Kenya’s government have introduced a Bill that, if passed will cap the amount of foreign funds some not-for-profit organisations can receive at 15% of income.
The Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2013, published on October 30, will make amendments to The Public Benefits Organizations Act 2012 to restrict access to foreign funds for not for profit organisations. International commentators have expressed concerns about the potential chilling impact that this could have on the sustainability of Kenya’s vibrant civil society.
That such a policy is being proposed in Kenya is hugely saddening for those who believe that a strong civil society has the power to transform society through tackling complex problems and by holding governments to account. Kenya has a strong culture of charitable giving and community action with the concept of ‘harambee’ resonating strongly with the public. The appearance of Kenya in the upper third of the World Giving Index for overall giving score (donating money, volunteering and helping a stranger) demonstrates the generosity of Kenyans in spite of Kenya’s relatively low level of economic development and highlights the potential for the future growth of domestic charitable giving. Restricting foreign funding at this stage risks pulling away a supporting arm before the not-for-profit sector has become steady on its feet.
Kenya’s 6,500+ ‘Non-Governmental Organisations’ and 70,000+ ‘societies’ help to knit together a diverse and at complex cultural and ethnic nation. This is particularly important in a country of multiple ethnic groups religious beliefs. The crisis following president Uhuru Kenyatta’s election in late 2007 reveals the fragility of the peace in Kenya. It is perhaps this instability – further fuelled by the prospect of Mr Kenyatta being brought to trial by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity as well as the recent and shocking terrorist attack at the Westgate mall – that is fuelling the governments desire to restrict the voice of those questioning the efficacy and legitimacy of its rule.
This reading of the governments motivations for the Bill is strengthened when viewed in context with wider attempts to silence criticism. The introduction of The Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill 2013 on November 1 which would impose “draconian” restrictions on print and broadcast media, according to Cyrus Kamau, managing director for Capital Group, home to Capital FM.
But the idea that marginalising civil society and suppressing public criticism can help to strengthen the sovereignty of government rest on a false logic. As I point out in my recent blog ‘What drives the global crackdown on foreign funding for not-for-profit organisations?‘ some of the most stable governments in the world are those with the most progressive and permissive policies which encourage engagement in civil society and charitable giving. Nevertheless, the global trend for governments to restrict foreign funding for not-for-profit orgnaisations is beginning to look like an epidemic.
But if the Kenyan government thought that The Miscellaneous Amendment Bill 2013 would quell the disquiet of civil society then they may have made a miscalculation as not-for-profit organisations seem prepared to challenge the Bill head on.
“The court option is one of them but we will also resort to what we are known for, we are so good at mobilizing the public… nobody beats us when it comes to mass action. So we will resort to all those actions to ensure that this bill doesn’t become law,”
Suba Churchill, speaking on behalf of the CBO Reference Group
A central concern of the Future World Giving project is that governments help to build trust in not-for-profit organisations. However, as our upcoming report, ‘Building Trust in Charitable Giving’ shows, that relationship is actually mutually beneficial as when civil society is able to hold government to account, that helps to legitimise the decision making process. Strong governments do not fear criticism, they welcome it.