Government must respect freedom of expression, abandon targeting voice of critical mass
On Sunday, January 30, 2022, an individual who identified himself as a police officer working at the Coast regional commander’s office, by the name Njiru, summoned Khelef Khalifa to the Coast Police headquarters.
The said individual confessed that he was acting on the instruction of his superior, the regional commander, who wanted Khalifa to surrender to the Coast police headquarters immediately in connection with remarks he made during the launch of the Angaza Movement in Mombasa last Tuesday. Since Khalifa was out of town, he could only present himself today in the company of his friends and colleagues.
On January 25, 2022, Khalifa, who is the Board Chairman of Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI)—an anchor member of the Angaza Movement—spoke with candour and clarity at Tononoka Social Hall, Mombasa, in the hearing of many distinguished citizens, including civil society leaders and the county commissioner. He enumerated numerous state-sponsored injustices residents of the Coast region have endured—from economic sabotage, misrepresentation, and insecurity to imposition of an alien culture. These disparities and marginalization worsened under the Jubilee regime.
Specifically, Khalifa questioned the transfer of port services from Mombasa to Nairobi and Naivasha, through directives that the courts have since declared illegal. In this context, Khalifa addressed the continued official policy of strangulating the region’s economy with impunity. The operation of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) freight train propped up by official fiat to upcountry stations, has undermined Mombasa place as an economic hub.
Is it not true that Mombasa County’s revenues have grossly deteriorated after the directives to move cargo to the SGR freight train? While other state corporations and farmers from Central, Rift Valley, and Western are receiving bailouts for mismanagement, no help or assistance has been extended to cashew nuts farmers and factories, or fisherfolks at the Coast.
Is it not true that the composition of the security command in Lamu has been skewed in favour of one ethnic community? Kenya’s history is replete with evidence of the undeniable link between the deployment of the security apparatus to voter manipulation. The same pattern is being witnessed in Lamu. Local politics has been securitised and the outcome appears pre-determined, in violation and negation of the constitutional requirements of a free, fair, credible, and verifiable election. The deployment of security, seemingly from one region, has increased the distrust of Lamu residents for the security systems.
Isn’t it true that the national government is perpetuating neocolonialism in Mombasa by naming a park after Mama Ngina? The public space so misnamed has an original name that residents know it by and want to be restored. The park has been refurbished at taxpayers’ expense, but the local population can’t have a say on what name it should get when the constitution recognizes culture as a pillar of our democracy and public participation as a requirement in conducting public affairs.
We, the Anagaza Movement, endorse Khalifa’s statement. And vehemently reject and strongly condemn this and any other attempts to silence truth and intimidate the voices that carry it. Such attempts have no place in our constitutional or legal order.
Khalifa spoke the truth, and it makes some individuals and interests uncomfortable and unhappy. We remind them that his remarks are factual and within his constitutional rights. We see the state’s actions, through the Coast regional commander’s office, as an attempt to deflect attention from the real issues affecting Coast residents, and their impact on the outcome of the next election.
The Angaza Movement was launched to foster electoral integrity and transform the country’s political leadership. We achieve this by, for example, providing platforms, like the one at Tononoka Social Hall, where residents speak their truth. They make conscience-pricking statements to aid understanding of political dynamics, allowing informed voting. We commend and encourage constitutional and political dialogues such as what Khalifa triggered because we are a democracy.
Khalifa raised pertinent issues that explained Jubilee’s failures, and why voters don’t see change coming through the ballot. Our expectation of the government is a response that addresses these concerns one by one.
We see through the naked attempt to abuse state power using nuisance summonses and urge the Coast regional commander’s office—as well as other police elsewhere in the country—to work independently, per the law, without being politically captured.
No citizen should be gagged from speaking the truth. Our Constitution guarantees that right. More voices like Khalifa’s will emerge. This government must respect freedom of expression and abandon targeting the voice of a critical mass, whose momentum can only surge.
Signed by; Marie Ramtu, Director, Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI).
On behalf of:
Haki Yetu Organization
Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
Journalists for Justice
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-Kenya)
The Community Advocacy and Awareness (CRAWN) Trust
Ni Sisi Ltd