Many times leaders forget that the Constitution is the law on land that guides our nation and dictates the conduct of her population. Recently we’ve witnessed the law being bent and twisted to drive the personal agenda of a few, and the Rule of Law being applied subjectively. Our current political climate explains why we hold on dearly to the Bill of Rights that grants us the freedom of expression, freedom of association and assembly, demonstration, picketing and petition that have become our line of defense. If we stay silent, carefree leaders could eventually strip us off our rights and they would get away with anything.
However, there’s comfort in knowing that there are a few who still press on and fight fiercely against ills. But before anyone thinks of rallying other Kenyans and swarming the streets, they need to take a step back and process the Public Order (Amendment) Bill 2019 that was recently open for views from the Public. If passed into law, it will grossly undermine Kenyans right to picket given the stringent measures it proposes. Sponsored by Ruiru MP, Simon King’ara, the Bill proposes stiff penalties on organizers if their public meetings or public processions lead to loss of property or life.
The public’s right to protest is enshrined in Article 37 of the constitution thus the Public Order (Amendment) Bill not only threatens the rights and freedoms of citizens but also shrinks the civic space that is at the forefront of fighting for a better nation. The Bill does not take into consideration factors like goons who may not be affiliated with the protesting group that take advantage of the situation to cause harm. Moreover, this particular bill shifts the responsibility of the police to provide security to aggrieved citizens. This becomes an unfair means to penalize harmless protesters armed with a good cause. Especially knowing that goons are hired to trigger disorder and violence during protests, the bill disregards the real problem.
National Assembly had begun debates on a motion to compel the government to set aside areas in Kenya’s three biggest cities for the public to demonstrate and picket as provided for in the Constitution. Yet, limiting protests to Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu would be assuming that people from other regions of Kenya wouldn’t want to use this avenue to express their grievances. It also makes the subtle assumption that only those that live in the three mentioned cities can exercise their constitutional right to picket.
We need to be vigilant of retrogressive Bills that threaten our freedom of expression since silencing whistleblowers presents the corrupt an opportunity to steal right from under our noses. If the dropping of Kenya’s press freedom ranking from 96 to 100 isn’t enough cause for alarm then this Bill should be fought at all costs. We cannot afford to have the media, activist groups and citizens gagged while the country goes to the dogs. We cannot afford to have activists like Boniface Mwangi randomly arrested whenever someone in a high position feels ‘threatened’.
We know that corruption fights back and we need the freedom to fight even harder to protect our nation from a few bad apples.