In Summary
  • President Kenyatta’s Mashujaa Day peech was reminiscent of former President Daniel arap Moi’s numerous attacks on nonprofits and civil society.
  • It is wrong for the government to assume that it has the right to decide how Kenyans should think.

President Kenyatta’s Mashujaa Day threat to NGOs and civil society organisations is disturbing.

His speech was reminiscent of former President Daniel arap Moi’s numerous attacks on nonprofits and civil society.

If the President makes good his threat to “defund” the civil society groups, (never mind that these groups do not receive any money from the Kenyan taxpayer), then Kenya will have regressed 20 years overnight.

For those who may have forgotten or are not aware of this, the 1980s and 1990s were some of the darkest years in Kenya’s political history.

Mr Moi’s crackdown on dissenting voices was suffocating. His government camouflaged its intolerance to dissent with catch phrases such as protecting Kenya’s “sovereignty”, unmasking foreign masters funding the civil society, and vilifying civil society leaders as unelected “sellouts” serving selfish “foreign” interests.

He and hawks in the then ruling (and only legal political party) Kanu whipped sections of the citizenry into believing that civil society groups were trying to destabilise the country and therefore justified using brute force to silence critics.


Attacks and threats of deregistration were not the only tactics the Kanu regime used. The NGO Board comprised government appointees and NGO representatives.

Unfortunately, the NGO representatives were a minority and their vote did have any impact.

This explains why the chairman could unilaterally issue deregistration notices without listing the alleged “offensive” publications or explaining how such reports were “injurious”.

Policy groups or think-tanks were also targeted. As is the case currently, the government hid under the guise of fighting terrorism to deregister six nonprofit organisations following the 1998 bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi.

The six organisations were later reinstated by the High Court for lack of evidence to connect them to terrorists.

Fast forward to 2014. Some of the leading lights in the civil society movement of the 1990s are now entrenched in government.

These include Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, embattled Makueni Governor Kivutha Kibwana, Mukurweini MP Kabando wa Kabando and his Runyenjes and Gatundu South counterparts, Cecily Mbarire and Moses Kuria respectively.

Government adviser and originator of the “tyranny of numbers” adage, Mutahi Ngunyi, was also a fierce defender of the citizens’ right to assemble and associate freely and a donor magnet.

Attorney-General Githu Muigai was a household name in NGO circles back then. It will be interesting to see how these officials will advise the President as he embarks on his all-out war on civil society.

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