would not see them. When the leaders pushed their way in, the agents’ provocateurs demanded that they be included in the delegation to see the County Commissioner and in fact lead it, claiming that they were the “real civil society leaders” in Nyamira, and nothing could be done without them. The IDPs resisted them and made their way to the County Commissioner’s office where the Governor was also waiting.

After intense discussions with the Governor and County Commissioner, the agents’ provocateurs were thrown out and the two officials came out to meet the protesters.

One of the most significant statements from the two officials was the public recognition of IDPs in Nyamira. For since September 2013, the official line of the regime has been that IDP issues in Kenya have been resolved fully. Indeed in notifying the police about the protest, the police officials expressed surprise that there were IDPs in Nyamira, and we found this line constantly expressed by all public officials including the Deputy Governor.

Lessons Learnt:

  • Actions within communities can be organized but it is essential to avoid the “allowances” culture.
  • Successful actions require issues that are core and real to the victims and survivors and for which the victims have nothing much to lose by taking part in the action;
  • It is mandatory that NGOs that catalyze actions have a presence in the area, and have the trust and confidence of the community.
  • Anger and tensions in areas that feel marginalized are rising and it is crucial that this anger be channeled in constructive and peaceful ways;
  • Actions such as these require the formation of a “security team” to deal with potential agents provocateurs and maintain discipline and calm through the action.

InformAction is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy.

Africa’s ‘authoritarian contagion’

freedomhouseThe recent pressure on civil society and independent media in Kenya is not only a significant threat to democracy in a geo-politically important country, but also the predictable outcome of the international community’s failure to punish earlier, comparable state-driven repression in Ethiopia, another African nation that is viewed in Western capitals as a strategic partner, says Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs at Freedom House. 

There is nothing terribly surprising about the attempt by newly elected Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta to create a more hostile environment for advocates of democracy and human rights, he writes for the group’s Freedom at Issue blog. He had telegraphed his intention in the run-up to the March 2013 presidential vote, all but vowing retribution against such activists because of their support for the International Criminal Court’s indictment of those—including Kenyatta and his now vice president, William Ruto—accused of directing ethnic and political violence following the 2007 presidential election, which left more than 1,200 Kenyans dead and some 600,000 displaced.

When the retribution came, it followed a sadly well-worn script developed by authoritarian states, which are more inclined and better equipped than ever to export “worst practices” when it comes to repressing civil society and silencing dissent.

The broader phenomenon illustrated by Kenyatta’s actions is not just a matter of coincidence or independent imitation. Whether they are selling sophisticated technology to track down dissidents online or sharing legislative approaches that provide a patina of legitimacy for their crackdowns on political opponents, repressive governments are actively working together to push back against nonviolent movements for democratic change. Indeed, such authoritarian solidarity has arguably outpaced collaboration among the world’s democratic states, which are often feckless in mobilizing to defend their own values and assist likeminded activists under duress.

One hopes that the United States and other democratic donor governments will draw their own lessons from these experiences, finally recognizing that the prioritization of security and macroeconomic concerns over democratic performance is a self-defeating strategy. In the long run, repressive states are less stable, less prosperous, and less friendly to democratic partners than open societies, and the spread of authoritarian practices can only damage the interests of Washington and its allies.