By Jane Wachira
Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities – Article 37, Constitution of Kenya, 2010
Despite the bold, succinct and clear proviso in CAP 4 of the Bill of Rights on the right to assemble, demonstrate and present petitions, the Kenyan government, mostly through the police and sometimes the Judiciary – seems not to get what it really means to exercise the aforementioned rights. Protests in Kenya are met with excessive and brutal force.
In 2015 alone, there were 140 documented protests, sparked by a wide range of issues including corruption, land grabbing, insecurity, unemployment, need for reforms, police harassment, extra judicial killings and so on. Of the 140, 104 were classified as peaceful, 31 as violent protests, where State actors initiated violence, and 5 where violence was initiated by protesters. In that year, four people were killed and hundreds injured, including school children and police officers.
Besides death, many others have been arbitrary arrested, detained and later released, some without charges. In May, 17 protesters who took part in the ‘Occupy Parliament’ protests against the raising of salaries of Members of Parliament were charged with taking part in a riot and breach of peace. They were then released on cash bail of Sh20, 000 each. No charges were preferred after that.
While freedom of assembly and association is not an absolute right, it cannot “be limited except by law, and even then, only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable, justifiable in an open society” (according to Article 24, Kenya Constitution). Any limitation must be subject to a three-part test; a limitation will only be acceptable when prescribed by law; when it is necessary and proportionate; and when the limitation pursues a legitimate aim – in the interests of national security or public safety; prevention of disorder or crime; protection of health or morals; or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Often, this test is not considered when decisions to thwart protests are made.
The right to protest is further governed in various ways. For example, organisers must notify local police in advance of public meetings, which may proceed unless police notify organisers that the meeting is prohibited. Authorities may prohibit gatherings only if there are simultaneous meetings previously scheduled for the same venue, or if there is a perceived specific security threat. In Kenya, police routinely deny requests for meetings filed by human rights activists, and disperse assemblies for which no prohibition has been issued.
The law believes that freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association are interrelated and interdependent rights, guaranteed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (The Banjul Charter). The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has also established a close relationship between the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, and has stated that the violation of the freedom of association and assembly carries an implicit violation of freedom of expression. Kenya is party to these covenants vide Articles 5 and 6 of its Constitution, and is therefore obligated to uphold the said rights.
Today, “Society has changed so dramatically that it’s empowered the individual, and technology has a lot to do with that. Years ago if you had a bad experience at a restaurant, you could complain to the manager. Maybe you could picket. Now, you go online and write a review that may go viral,” says Brad Katsuyama, a financial services executive and CEO of Investors Exchange.
Indeed this is not a new phenomenon in the Kenyan scenes. The formidable Kenyans on Twitter (KOT), has constantly protested poor governance and corruption, as well as individual and consumer rights among others. KOT has led to the arrest of criminals, sacking and resignation of corrupt officials and public apologies for offensive statements made. It only takes one hash tag and a myriad of angry Kenyan citizens behind a keyboard to make that happen. Call them cowardly keyboard warriors, but their voices are as loud as – perhaps louder – those in the streets.
The movie “Now You See Me” one is notoriously known for having used hologram – a three-dimensional image formed by the interference of light beams from a laser or other coherent light source – to dupe the FBI, which was going after them for having stolen money from a bank. This is the newest form of street protests, courtesy of technology.
Kenyan protesters can be a very unruly bunch; they often carry crude weapons (stones included) and probably know very little about what it means to conduct a peaceful demonstration. In response, the police are equally well trained and adapted to meeting the slightest provocation with brutality that should probably be reserved for the worst violent criminals.
Through protest, society is able to express their dissatisfaction with how they are being governed. So how about Kenyans adopt hologram picketing – if not for their own safety, then to give the authorities a reason to fully allow for protests that cannot result in deaths, destruction and violence? We may be a Third World country by many definitions, but we can pull it off. After all, we are home to iHub, and a myriad other instituted of technology to provide the required technical and financial support.
How it works
The hologram of a group of people demonstrating at an undisclosed location, with banners stating their grievances as they chant slogans of what they demand, preferably away from the public is recorded and streamed live. It can then be broadcast on TV stations, public screens, projected in the Parliament, and even State House and projected to the streets – anywhere, to pass the message intended.
Hologram picketing satisfies the threshold stipulated in article 37: it is peaceful and the protesters assembling are unarmed. Another benefit of hologram picketing is the fact that it can be projected in multiple locations.
No officer will teargas a hologram or beat up a protester brutally with batons, or shoot or arrest. At the end of the day, everyone goes home peacefully happy, satisfied at having passed the intended message in the most effective way.