Kenya's security bill reinforces fears of NGO crackdown

A Kenyan soldier points to the black flag of the Somali militant group al-Shabab. Increasing attacks from al-Shabab are disrupting the work of civil society groups in Kenya, while amendments to the government’s Public Benefits Organization Act are threatening to control and weaken the NGO sector. Photo by: Stuart Price / AU-UN IST / CC BY-NC-ND

Kenya’s move to deregister more than 500 nongovernmental organizations last week may have taken many from the international development community by surprise, but not organizations working on the ground.

These groups have been battling crippling measures against the NGO community that the government has been trying to introduce for more than a year now. The security bill President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law Friday is just the latest.

Under the new legislation, which officially is the government’s response to the Somali militant group al-Shabab’s increased attacks in Kenya’s northeastern region, authorities are given the power to classify civil society organizations — dubbed public benefit organizations in Kenya — “in the prescribed manner.”

It signals the creation of a new category to classify PBOs, but Emerson Sykes, legal adviser for Africa at the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, is concerned that the legislation does not specify or indicate the implications of the provision. One worrying result is many organizations are already interpreting the law as one that aims to control their operations and may be subject to abuse.

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About the author

  • Ravelo jennylei

    Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.