In 1989, a group of international donors, then popularly known as Paris Club, met in France. Because of increased looting of development grants advanced to the Kanu regime, the donors decided they would henceforth channel their aid to Kenya through NGOs.
President Daniel Moi’s government, through Parliament, developed an NGO Act draft Bill that allowed the Government to tap into the donor funds. The draft Bill was hurriedly developed and was due to be presented to Parliament for its first reading when the local civil sector caught the wind of the impending draft law.
Ezra Mbogori, then Executive Director of Undugu Society, alarmed by what the State was about to do, brought together about 10 stakeholders of the Kenya civil society. They formed the first core group, which resolved to seek legal advice on the content of the noxious draft Bill. Coincidentally, Amos Wako was a board member of the same Undugu society. Mbogori took a copy of the Bill to Wako who gave his verdict: The Bill had to be stopped.
“We told the representatives of Paris Club of the serious problems their new approach in funding development had laid on our path. With a copy of the draft Bill, we told them Government was about to make a law that would henceforth force donors to channel their development aid funds into the Government, which would in turn decide what to or what not to disburse to the civil sector. Equally alarmed, the Paris Club pressed the right keys and the Kanu regime allowed us to participate in making the NGO Act 1990. By then, by sheer act of destiny, Wako had been appointed Attorney-General. Because nobody in the Kanu regime understood how NGOs work, the Kanu regime totally relied on Wako’s counsel. We won hands down.”
“Things went well throughout the Kanu regime. Suddenly, everything changed for the worse after retired President Mwai Kibaki took power. First, in 2003 the Government poached heavily for technocrats from the civil sector. Soon our former comrades in the war against corruptions and bad governance turned against us. Whenever we raised a finger, they hushed us up or worked very hard to do so. When we refused to keep quiet, they hit us where it hurt ‒ invading the NGO Council, our mouthpiece and axis of self-regulation.”
Towards the sunset days of Kanu era, the Government declared HIV/AIDS a national disaster in 1999. Through an Act of Parliament, the government established the National Aids Control Council (NACC) to coordinate a multi-sectoral approach in response to the pandemic. Upon its establishment, the NACC in turn established HIV/Aids Control Units in all ministries. Provincial Aids Control Committees and District Aids Control Committees were also established to coordinate HIV/Aids activities at the grassroots level using NGOs, community and faith-based organisations, the private sector and donors.
Set on a freefall
The activists in Government advised the State to register thousands of new briefcase HIV/Aids NGOs. The scammers manning these new outfits were mainly supporters of the Kibaki regime. Armed with specific instructions, provincial administration across the country flooded the new NGOs with NACC money. In turn they (the new briefcase NGOs) were supposed to register with NGO Council and thereafter vote in a certain way for the Council’s leadership in 2004. The NGO Council was set on a free fall. But, having completed their assignment, those briefcase NGOs who had set the NGO Council on fire also became dispensable.
In 2005, the State ordered an audit of NACC funds. The outcome was devastating; thousands of NGOs, CBOs and FBOs were found to have embezzled hundreds of millions meant to fights HIV/Aids. Nearly all culpable NGOs were members of the NGO Council. Membership and subscriptions to the NGO Council nosedived. Donors took off. For some time the public could not take seriously any criticism of Kibaki Government’s corruption if such censure came from the civil sector. Mistrust was rife within the civil sector. Religious organisations gave NGOs a wide berth and vice versa.
Emboldened by its success in scuttling the civil sector, the Kibaki Government Coalition wanted to revise the NGO Act 1990 after the 2007/8 Post-election Violence. Again the civil sector caught the wind of this plan before a draft Bill was complete to be presented to Parliament for its first reading.
“That is how the CSO-Reference Group was born. We embarked on crafting Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) Act to replace the NGO Act 1990. The Government’s side was forestalled by the clamour for a new constitution in 2009. We completed our piece, identified an MP to sponsor it and presented it to Parliament soon after the new Constitution was promulgated.
The Grand Coalition Government did not want to work with the CSO-Reference Group. “It was after realising that we were miles ahead that government took us seriously. The draft Bill was recalled and we worked with the ministry to streamline it. In 2012, the draft Bill passed its first and second readings and was enacted into law. In January, 2013 Mr Kibaki assented to it.”
CSO-Reference Group is now in Court to compel Government to commence the law. Government is reluctant to commence the Act because, partly, the law requires that the current NGO Council transforms itself into a Federation of NGOs, in which case the current briefcase NGOs that constitute the moribund NGO Council will be edged out by the real robust NGOs. But because it is unable to have its way, the State has resorted to harassing the civil sector, specifically those who are championing formation of the new outfit.