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Stronger Media-CSO Partnership will Protect Civic Liberties

July 3rd, 2020

Stakeholders at a forum convened by Kenya Correspondents’ (KCA) to review the civic space situation in Kenya have called for stronger partnership between the media and civil society sectors to protect the right to the enjoyment of civil liberties as provided for in the constitution.

The online meeting held on Friday July 3, 2020 reviewed the civic space situation in Kenya and expressed alarm at what the stakeholders said were “systematic effort” by the state to either violate citizens’ right to the enjoyment of civil liberties or failure to guarantee the enjoyment of those rights.

Speaking at the event, KCA Chairman William Oloo Janak said: “The civic space, including press freedom continues to be under severe strain, and has worsened with the enforcement of the Covid 19 health regulations.  We at KCA wish to call on the media and civil society organizations in Kenya and the region to work together on strategies to expand and safeguard the civic space and promote the enjoyment of civil liberties as enshrined in our national constitutions, regional and international instruments,”

Janak said KCA had launched an initiative to create opportunities to enhance the collaboration between the CSOs and the media to better defend civic space and help correct the emerging negative narratives and perceptions of civil society and the media in East Africa meant to undermine their role of holding the states, agencies and leaders accountable.

The President of the Civil Society Congress Morris Odhiambo led the forum in discussing the role of civil society in democratization and protection of civil liberties adding that the media and the CSOs had a responsibility to work together to safeguard public interest by protecting the civic space from being constrained.

Odhiambo said debate on civic space protection must take a broader regional view given the tendency by the states to borrow from one another negative practices and draconian laws that limited the rights of citizens in the region. 

Veteran journalist Kwamchetsi Makhoha discussed the role of the media in protecting civic space, which he said was increasingly being undermined by the focus on commercial interests at the expense of public good. He called for “a watchdog” for both the media and civil society sectors if they were to effectively discharge their public interest role of protecting the civic space.

The forum reviewed the civic space in the Covid19 period with regard to press freedom, police brutality freedom of assembly, expression, access to information, economic rights and social-cultural rights which participants said were increasingly being violated by the state and other actors.

The stakeholders called for robust CSO- Media joint interventions and the need to get more players from the two sectors on board the initiative and to win more champions committed to advocating for the protection of the civic space.

A number of speakers said the online space had become an important public arena for discussing important public issues.  Grace Githaiga, the Convener of an online forum, KICTAnet called for more participation of the media and CSOs in protecting the online space whenever the government other anti- freedom actors tried to introduce bad laws.

Janak said the initiative to enhance media –CSO collaboration will seek to bring in other actors from the East African region adding that similar forums were planned for Uganda and Tanzania within July to rally bigger efforts to protect the civic space in the region.

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The Covid-19 Containment Strategies: Where is the Citizen Voice?

The fight against the spread of the Coronavirus in Kenya, as in a number of East African countries, will not be won unless public participation and buy-in becomes is prioritised. For now, governments are imposing lockdowns and restrictions that borrow heavily from global Covid-19 hot spots with little or no local contextualization.

 The government measures are enforced by an overzealous police force that quite often violate civic liberties and freedoms. Some said the police “will beat you to death to save you from the Covid-19 pandemic”. Some people have been arrested because they were not wearing masks inside their cars – even if they were alone. Inside a car or a home are certainly private spaces that cannot be policed.

At a funeral in Eldama Ravine, a policeman threatened mourners to “spoil this thing for you” when he realized that onlookers were not observing social distancing rules. The family of the disease said they had no control over onlookers. One elder reminded the cop that they were conducting a funeral. They were not partying and there was nothing to “spoil” because death was an ultimate loss.

When the police killed three residents of Lessos, Nandi district, following an enforcement on mask wearing that went terribly wrong, a protester was heard asking: “who will die when I don’t wear a mask- the police or me?” That citizens felt that their rights were being violated- including the right to make bad choices-tells a lot about how risk and crisis were communicated to the public. All we see is tough talking government officials telling the people what the government wants them to do. We do not hear the citizen voice and view. Any wonder that people carry along masks but only wear them when they see the police? They shouldn’t be obey rules to avoid arrest but rather to safeguard their health.

Other than involving the citizens in decision making on Covid-19 strategies, there is need to train the police on how to “catch a virus”. The police do not observe social distancing when arresting those who violate measures on the pandemic. In addition, our view on prevention and managing of the pandemic needs to change. What we strive to achieve really is physical distancing and not social, political or economic distancing. Every effort therefore should be made to ensure the disruption to normal life is at the minimal. Perhaps people will take individual responsibility if government tells them all it wants to do is help them make the best of a bad situation.

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The Congress of African Journalists (CAJ) Launched

23rd June, 2020

The Congress of African Journalists (CAJ) has been launched to address the current challenging effects of COVID-19 on journalists in the course of their work. The challenges include the collateral impacts on press freedom, the safety of journalists and access to information. The Congress set-up an Interim Governing Council of six (6) members presided by Alexandre Niyungeko (President of Union of Burundi Journalists).

The Chairman of the Kenya Correspondents Association, Mr. William Oloo Janak, was elected the interim Secretary of the Congress of African Journalists (CAJ). The inaugural meeting to launch the Congress was hosted by the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) with the attendance of participants from Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Somalia, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, and Zimbabwe.

Other members of the Interim Governing Council consists of Foster Dongozi (Secretary General of Zimbabwe Union of Journalists) Vice-President, Patricia Adjissekou (Secretary General of Togo

Union of Independent Journalists) Treasurer; Christopher Isiguzo, (President of Nigeria Union of Journalists), and Aicha Ahmed Youssouf (President of Djibouti Union of the Press and Audiovisual).

  “On the launch of this Congress of African Journalists we commend all African journalists for their dedication to press freedom and access to information for the general public. We call on African Governments to empower the journalists and media organisations to do their work efficiently in this trying moment of COVID19.” said the Interim President of CAJ

Reports have noted that many journalists have fallen sick or died of COVID19, and others have been victimised in the course of their duties as essential workers in the frontline to inform the general public: “We condole with the victims and their families” the CAJ added.

The CAJ condemns all attacks on journalists, and calls for the release of all journalists in prison in Africa. The CAJ will continue to engage with all Governments, the African Union and partners in expanding freedom of expression and access to information for good governance and welfare of the people in Africa.

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ICJ COMMUNIQUE ON THE IMPACT OF COVID- 19 ON THE POOR AND VULNERABLE

WEDNESDAY 19, MAY 2020

Introduction  

  1. The Kenyan Section of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ Kenya) held the fifth in a series of webinars on the impact of Covid-19 on the poor and vulnerable in society. 
  • Over 100 people participated in the webinar while others followed the deliberations through social media and online streaming services including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. The participants were drawn from civil society, the private sector and the government.
  • The topic of the webinar was informed by the fact that the measures taken by the government to curb the spread of Covid-19, though necessary, have posed serious socio-economic challenges for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised in society. 
  • The panellists and participants discussed the following:
  • The role of the criminal justice sector in ensuring petty offenders are not exposed to Covid-19, and the justice needs of the poor and marginalised are prioritised;  
  • How the pandemic has affected the mental health of the poor and vulnerable; and
  • The ongoing disregard of economic and social rights of the poor and vulnerable by the government in the measures it has taken to mitigate Covid-19
  • Based on the extensive and highly interactive deliberations guided by thematic experts, the following resolutions were adopted:

A. To the Judiciary  

  1. Continue implementing the guidelines issued by the National Council on Administrative Justice (NCAJ) to ensure that criminal justice actors address the justice needs of the poor and vulnerable while ensuring citizens are not exposed to Covid-19. These measures include: the use of technology for the continued delivery of justice; review of bond and bail terms; prioritising non-custodial sentences such as community service orders, especially for cases relating to public health offences and breach of stipulated guidelines; and the withdrawal of cases under section 87(a) in instances where witnesses are not available;
  2. Encourage the use of open court spaces where possible to enable access to justice for all citizens while ensuring compliance with the Ministry of Health guidelines;
  3. Partner with relevant institutions to ensure courts in rural areas and in prisons are equipped with the necessary infrastructure to enable cases to be disposed of expeditiously;
  4. Put in place measures to secure the release of petty offenders from the detention centres;
  5. The Rent Tribunal to avoid issuing eviction orders for persons with rent arrears during this period and instead advocate for alternative amicable arrangements between landlord and tenant agreements.

B. To the National Council on Administration of Justice- Criminal Justice Committee

  1. Develop a mental health criminal justice policy which would inform justice actors on how to handle accused persons with mental disability;
  2. Put in place measures to provide psychosocial support to those released from detention centres; 
  3. Continue to advocate for the decriminalisation and reclassification of petty offences;
  4. Issue and publish relevant guidelines towards sustained prison decongestion;
  5. Develop sustainable measures for access to justice for all citizens in lieu of the fact that the pandemic may soon become an epidemic;
  6. Advocate for the uptake of technology by all justice actors to encourage expeditious disposal and case management. 

C. To the Senate of the Republic of Kenya

  1. Continue addressing challenges faced by the poor and marginalised in the five thematic areas identified by the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Covid-19 namely: health, economic and finance, public social order and human rights, access to food, water and basic commodities, and ICT;
  2. Continue oversight on the various ministries on the measures taken in addressing Covid-19;
  3. Advocate for coordination amongst national government and county government to ensure seamless utilisation of resources especially those targeted towards the alleviation of the suffering of the poor and the vulnerable;
  4. Continue seeking input from key stakeholders, particularly civil society organisations in developing laws and policies that prioritise the needs of the poor and the vulnerable;
  5. Develop or advocate for the development of social welfare policy for emergencies and pandemics;
  6. Desist from engaging in politics and instead focus on the development of sustainable solutions for the poor and the vulnerable;
  7. Use innovation and technology to create awareness on the laws and policies passed that safeguard the rights of all citizens;
  8. Invoke the oversight mandate of the Senate to summon the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government to explain the demolition exercise in Ruai, Kariobangi and other parts of the country. 

D. Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government   

  1. Put on hold the all demolitions and instead allow for dialogue between the parties to ensure that Kenyans are not rendered homeless and exposed to Covid-19;
  2. Observe and respect the rule of law by adhering to court orders issued by the Judiciary;
  3. Exercise transparency and accountability in the management of the Kazi Mtaani initiative wherein 26,000 youth have been engaged by the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government;
  4. Encourage vigilance in the distribution of the KES 1,000 fund per week to the 250,000 vulnerable households identified by the Members of County Assembly in the various counties through the nyumba kumi initiative.

E. Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services  

  1. Urge the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Labour to update the registers for Inua Jamii Initiative to ensure that elderly persons who qualify for the fund are included in the dissemination exercise;
  2. Urge the Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Labour to incorporate the use of cashless fund transfer to ensure that elderly persons who are vulnerable are able to access their monies without having to travel to banking halls;
  3. Ensure that the government stimulus package caters to persons in the formal and informal sector. As a Commission of Jurists, we have noted that the current package only benefits those employed in the formal sector;
  4. Review the social welfare register which is currently outdated and incorporate other classes of vulnerable persons;
  5. Provide safe houses and shelters for homeless persons who are affected by the demolitions and persons living on the streets. 

F. To the National Police Service

  1. Desist from detaining persons who are poor, vulnerable and marginalised;
  2. Sensitise police officers and county administrators on the appropriate way to handle persons living with psychosocial disabilities;
  3. Issue Bail and Bond in accordance to Article 49(1) (h) of the Constitution of Kenya and ensure that the bail terms issued are in tandem with the National Council on Administration of Justice (NCAJ) Guidelines during the Covid-19 pandemic period; 
  4. Desist from extorting, harassing and soliciting bribes from Kenyans who are seeking legitimate access to areas that are under lockdown;
  5. Put in place appropriate measures to allow for reporting and investigation of errant police officers who are acting in contravention to the National Police Standing orders. 

G. To the Ministry of Health  

  1. Ensure access to medical facilities for persons who have psychosocial disorders;
  2. Coordinate with the National Police Service/County Administration to ensure that registered health care professionals to give movement passes to persons in need of medical attention;
  3. Ensure access to dignity kits in the instances of gender-based violence;
  4. Create awareness on the existence of victim centres where persons may seek assistance within communities, especially those in lockdown and during curfew hours. 

ICJ Kenya Commits and undertakes to:

  1. Continuously assess the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights and freedoms with a view to ensuring that the highest protection of these rights are guaranteed and offered during the pandemic;
  2. Continuously advocate for decriminalisation and reclassification of petty offences;
  3. Engage with the criminal justice actors to advocate for the decongestion of detention centres; 
  4. Advocate for the strengthening of the legal aid service to ensure access to legal aid for the poor and the vulnerable;
  5. Engage with the Legislature to ensure human rights principles are factored into the development of law and policy;
  6. Advocate for legal services to be classified as essential services during this period.  

SIGNED

KELVIN MOGENI

ICJ KENYA CHAIRMAN

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Media COVID-19 Response Team Worries Over Press Freedom Violations

By Marion Gachuhi, KCA.

The Media Sector Response Team (MESERT), established by various media stakeholders on March 18, 2020in response to the Covid 19 pandemic, has been monitoring and coordinating safety responses for journalists during this challenging.

MESERT is made up of the following key media stakeholders: Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA), Media Council of Kenya (MCK), Association of Freelance Journalists (AFJ), Association of Media Women in Kenya (AMWIK), Digital Broadcasters Association (DBA), IREX Kenya, Kenya Editors’ Guild (KEG) and Kenya Union of Journalists (KUJ).

From the outset, MESERT made a number of recommendations to the office of the government spokesperson concerning media safety and practice in the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

The national government was urged to facilitate provision of live feeds to national and community media houses for public announcement, provide protective gear and other logistical supported for journalists.  The national government and Ministry of Health were urged to facilitate provision of official content on COVID-19 to media houses beyond advertising messages.

In light of the risks brought about by COVID-19, MESERT has made practical recommendations for media coverage.   They include doing a risk analysis before covering COVID-19 stories, disinfecting equipment such as microphones and cameras before and after use, canceling programs that require studio guests and audience presence and sending lean teams during live press conferences.  Journalists have also been advised to seek assistance if they detect and trauma symptoms related to COVID-19.

During this year’s World Press Freedom Day marked in May 3, 2020, under the theme:  ‘Journalism Without Fear or Favour’, media stakeholders focused on the pandemic through a series of activities and press statements.

On May 4, 2020, members of MESERT, along with other media stakeholders including UNESCO, participated in a webinar which attracted over 200 participants to mark the World Press Freedom Day.  The discussions focused on, among others, how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected journalists.

The participants reflected on the problems faced by the media sector since the pandemic emerged and how it had hit Kenya, what interventions had been made by various actors and other suggestions and action plans were proposed to address the challenges.

According to the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2020, Kenya ranked number 103 out of 180 which is a drop from number 96 in 2019. Norway is number 1 and North Korea is number 180 in this Index.

A press statement issued by media stakeholders on the day highlighted cases of press freedom violations, poor working conditions, nonpayment of salaries and wages, mass sackings and harassment of journalists, which had escalated in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The statement indicated that the Media Council of Kenya had, since January, documented 34 cases of harassment of journalists, most of them affecting journalists who were on duty during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was noted that cases of police harassment, intimidation, assault, and denial of access to information had increased. It was pointed out that some media managers were taking advantage of the pandemic to mishandle journalists and infringe their rights.

The statement said media stakeholders were concerned with rising cases of police brutality towards journalists and other forms of press freedom violations by the police and other actors, and had petitioned the Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai and the Director of Public Prosecutions Mr. Noordin Haji.

The stakeholders called on the government and development partners to consider providing a stimulus package in a bid to secure jobs for journalists as part of the frontline workers in the efforts to deal with the pandemic.

In addition, journalists and media houses were called to remain ethical and accountable while reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly by being factual to help debunking fake news and misinformation that was noted to be on the rise.

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ICPC Calls for More Proactive and Strategic Response to Covid-19

May 12, 2020

Nairobi Kenya, 

International Center for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) has been monitoring government activities in to response the Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya. We note that the government has no well-known comprehensive response strategy. Its response is dependent on impulse and wait attitude. It is not proactive and forward planning. Nobody knows what next step and what would inform that decision. This is making many Kenyans restless and anxious. Health measures taken like quarantine, curfews/lockdown and testing are seen more like security mission rather than health governance issue.  This has been exacerbated by deployment of force rather than civic education to the public.

The government has not kept the promise on mass testing, yet it is critical in determining the spread of the virus and designing effective response measures. There is very limited openness and transparency on the true budget and expenditure of resources on Covid-19. The government has adopted a “Harambee’ approach to funding Covid-19 response. This is very a weak and ineffective approach. Further, there are contradictory positions from within the Ministry of Health on budget expenditure. Nobody knows which budget has been allocated for what. This has raised grave concerns among Kenyans who are demanding open accountability. Nevertheless, the government needs to note that history shows that crises can also be times of political renewal, and stronger transparency and accountability which can strengthen the social contract.

Public money is being mobilized and diverted to fund Covid-19 emergency measures. The government needs to identify, approve, and implement emergency funding urgently. While unprecedented speed and magnitude of financial expenditure does not need to come at the expense of accountability, the risk of waste and misuse of public resources cannot be ignored. More so, the measures the government has taken so far and those to be taken later need to be cushioned on their impact on the economy.

The government policies and actions will determine how many lives are saved, how many people fall into poverty, and the shape of the society that emerges. These choices are too important to be made inexplicably and without public input, especially when inequality and perceived corruption have already undermined public trust in the government. Seek input and engage the public: Expand collaboration with civil society on monitoring the implementation of emergency and stimulus measures. Civil society can help governments conduct spot-checks to ensure that funding and services are reaching intended beneficiaries.

We note with concern that budget accountability systems have gaps even when they operate under less extreme conditions. The latest Open Budget Survey (OBS) finds that some of the weakest aspects of budget transparency and oversight are the ones that will be most critical for monitoring public resources during this emergency including disconnects between policies and budgets.

Whereas Covid-19 is a health crisis, it has severe social, economic and financial consequences to the livelihoods, incomes and jobs to millions of Kenyans. COVID poses a real challenge to the UN Sustainable Development Goal of ending poverty by 2030 because global poverty could increase for the first time since 1990 and, depending on the poverty line, such increase could represent a reversal of approximately a decade in the world’s progress in reducing poverty.

The government has not offered an appropriate plan to this dimension of the pandemic shock. In adapting to humans security Reponse to COVID-19 health and economic fallout, we are asking, what are the policy instruments necessary for the following?

a.      Strengthening the health systems to facilitate adequate transparent spending to prevent, detect, control, treat, and contain the virus; and guarantee health personnel all the necessary support they need for their own safety and doing their delicate work for the Kenyan people.

b.      The disruptions of supply chains for essentials by the Covid-19 pandemic are undeniable. This is health pandemic war. Government must offer concrete fiscal policies that will keep basic healthcare services, medical, food and retail supplies available during the corona virus pandemic

c.       Financial and relief measures on livelihood difficulties and access to basic services to majority of Kenyan people and their businesses that are devastatingly being ruined. Most goverments have avoided the route of money policy because it has little or no impact in solving the direct problems ordinary people are facing. People are directly concerned with would rent, food, loan payments holidays, medical care and personal security

d.      It is imperative government gives a clear health, fiscal and monetary continuity plan of the country during this uncertain corona virus pandemic period

In addition, the government should strengthen oversight during budget execution: Commit to having expedited auditing of emergency and stimulus funding, including extra-budgetary funding.  Accountability and oversight institutions must ensure that government is following transparency and openness rules, and publish and publicize reports and audit findings to the public as rapidly as possible so they can address government implementation issues during the response.

As the IMF Managing Director noted recently, exceptional times require exceptional action. Countries should focus on three priorities: Protect lives- That means countries should place health expenditures at the top of the priority list. Protect livelihoods- This means ensuring that the lifelines for households and businesses are available during this period of economic standstill. Most importantly, prepare for recovery. Countries should work with health professionals on planning the reopening they should also be ready for fiscal stimulus to lift demand and help the economy to come back. Once the current crisis subsides, countries will face unemployment and rising inequality, elevated debt levels and bankruptcies, so they must begin to put measures in place now to protect people against those challenges. The pace of economic recovery will depend on policies undertaken during this crisis. 

Finally, militarization of covid-19 in policing health guidelines has driven away Kenyans from cooperation and partnering with government. The use of quarantine as a quasi-legal penal environment especially for people who, even without the benefit of testing, are assumed to be infected because they were not wearing masks or were out after curfew hours, can fuel corruption in the security services enforcing these measures and also has the potential to undermine public sympathy for this measure. Quarantine should not be presented as detention, and responsibility for costs should lie with municipal and county authorities as provided for in law it times of public health crisis.

Thank you

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KENYAN CSOs CALL FOR INCLUSION, ACCOUNTABILITY IN COVID-19 RESPONSE

Suba Churchill, Convenor, Civil Society Organisations Reference Group -(CSO-RG)

Statement by Suba Churchill, 26th April, 2020

The Civil Society Reference Group calls for the inclusion of civil society actors and for greater accountability in the operations of the National Emergency Response Committee, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund Board, and any Post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategy that may be formed to regain economic ground lost as a result of the devastating effects of the pandemic.

The CSRG is concerned that both the national government and county governments have systematically excluded civil society actors in the national and county emergency response teams formed to combat the spread and mitigate the effects of COVID-19 pandemic.

It is ironic that the national and even county governments still find it difficult to incorporate NGOs and the wider civil society sector in their governance and development processes even as they continue to claim that the law has not been suspended when clamping on those who have breached curfew and other regulations put in place to mitigate the spread of the disease.

Article 10 of the Constitution provides for inclusivity and public participation among other national values and principles of governance yet both the national and county levels of government continue to proceed with the management of the COVID-19 situation without any regard to these essential values that are binding on the State, all State officers and public officers.

With the inclusion of only government and private sector actors in these bodies to be in charge of the enormous resources that have been mobilized for the purpose of containing the COVID-19 pandemic, exclusion of the civil society sector that has over the years served as the public watchdog on the management of such resources can only be construed to mean that there is no intent whatsoever for accountability in the management and disbursement of the public funds and other contributions from bilateral and multilateral sources to respond to the emergency.

In order to inspire public confidence and ensure greater transparency and accountability in the collection, storage and disbursement of any funds, material goods, and foodstuffs received, the CSRG calls on the government to establish as a matter of urgency a digital portal or platform that will enable ordinary citizens, the general public and their civil society formations to monitor and track the movement and use of such resources in the interest of transparency and accountability as contemplated in Article 10 of the Constitution.

It is not enough to publicly announce that over Kshs 40 billion has been used so far in the management of COVID-19 situation as the government did last week without making available any publicly verifiable evidence to back the claim and the public has every right and reason to doubt and treat such claims by the government with the biggest pinch of salt that their hands can hold because there is no oversight within the bodies that have been established to manage the resources and make decisions over their acquisition and appropriation.

Kshs 40 billion is not a small change that only representatives of the government and the private sector can spend without bothering to be accountable to the public and being more inclusive in the composition of the bodies charged with making crucial decisions on how to spend it.

And it is not that there is a shortage of credible public benefit organizations that can serve in such bodies at the national and county level. The only reason for their inclusion is that the national and county governments want to be as opaque as they have always been and avoid transparency and accountability at all costs even in light of their professed commitment to fighting corruption in the public spheres of life.

Were it not so, the national government would have easily thought of including such credible organizations as Transparency International – (TI) Kenya Chapter, International Budget Institute (IBI), and the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in the management of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund Board.

There are also a number of credible local and international NGOs working in the health sector that according to a report published by the government’s own sector regulator – the Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination Board on 28th January 2020, spent more than Kshs 13, 026, 111, 023.85 in the 2018/19 financial year on health-related services in the country. 

This report was launched by none other than the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government Dr. Fred Matiang’ i, further dispelling any notion out there that the government has no knowledge of these indisputable facts.

Indeed, among the key actors that made the significant contributions highlighted above are such organizations as World Vision Kenya Kshs 5, 937,281,718.00); Compassion International Kshs 4,090,505,263.23) GiveDirectly Kenya (Kshs 3,331,258,138.00); Centre for Health Solutions – Kenya (Kshs 2, 710, 532,946.00); AMREF Health Africa in Kenya (Kshs 2,651,726,999.91); African Academy of Sciences (Kshs 2,102,639,959.90); Plan International (Kshs 2,007,130,888.00); Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) (Kshs 1,808,408,610.00); Population Services Kenya (Kshs 1,706,673,003.00); Save the Children International – Kenya (Kshs 1,600,008,287.97); Family Health International – Kenya (Kshs 1,335,476,513.00) and Ima World Health (Kshs 1,169,396,602.00) among many others.

The CSRG is of the view that any number of representatives of these organizations can serve competently in the National Emergency Response Committee, the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, and any post-COVID-19 Recovery Strategy framework that may be formed to help the country regain lost ground in the health, education, and other social and economic spheres of life.

Signed by:

Suba Churchill

Presiding Convener

Civil Society Reference Group

E-mail: suba.churchill@civilsocietyrg.org

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Rights Coalition says Tanzanian Media Laws Violate Human Rights

Statement by THRDC

On the 3 rd of May every year, nations worldwide mark World Press Freedom Day. This is a special opportunity to raise awareness on the importance of press freedom and to remind governments around the world, their duty to respect and uphold the right to free expression and the right to information deeply embedded in the Regional and International Treaties. The theme for this year’s commemoration is “Journalism Without Fear or Favour”.

Internationally, the Press Freedom hinges on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which states; “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. These freedoms are also protected under Article 19 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and also other provisions of the Regional Human Rights Mechanisms including the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights.

While freedom of the Press is on paper guaranteed at regional, national and international levels, the situation on the ground often proves otherwise.

The constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, for instance, expressly states in Article 18, every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression of his ideas. The Constitution further states every person has the right to seek and disseminate information regardless of the national boundaries.

Although a free Press is considered an important pillar for democracy, journalists worldwide still face barriers that impede their work. In Tanzania, the government has over the years enacted numerous draconian laws that make it increasingly hard for journalists to freely operate without offending authorities.

These laws, including the Media Services Act of 2016, the Cybercrime Act of 2015, and the Electronic and Postal Communications (Online Content) Regulations (EPOCA) – 2017 not only infringe upon basic rights to information as spelled out in the constitution, but also instill fear among journalists.

For example, the Media Services Act, gives the minister responsible for information sweeping powers and the whim to suspend newspapers if he/she is of the opinion that they’ve contravened the law. These legal hurdles are an affront to Press Freedom and blatantly violate basic rights of journalists.

In its 2019 Situation of Human Rights Defenders Report (2019) the Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition (THRD) recorded 36 incidents of violations against journalists. The report highlights an increase of such rights violation incidents from 26 recorded in 2018.

With reference to this years’ theme of the World Press Freedom Day, responsible authorities must effectively address these challenges. Improvement of the situation will encourage journalism without fear or favour.

As the world commemorate the International Press Freedom Day on Sunday, 3rd  of May 2020, it is important to remind ourselves, about the looming danger posed by coronavirus pandemic (COVID -19), which took the entire world by surprise.

Ever since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the highly contagious disease a pandemic on 11th March 2020, there has been coordinated response among nations to deter the deadly disease. Some of immediate measures taken by states include travel ban, halting public engagements and observing social distancing.

Moreover, in an attempt to curb the disease, the states have used numerous laws to prevent circulation of fake news and information through online platforms and traditional media. These measures, in retrospect negatively affected citizen’s right to free expression as well as freedom of the Press.

As it is everywhere in the world Human Rights Defenders (HRDs), including Journalists in Tanzania face many challenges, in the course of fulfilling their duties due to COVID 19 pandemic. For example, most journalists are not well informed and often not fully equipped when gathering news in an environment where social distancing is highly encouraged.

Reports suggest, there are four major alarming civic space trends in relation to the measures taken against COVID – 19 Pandemic in the World such as: unjustified restrictions on access to information and censorship; detentions of activists for disseminating critical information; crackdowns on human rights defenders and media outlets; as well as violations of the right to privacy.

As the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic intensifies, the THRDC has recorded numerous incidents of violations against freedoms of opinion and expression. Some of these incidents include the arrest of six people including the arrest of 4 journalists who were reporting and giving their candid opinion about the pandemic, while 4 media outlets were stringently finned.

In line with WHO directives on principles of transparency, and accountability, these rights must be protected as we fight Covid-19. In addition to that, when responding to the concerns of the public the government is required to act in an effective, satisfactory, timely and transparent manner.

This will ensure that, the stakeholders and the general public have clear understanding of their specific roles. THRDC recommends the following:

i. To the government

The Government should continue to take appropriate steps to improve working environment for journalists at the same time guarantee media freedom.

It is important that the government makes relevant amendments to the Media Services Act, Access to Information Act, Cyber Crimes Act and the Online Content Regulations (EPOCA) in accordance with stakeholder’s recommendations and present them in the parliament, so that the Media fraternity to be properly regulated as per agreed international standards.

The Government should observe the highest degree of transparency, by frequently giving public information about the pandemic. Such a move will greatly discourage individuals who post false information in the social media. We advise the Government to do away with the current developing trend of arresting journalists and other individuals who give their opinion and challenge the way COVID-19 is being managed in Tanzania. It should be noted that, this is part of their duty in accordance with the principle of accountability currently being emphasized by the United Nations.

We advise the government to work on those constructive criticisms and fair opinion from active citizens and use them in the fight against COVID 19.

ii. To the media

As we take necessary precautions against COVID 19, the THRDC is calling upon journalists to take precaution exercise great care when reporting. Tanzania media houses should come up with a coherent news reporting strategy, while strictly observing proper self-regulation.

Editors and journalists must strictly adhere to professional ethics when reporting news about Covid -19.

iii. To the public

The public should strictly observe all the directives given by medical professionals and the government to stop further spread of the disease. The public should stop sharing fake information. They should instead responsibly use online media to mobilize use of best preventive mechanisms in accordance with the laws governing information sharing.

Issued on 3rd  May, 2020

By;

Signed

Onesmo Olengurumwa

National Coordinator

Tanzania Human Rights Defenders Coalition

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News & Updates

CSOs call for debt relief and transparency in fight against COVID-19

By Derick Ngaira (TISA)

Civil society organizations under the banner Okoa Uchumi Coalition today are urging the government to expedite the process of seeking debt relief and practice full transparency and accountability in the management and spending of all support received to assist in the fight against COVID-19.

This comes a day after Kenya received a Sh78.4 billion ($739 million) loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help cushion the economy from the fallout caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We wish to reiterate that transparency and accountability are key in ensuring that the existing emergency funds and the funding IMF is disbursing to Kenya goes to protecting the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable due to the pandemic,” reads a statement shared by the coalition.

With the National Treasury anticipating additional loan from World Bank to hit its target of Sh122.5 billion ($1.15 billion) to support virus-damaged economy, the CSOs want the government to use all means to protect and boost its limited resources to slow and stop the pandemic and avert economic collapse.

According to the group, outbreak of COVID-19 has come at a time when the economy of Kenya is extremely vulnerable due to high debt repayment demands. They now want the government to immediately make available additional financing through seeking further movement on debt relief.

“The government should formally request debt payment suspension to make use of the G20 agreement reached in April 2020. We also hope to see the IMF extend debt relief to Kenya through its Containment and Catastrophe Relief Trust which it has already granted relief to 25 countries with. The IMF should also support Kenya to discuss debt relief with the World Bank and other multilateral and private creditors which have not made any commitments yet,” the coalition notes.

The group also wants the government to ensure openness in contracting of emergency response activities. This they say will be through ensuring open contracting measures are adhered to by timely publishing procurement plans and notices—including the name of awarded companies and of beneficial owners.

And to ensure that the government’s cash transfer program benefits those in informal settlement and casual workers in the country, Okoa Uchumi Coalition has proposed triangulation of county level data sources including community health, county social services, county chiefs, village elders and local NGO’s/CBO’s.

“The status of household vulnerability should be closely monitored through the same community structures,” the CSOs add.

The Coalition has however warned that the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the economy would be severe as a result of “a depressed economic environment, historic underinvestment in the health sector, a large unsupported informal sector, high food prices and depleted strategic grain reserves, all exacerbated by the failure to curb corruption and financial mismanagement.”

Categories
News & Updates

Journalists Reporting Covid-19 Face Threats and Suppression

By Civicspace (TZ) Reporter

The Corona virus that caused Covid -19 disease is a global threat not only to the health and economy sector, but even to the media industry and political arena.

Journalists all over the world are facing new threats as they report corona virus pandemic that has killed more than 230,000,000 people globally.

African journalists, Tanzania in particular are increasingly harassed or threatened by security services and government officials while reporting the news during the Covid -19 era.

In Tanzania the Corona virus has led to threats and suppression of freedom of expression to the journalists, opposition politicians and human rights defenders when they report news or taking an action in combating this pandemic disease.

Some of them found themselves threatened or arrested by state organs on the condition that they take measures to control corona virus infections, thus affecting freedom of information and expression as stipulated in the article 18 of the Constitution of United Republic of Tanzania of 1977.

In accordance with the constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania, there are international treaties and regional treaties that protect freedom of expression that includes Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

Others are the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (1981) and Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa just to mention a few.

Among the press freedom violations issues linked to Covid -19 coverage is the arrest of famous advocates and human right defender Albart Msando, shortly after handing over protective gears including mask to the Arusha regional Press Club, Northern part of Tanzania.

The journalists in the country are among the group of people who are at risk to be infected with Corona virus due to poor working environment and most of them lack protective gears.

This is due to some of the employers do not want to buy corona viruses protective gears such as mask to their workers instead they want to buy it for themselves.

Speaking during the handing over the protective gears to the journalists in Arusha region, Advocates Msando said the situation is serious and called on member of the press to let the community know the truth on Covid-19 disease.

“Journalists you have no need to go back and afraid to tell the truth, if you fail to do that the whole nation would be destroyed, this is your chance, if you do not seek out the truth the disease will not go away easily. The first and most important weapon fighting Covid-19 is information,” said Msando.

The statements of Advocates Msando comes at a time when there is speculation that the government is hiding accurate statistics of people infected or dying with Covid -19 disease.

According to statistics released by Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa up to April 28 this year, 480 people have been infected with corona virus and 16 of them are dead.

There have also unconfirmed reports that the governments authorities secretly buried people died from the disease. Advocates Msando has been arrested by police on charges of making inflammatory remarks.

A part from that, on 30th April, this year the Chairperson of Journalists Workers of Tanzania (JOWUTA) and also Chairperson of Arusha regional Press Club Mr. Claud Gwandu was ordered to report police station in Arusha region with the connection of distribution of masks to the journalists.

Mr. Gwandu reported to the police in Arusha region where he was later told to go on with his duties.