In Kenya, 240,000 civil society, NGO employees at risk of losing jobs

Kenyans have been gathering for the last week in Nairobi to sign the CSO Reference Group's petition against the proposed PBO legislation. The group hopes to have one million signatures by the end of the month. Photo by: CSO Reference Group

Donor-reliant Kenyan public benefit organizations — there are approximately 8,500, according to the Kenya-based Civil Society Organizations Reference Group — might soon need to find other ways of surviving, or consider shutting their doors.

Representatives of civil society organizations in Kenya are mobilizing the masses with a petition against the proposed amendments to NGO sector law in Kenya that would restrict the amount of funds Kenyan PBOs can receive from foreign sources to just 15 percent of their budget. The provision would also allow for greater government monitoring of PBO finances.

The bill in question has already undergone a first reading at the committee level and is expected come before Parliament in the next few weeks.

If the law passes, 240,000 Kenyans — the estimated number currently working for organizations that would be affected by the legislation — stand to lose their jobs, according to the CSO Reference Group.

The NGO sector in Kenya — paid and volunteer — represents more than 290,000 full time employees, which constitutes 2.1 percent of Kenya’s economically active population, according to the D.C.-based International Center for Not-for-Profit Law.

“Young people make the highest number of employees within the NGO sector, roughly 80 percent, according to the 2009 census,” Arnold Maliba, a spokesperson for the National Youth Council, told Devex.

In Kenya, the NGO sector is actually a job-creating tool, he said. Finding employment with an NGO is a way for people to make an honest living in those areas where formal employment is not guaranteed.

“If you look at the public sector in Kenya, who is employed there? Very, very few people. The NGO sector is absorbing all those youth which do not have access to formal mentorship and empowering them through trainings and workshops,” Maliba said.

“Even most of the MPs [members of Parliament] come from the NGO world and have their own NGO,” he added.

The law will also indirectly affect local entrepreneurship, strongly promoted and supported by civil society organizations. Hundreds of thousands of low-income farmers and small and medium-sized young entrepreneurial projects will no longer benefit from training, soft loans and other technical assistance, according to the CSO petition document.

The NGO sector alone brings more than KSH100 billion [$1.2 billion] into the country, and 1.8 percent of local PBOs are delivering 45 percent of Kenyan’s public health services, the CSO Reference Group petition states.

NGOs in Kenya hold important economic importance as providers of health, educational, social, and environmental services. If the bill were to pass, 20 million Kenyans stand to lose access to basic health care.

The common concern among the representatives of local NGOs is that the lack of informal job opportunities will increase the rate of criminal activity in areas where it’s already challenging to access formal employment.  And alternatives for the youth in Kenya are not necessarily good, Maliba said.  

“If you remove the NGOs, the level of marginalization will increase as well as unemployment, especially among the youthful population, who depend on NGOs,” noted Emmanuel Ngongo of the National Youth Sector Alliance. “This has a bigger repercussion of civil unrest or social conflict where crime rates begin to go higher in the country whose security apparatus are already on the path of collapse.”

Several NGOs, coordinated by the CSO Reference Group, are mobilizing Kenyans to stop the bill in the National Assembly.

“As NYC, we are now trying to talk with the members of the Parliament, and most of them come from the NGO sector, so it’s a small part of the government which is pushing this amendment,” Maliba said.  

A petition against the bill is also in progress, urging citizens to “Reject the amendment and save 20 million Kenyans!” The petition is being promoted by the CSO Reference Group and has already found the support of more than 300,000 citizens in less than one week, according to a spokesperson for the group, who said they expect to reach one million signatures by the end of the month.

A forum took place last week at the University of Nairobi, where the representatives of various PBOs and local media discussed the necessary steps to take against the proposed amendments. Two peaceful protests have been scheduled for Nov. 26 and 27, and several speakers at the conference voiced the idea of occupying the Parliament.

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