On February 11th 2021, the National Assembly shot down the Public Order Bill, 2019 that was sponsored by Ruiru Member of Parliament, Hon Simon King’ara. The proposal sought to amend the Public Order Act to make a provision for organizers of public meetings or public procession leading to loss of property, life or earnings to take responsibility for the loss and compensate the affected persons.
While moving that the bill be read a second time, Hon. King’ara informed the house that the government incurred a loss of Ksh 700 billion during the 2017 post-election demonstrations, therefore, urging his fellow legislators to pass the bill to restore sanity even as members of the public exercise their right to picket as provided for in Article 37 of the Constitution. On the other hand, the seconder of the bill, Nominated Members – Hon. David Ole Sankok, highlighted the plight of persons living with disability (PWDs) during demos as he tried convincing the house to curb the chaotic protests that are especially witnessed after a hotly contested election as was the case in 2007, 2013 and 2017.
This alone, however, could not convince their colleagues to pass the law that threatened to claw-back on the gains made on the civic and human rights of Kenyans. To ask that organizers shoulder the burden of ensuring no damages are caused during demos would present a loophole that rival groups can use and abuse. Take for instance the recent claims made by former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko about certain groups within his party posing as NASA protesters and in turn causing damage. Had this law existed then, innocent NASA protesters would have unfortunately been victimized for a crime they had not committed.
Secondly, the mandate to protect property and life is one that sits with the Kenyan Police not organizers of demos. This bill brought in an element of fear that would see Kenyans shy away from heading to the streets whenever they want to air their grievances despite the existence of a robust law that encourages freedom of speech.
Furthermore, the sentiments shared by the mover and seconder gave the impression that the law was politically motivated and targeted a particular political affiliation. Lawmakers should refrain from making laws that are only self-serving and seek to settle political scores. Minority Leader, Hon. John Mbadi warned against such moves and urged members to think of the future as law-making is done for posterity and not because one sits a point of great advantage in the political space at any given moment.
Considering that we are about to head into the campaign and subsequently, the election period, legislators should exercise caution in proposing laws that would come back and bite them. A law that violates the rights of one Kenyan threatens to violate the rights of another regardless of status, gender, age, race and political grouping. The civic society is calling on politicians to exercise wisdom in serving Kenyans and to be the leading defenders of the Constitution.