Dispersal of protests continues to be a major challenge to peaceful assembly


On 14th February 2019, the High Court in Kenya sentenced to death a senior policeman who killed a suspect by severely beating him whilst he was in custody six years ago. Such a conviction is extremely rare, despite the fact that human rights organisations have documented hundreds of cases of brutality and killings carried out by Kenyan police.

On 27th February 2019, a vote intended to guarantee Kenyan women more seats in Parliament flopped because a lack of quorum. The motion was "lost" after only 174 Members of Parliament turned up for the vote, short of the 233 required for any constitutional amendment. The bill provides for extra places for women Members of Parliament, in line with the 2010 Constitution which states that "not more than two-thirds of the members of elective public bodies shall be of the same gender.” This is the fourth time an attempt to pass the law to address the gender imbalance in the Kenyan Parliament has failed.

Peaceful Assembly

On 30th April 2019, police lobbed teargas to disperse protestors who had converged at Nairobi’s Uhuru park to protest against the country’s escalating corruption problem. The activists, dubbed ‘the red movement’ were dispersed as they attempted to leave the park and march to the president’s office building in Harambee house and the parliament building, both situated in the city's central business district. The security officers had warned the protesters to restrict their protest to the park, with the officer commanding Nairobi's central police station Simon Kerich saying “there will be no marching outside Uhuru Park.”

In March 2019, a bill to amend the Public Order Act was introduced in the Kenyan National Assembly. The Public Order Act Amendment Bill 2019 is essentially intended to make provisions for organisers of public meetings or public processions leading to loss of property, life or earnings to take responsibility for the loss and compensate the affected persons. While there is general consensus that the Public Order Act 1950 needs to be amended substantially or replaced by a new law, the new bill seeks to further restrict holding of protests and to unduly punish convenors of protests instead of calling on police to carry out their role to facilitate peaceful protests. The Public order Act has been criticised by activists for unduly restricting the right to peaceful assembly, as some of its provisions have been interpreted by security officers to restrict freedom of assembly. A good case in point is section 5 of the Act which requires protest organisers to notify the police about an intended protest, has normally been interpreted by the police to mean that protesters must receive approval once they notify the police before proceeding to hold the protest.

On 11th February 2019, governor Muthomi Njuki of Tharaka-Nithi County was called out by a group of Kenyan women who claimed that he had insulted women. The women who marched to his office accused Njuki of demeaning and painting a negative picture of women in most of his public spaces and demanded that he withdraw and apologise failure to which they would continue protesting. They presented their grievances to the county chief of staff as the governor was not in his office at the time.

On 13th February 2019, a magistrate court found five top police commanders liable for the death of a six-month old baby girl during August 2017 post-election violence in Western Kenya. Anti-riot police had been deployed to the region to quell protests after President Uhuru Kenyatta was announced the winner of the country's presidential election. Witnesses said anti-riot police stormed into the home of Joseph Abanja and Lencer Achieng in the town of Nyalenda and clobbered baby Samantha on the head. She died while undergoing medical treatment.

On 6th May 2019, Kenya’s Paralympics team held a sit-down protest along the busy Thika Superhighway, blocking off a section of the road. The team which had participated in the fourth International Athletics Meeting held in Marrakech, Morocco from the April 23rd-27th 2019, was protesting the failure by the government to pay the allowances accruing from the trip amounting to about USD 800 per person. A week earlier, on 2nd May, the team staged a similar protest along the same road. A video that angered many Kenyans made rounds on social media showing police officers forcefully dispersing the protesters some of who were in wheel chairs and crutches.

In a similar incident, on 10th May 2019, police officers used teargas to disperse refugees who had been camping for months outside the United Nations High Commissioner’s office in Nairobi. The refugees were protesting against unpaid monthly allowances by the commissioner’s office, which they said had been ignoring their plight.