EA govts using punitive laws to rein in civil society, gravely hurting democracy

Nearly all governments in East Africa have enacted punitive laws targeting the civic space over the past decade, a squeezing people’s freedoms and curtailing human-rights in the region, a newly published report says.

Freedom House, the Washington-based democracy watchdog, says the measures, mostly targeting non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that augment government services in most desperate situations, have systematically curtailed people’s freedoms and democracy in the region.

The report singles out Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda, South Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia before the advent of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan and Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt as countries that have since 2010 passed legislation to curtail NGO activities with disastrous consequences on civic freedoms.

Kenya is listed among countries that unsuccessfully tried to curtail the activities of NGOs through legislation.

The Freedom House report reckons that restrictions on NGOs have significantly weakened the capacity of organised civil society and citizens to hold governments to account and to protect human rights, resulting in bad governance and poor quality of life for ordinary citizens.

“Most anti-NGO legislation and policies have not only curtailed the delivery of critical services in the civic space but also violated human-rights commitments these countries made as part of global treaties,” said Dr Godfrey Musila, who co-authored the report for Freedom House.


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