Media bang! NGOs pow! Who’s next?

Saturday November 9 2013


By L. Muthoni Wanyeki

The dust has barely settled from the uproar created by the passing of the Media Bill. Yet the Jubilants are at it again.

This time, civil society is in their sights. This time, it is the Attorney-General who has moved proposed amendments to the Public Benefits Organisations Act, 2012 through the Miscellaneous Amendments Bill, 2013.

This is the first reason for outrage. The annual Miscellaneous Amendments Bill is meant to sort out minor problems with existing legislation, such as poor drafting, inconsistencies, spelling errors, small omissions and updates.

It is not meant to be used to propose substantive amendments against the spirit and letter of existing legislation. Which is not to imply that it hasn’t been used that way in the past. It has.

To get past more democratic or less observant parliamentarians. To sneak in anti-democratic legislative proposals in the hope nobody notices before it is too late.

But there are other are reasons for outrage. Notably the proposal that external financing of civil society organisations be capped at 15 per cent of their budgets.


As well as the proposal that all financing for civil society be channelled through a supposedly autonomous civil society “federation,” whose director general is to be appointed by the relevant Cabinet Secretary.

And whose decision-making mechanism on such channelling will also be appointed by the relevant Cabinet Secretary.

The implications of these two proposals are obvious.

First, most of civil society is entirely externally financed. It will not be able to comply.

Second, all grants to civil society are on the basis of contractual proposals, implementation plans and budgets negotiated with grant-makers. Once funding is received and utilised, civil society reports back on the basis of those contractual proposals, plans and budgets.

The consequences of not doing so are more or less strict depending on the grant-maker involved — but there are always consequences.

Ranging from returning the funds in part or full. To being “blacklisted” for failing to utilise the funds as agreed and not receiving any further funds. To, when personal appropriation of those funds may be involved, civil or criminal proceedings.

Those contracts are between the civil society organisation and the grant-maker involved. Neither party will risk having those contracts breached by a third party — the “federation.”

There is no contractual obligation for the “federation” to be accountable in the same way. Thus, no civil society organisation or grant-maker will be able to comply.

Thus, the true motives of the proposed amendments are revealed.

To starve civil society of its funding. To ensure it is put in a risky and untenable contractual situation with its grant-makers. And to put it under state control.

The proposed amendments thus sound the death knell of civil society.

That is, of course, is the ultimate aim. The Jubilants made it clear — starting with their campaign manifesto and continuing in vitriolic attacks in the social media.

These attacks have ranged from the conspiratorially ridiculous to the outright libellous.

In the Jubilants’ eyes, civil society is nothing but the self-hating tool of Northern/Western imperialism — or, in more recent versions, the unwitting channel for jihadi financing.

Which fails to disclose which imperialists or jihadis it is working for. Which is intent on bringing down every public institution that, in fact, civil society organisations are largely behind reforming.

And, most importantly, bringing down Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto through the ICC.

In the Jubilants’ understanding, a war is being fought. Between them and the West. Or, more recently, the jihadis. Through the supposed proxy of civil society. Which, clearly, has not a self-respecting bone in its body. Which, equally clearly, has no interest in any of the things it purports to uphold — like service delivery, democracy, human rights or transparency.

The Jubilants have had enough. They have seen through civil society’s disguise. They are putting an end to civil society. A la Ethiopia.

Those accounts show where funding comes from and where it goes. Most civil society organisations also publish their annual reports and audited accounts and put them up online.

The lack of independence argument is also untrue. Most civil society organisations negotiate contracts with grant-makers that operate within areas covered by internally-generated strategic and operational plans.

Common or shared interest — and mutual instrumentality — is the basis of such negotiations.

But truth has been a flexible and relative concept since the General Election and the Supreme Court judgment. Truth was the first casualty of the Jubilants’ war to uphold impunity. Through silencing any quarter from which critique could emerge. The media. Now civil society.

The regression continues. The fascism advances.

L. Muthoni Wanyeki is doing her postgraduate studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London