November 16, 2013

East African nations sliding back to dictatorships, lawyers warn

By David Ochami

Lawyer organisations in East Africa have warned that East African countries and Ethiopia are descending into dictatorships that seek to curtail basic constitutional freedoms including the right of the media and civil society to operate unhindered.

They cited the recent passing of oppressive laws against the media and attempts to legislate against civil society in Kenya, raids on media in Uganda and shutdown of newspapers in Tanzania to illustrate alleged evidence of receding freedoms.

“We seem to be depleting the democratic gains we have been making,” said Law Society of Kenya chairman Eric Mutua in a key note speech where he also accused East African regimes of targeting the media and embarking on a “conspiracy not to democratise these countries.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta skipped the opening of the 18th annual conference of the East Africa Law Society (EALS) in Mombasa yesterday where he was to be the main speaker.

Investment opportunities

Delegates from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Ethiopia are attending the conference which among other issues will discuss constitutionalism and democracy in East Africa, lawyers’ ethics, relations among the bar, bar and executive, transparency in business.

The lawyers also intend to discuss investment opportunities in the oil and gas sectors in the region and plot how to benefit from this. The president sent his advisor on constitutional and legal affairs Mohamed Abdikadir to defend his record and tried to portray him as “a foremost believer in the rule of law” and the integration of the East African.

But the Law Society of Kenya and EALS was unrelenting in spite of Uhuru’s absence and insisted that the president and the Kenyan state have joined a trend of dictatorship they alleged has been gathering storm in the region.

New restrictions

The LSK chairman and EALS President James Mwamu said there seems to be a conspiracy by the governments in the region to impose new restrictions using similar repressive laws imposed or passed simultaneously or separately.

Mwamu warned that the regime of laws adopted by Kenya’s Parliament, the Kenyan state and its neighbours imply a reversal of freedoms and constitution that will transform the region into a rogue state like Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.


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