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Enemies of the state, lackeys of foreign power? Yeah, right

Saturday October 25 2014

Just over a week ago, a new parliamentarian used his maiden speech not to talk about his constituency and its legislative needs. Nor even the country and how he intended to use his new seat to contribute to it. Instead, he focused entirely on Kenya’s governance, human-rights and legal organisations — and leading personalities therein.

Blaming them for their pursuit of justice for survivors and victims of the post-elections violence, including their support of the Kenyan cases before the International Criminal Court. And attributing that pursuit and support to George Soros, the Hungarian-American philanthropist whose money lies behind the network of Open Society Foundations and network programmes around the world.

If the distortions of this maiden speech, and the signals it sends out to the pubic, weren’t dangerous, they’d actually be funny.
For all the individuals named are fully grown, educated and thoughtful Kenyan adults, who’ve spent their working lives dedicated to the range of governance, human-rights and legal issues that their respective organisational mandates cover. They worked on those issues long before the post-election violence.

Long before the advent of the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa and whatever grants it may contribute to their organisations’ work. And, no doubt, they’ll be working on those issues long after we (finally, as we must) achieve justice for the survivors and victims of the post-election violence. Regardless of what happens with the two Kenyan cases before the ICC.

The conspiratorial and paranoid claims were followed by the threat to revisit the Public Benefits Organisations Act to “deal decisively” with civil society.

That maiden speech was followed, in relatively swift succession, by similar claims and threats made by the executive during the Mashujaa Day celebrations. The choice was presented as being starkly black and white: You’re either with us or against us, a la George W. Bush. But here to imply that speaking truth to power automatically makes us enemies of the state.

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And more than enemies of the state. If we dare to challenge this government — its legitimacy through work on the elections, its instrumentalisation in support of continued impunity for political violence — we are nothing but lackeys in the service of global power. And because we act for global power, we are to be crushed like bugs.

The tactics against the human-rights, governance and legal organisations are now upgraded — this is the digital version of repression, Repression 2.0. The social media vitriol from online communities — including in the diaspora — working relatively clandestinely and securely in their own languages to re-frame of matters of public interest as purely ethnic defence causes.

The bloggers hired at monthly rates to monitor the mainstream media for any articles or columns defending civil society and hit them with a slew of vitriol in public commentaries. Tempered by individuals now in government with either respectable academic credentials or backgrounds in these organisations fronting the apparently intellectual, rational and reasonable counterweight to these organisations.

Our retired presidents must be watching with bemusement. So much delicacy, effort, put into what used to be done far more crudely.
Ah, for the good, old days. When an individual from a civil society organisation proving to be a far more stubborn irritant than anticipated could simply be picked up, deposited in the basements of Nyayo House and played around with at whim. Those days are gone.

Fortunately. But these days are not so pleasant either. Repression 2.0.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is the Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, covering East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

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