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YASH GHAI: For civil societies to work freely, they need constitutional status

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Muhuri, one of the most distinguished and effective NGOs in Kenya, celebrated its 21 anniversary on Friday last week in Mombasa. This coincided with the International Day of Peace, giving the platform to the youth.

Ironically, as the world was celebrating peace, our police were doing the opposite. Their harassment of a young woman seeking help led to her death.

In addition, the police and the GSU were accused of arbitrarily arresting and torturing locals, ignoring basic procedures of criminal investigation, and complacency in responding to attacks.

Moreover, alleged interference from “above” is said to have prevented the police from seriously investigating several politicians, whose names were mentioned in connection with the violence. Their actions were completely outside the sphere of the law.

Muhuri was established by Muslim coastal activists, as Muslims were the principal victims of state brutality.

But their responsibility extended beyond Muslims: their title is Muslims for Human Rights, not Rights of Muslims. It was an excellent example of solidarity that some years later we tried to make the basis of a new constitution.

Read: What civil society can do to sustain Kenya’s democracy in 2018

STRATEGIES OF MUHURI

Muhuri’s approach has been very reflective, adjusting to changing circumstances, within its given values and empowering communities.

Since its inception, Muhuri has played a critical role in protecting people’s rights, a form of self-reliance since their enemies were officers of the state. Maintaining the rule of law became one of its leading tasks.

The rights group has over the years responded to the changing circumstances. It became active politically from 2005 and fought for a fair and human-oriented political system.

Muhuri has responded to the needs of the time through various policies. The protection of Muslims remains a major issue but there are others as well, such as the environment, political and economic reforms. A particular concern, common with other organisations, is human rights.

At inception, Muhuri’s objectives included promoting human rights awareness and growth of a human rights culture; empower individuals and communities to advocate and mobilise for their inherent rights in all spheres of life; empower people and finding avenues of moving them to the centre of the struggle for a democratic and human rights culture, and promoting awareness on gender issues and equality.

 In recent years, Muhuri has demanded accountability for violence against, and indeed killing of, Muslim youth. The government harasses Muhuri on the pretext that it is prompting young Muslims to violence.

What the government does not realise is that it is sustaining the threat of terrorism by alienating communities that provide a fertile ground for radicalisation and the so-called ‘self-defence’ among youths. 

It is antagonising locals through the war on terror, police brutality, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and execution of returnees who have surrendered to government agencies.

Muhuri is not only about the human rights of Muslims; it is about the rights of all Kenyans, as their work, which includes litigation, shows. I suspect that on the pretext that Muhuri is an Islamic organisation, it has been subjected to greater harassment than most NGOs.

For a period it was banned and its assets confiscated, without an iota of violation of the law, as the judiciary discovered. The harassment of Muhuri was obvious.

Justice Emulu, in dismissing charges including from the Inspector General, said citizens (the ruled) and the rulers or governors are subject to the constitution and the rule of law. He said the fight against terrorism must be conducted in strict adherence to the letter and spirit of the constitution, and the law was made for man, and not man for law”.

Read: Stop repressing civil societies in Kenya, HRW tells government

STATUS OF NGOs

This decision and several others (some involving Katiba Institute), which aim to disable or at least harass an NGO without the least bit of evidence or law, often remind me of my proposal as chair of the CKRC.

I proposed that our new constitution recognise civil societies of the kind we call here NGOs, by giving them a constitutional status with which they should be free to conduct their work.

They should not be subject to petty officers, as several NGOs (including Muhiri and Katiba Institute) have experienced in recent months, sometimes informing them of charges well after the media have been told and shortly before we have to go the state office.

My inspiration for a constitutional recognition of NGOs came from my study of the constitution of the Philippines after the overthrow of its long-time dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. In fact, by chance, I was in Manila and was allowed to observe the proceeding of the Constituent Assembly when it adopted the chapter on civil society organisations, which had played the principal rule in overthrowing Marcos.

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In Kenya, too, civil society organisations, led among others by Willy Mutunga, were instrumental in the fight for a democratic constitution, which we adopted in 2010. Unfortunately my proposal was knocked out in Bomas without a proper discussion. The lack of a constitutional status (after following appropriate rules) has opened NGOs to considerable inconvenience, if not dissolution.

On another matter, the absence of a constitutional status for NGOs is to some extent compensated by other provisions of the constitution: an extensive bill of rights, and mode of its implementation, people’s participation, independent commissions, and strong role for the judiciary.

Muhuri has been one of the strongest champions of human rights. Perhaps it is thanks to its lobbying for human rights that the CKRC/Bomas draft provided such an extensive and strong Bill of Rights, one many experts rate as the best in the world.

It is not merely, as our previous constitutions, a list of human rights. The constitution provides the rationale for human rights, defines the duties of state institutions to promote human rights, the rules for the (liberal) interpretation of human rights by the judiciary and other state institutions and indeed the public.

The range of human and group rights is enormous. While there is wide respect for human rights, the government, particularly President Uhuru Kenyatta, has shown what amounts to contempt and disregard for rights.

Many cases on human rights are due to his obstinacy and intolerance. Perhaps it is because of the orientation of Muhuri and Katiba Institute towards human rights that they have found themselves in courts — with good results.                                                               

DISCUSSIONS IN MOMBASA

The 21st anniversary came at a moment when there is much commotion and anxiety among Kenyans — handshake and all that. Participants came from various parts of Kenya and had differing interests in the state of the nation, but largely agreed on their broad outlook of pessimism.

They cited acute inequality, a dangerous police force (though some police members were present and welcome), a declining economy, and continued corruption among politicians, public servants and the business community.

Attention turned to the constitution — how far is our failure as a people and a nation (and to meet our promises to women and children) due to weaknesses in it. Lack of respect for the constitution by national and most county governments was noted as a major cause of our crises.

Politicians showed little interest in the welfare of the people, merely their own greed. The great contempt of politicians, particularly of this government, was evident when news broke of how the state had managed to push through the vote for the much-criticised tax legislation. It was done through pure deceit, with the assistance of the speaker and its chief spokesperson.

Many, for the above reasons, thought we have not really fully used the possibilities of the constitution. People should analyse it to understand the authority it gives them. Otherwise, the constitution would be eroded.

I drew attention to the deliberations of Dialogue Reference Group, a largely religious group and some civil society members, for an assessment of the practice and record of the government. Its report, which is worth reading, constituted a huge condemnation of the government.

More on this: Fazul bans Kura Yangu, We The People over Sh36m from Soros Foundation

I entirely agreed with its critique of the government for its obvious telling of lies and unwillingness to make any real change. There are seven major themes, all critical of the government: economic recovery, corruption, constitutional and legal reforms, electoral reform, security reforms, strengthening devolution, and national cohesion (which I would have put first).

I agreed with a substantial part of its analysis, but not its proposal for amending the constitution. It is somewhat naïve, following naïve but self-centred politicians. The constitution does need amendments, but of a different kind than effectively some politicians have cooked up.

My concluding points were that the issues identified by the Reference Group were important but the approach we need is broader. A real challenge is to the civil society, primarily through its NGOs, as a nationwide enterprise. The civil society has to meet and discuss the problems faced and strategies needed, and co-operate across the country.

I believe we are entering a period when the civil society has to play a key role, in conjunction with its various organisations. Joint action by them is critical. Here is yet another of many challenges that Muhiri has faced over 21 years, and has won.

Also read: ODM condemns NGOs crackdown, blames ‘dictatorial’ Jubilee

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Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard

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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.

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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.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
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.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
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.

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Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard

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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.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow

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Drastic life changes affecting mental health

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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.

KBC Radio_KICD Timetable

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.

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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.

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