Shrinking Civic and Democratic Space

The shrinking civic and democratic space has become a major governance issue for the civil society and other independent voices and actors, at all levels in the society. Government harassment of independent organizations is as old as the state system itself, but this wave of targeting has a twenty-first century twist.

Specifically, as citizens find new ways to organize, assemble and express themselves through the use of affordable technology, governments have found new ways to restrict public political space, suppress information, and label anything that they do not like as “foreign”

It is on this basis that the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL), Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice (KPTJ), and Civil Society Reference Group (CS-RG), co-convened the National Civil Society Leaders which drew participants from different sub-sectors to cross pollinate ideas, perspectives and strategies for reclaiming and expanding civic spaces.

Some bad tactics used by State to shrink civic spaces include:

  • Burdensome registration requirements for civic actors and registration restrictions
  • Restricting financing from foreign sources
  • Harassment of staff and partners, arrests and intimidation during outreach activities
  • Censorship, clampdowns and de-registration
  • Specific targeting to individuals for extortion, arrests and brutalization
  • Challenges in obtaining work permits and visas, challenges of in country registration of international agencies
  • Disproportionate penalties for non-compliance with regulatory laws
  • Difficulty in getting approvals from governments especially for RBA programmes as compared to humanitarian programmes
  • Undue surveillance by security forces
  • Limited government consultation with respect to policy development
  • Intimidation and targeting individual activists
  • Restrictions on online access and spaces
  • Banning or criminalization of protests and other forms of picketing, limiting citizen’s ability to organize and demonstrate
  • Severe reporting requirements with penalty for failure
  • Requirements to declare the identity of donors
  • Broad discretion to seize assets on suspicion of terrorism financing