Kenya Police and Kenya Defence Forces have been put on the spot for alleged harassment and intimidation of environmental rights activities in Lamu County.
A report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the National Coalition of Human Rights Defenders-Kenya (NCHRDK) on Monday shows that at least 35 activists campaigning against the region’s mega infrastructure and transport projects have faced threats, beatings, arbitrary arrests, and detentions.
The report dubbed describes the context for activism around the Sh2.5 trillion Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) Corridor project and other associated development projects and documents obstacles activists face in speaking out publicly about their concerns.
Mr Otsieno Namwaya, who is the Africa Researcher at HRW, called on the Kenyan authorities to focus on addressing the environmental and health concerns relating to the Lapsset development project instead of harassing the activists who raise the issues.
“Silencing activists isn’t going to resolve the concerns over whether the government plans are going to harm the environment and the people living there,” said Mr Namwaya.
In May and August 2018, HRW documented incidents of harassment, intimidation, and other abuses against at least 35 activists over the past five years.
In many cases, activists were arrested or detained in connection with their activism, then released without being charged.
In other incidents, security forces have broken up protests, restricted public meetings and threatened, arrested, and prosecuted activists on various charges.
In at least 15 instances, police accused activists of having links or being sympathetic to Al-Shabaab, a Somalia-based militant Islamist group.
This was especially common between 2013 and 2016, amid increased government surveillance and crackdowns on rights organisations and activists in regions with predominantly Muslim populations.
“The government brands activists who speak against the project as terrorist. They arrest, detain, and even interrogate activists in a bid to intimidate them,” said a 32-year-old teacher at the forefront of organising community meetings on the environmental effects of Lapsset.
As the Kenyan government moves ahead with implementation of the Lamu Port project, communities in the Coast and organisations supporting them have become increasingly vocal about the adverse health and environmental impacts of the projects.
They have campaigned especially loudly against a planned Sh200 billion coal-fired power plant intended to be established at Kwasasi village in Hindi, Lamu West, saying such a venture will pollute the air and water, affecting the livelihoods of local communities.
The activists say that the plant will emit smoke that contains hazardous particulate matter, discharge waste effluents into the sea that could kill fish and other sea animals, and further emit coal dust that poses serious health risks, including cancer, to people who live nearby.
They also worry the port construction is destroying mangrove forests and breeding grounds for fish and other marine animals.
The activists have further expressed concerns over the government’s taking of farmland, with most of it yet to result in compensation, risks of water pollution from waste discharge, and climate change brought about by greenhouse gas emissions.
A 34-year-old activist advocating public participation in decision-making for the project said he was arrested in October 2015 in the village of Ndau, by about 10 Criminal Investigations officers. They took him to the sub-county commissioner’s office, where he was detained for a few hours.
“Police then told me to stop opposing government projects because they were meant to benefit us,” he said.
HRW and the NCHRDK insist the need for the Kenyan authorities to take concrete steps to uphold freedom of expression, assembly, and association, and to uphold international standards for ensuring human rights in the context of development.
NCHRDK executive director Kamau Ngugi termed the government’s response to Lamu activists as a test case for Kenya to uphold and protect rights in the context of large-scale development projects.
“Kenyan authorities have an obligation to respect the role of activists and to uphold the rights outlined in international treaties,” said Mr Ngugi.
Meanwhile, Lamu activists have sworn to carry on with their campaigns of protecting human rights and the environment at large.
Speaking at the Lamu Tushauriane Hall shortly after the report was released, Save Lamu Secretary-General Ahmed Walid termed the report as truthful.
Mr Walid who has been at the forefront in campaigning against the intended coal plant said the Lamu security has created a boundary between them and the activists in a move to silence them.
“The report is very genuine and truthful. The security department here has made all efforts to make our work difficult. They have gone ahead to deny us rights to hold meetings across the county. They have branded us as enemies of development which is contrary to our objective which is to defend the rights of both humans and the environment. We will not relent,” said Mr Walid.
Human Rights Defender 2018 award winner Is’haq Khatib, who is also the executive director of the Lamu Coastal Indigenous People’s Rights for Development, accused the Lamu security team of deliberately plotting and setting out to kill activism in the region.
“Our focus is to ensure the rights of people are protected. We are as well focused on ensuring the government sets up clean energy projects and not the intended coal plant,” Mr Khatib.
On May 25 this year, Mr Walid and Mr Khatib were arrested by police for leading anti-coal demos in Lamu town.
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
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Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
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Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
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Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.