Kenyan President, Uhuru Kenyatta, on Wednesday, signed into law a sweeping cyber-crimes act criminalising fake news and online bullying, with clauses that critics argue could stifle press freedom.
The bill imposes stiff fines and jail terms for hacking, computer fraud, forgery of data, cyber espionage, publishing child pornography or sending pornographic content via any electronic means.
However, bloggers and media rights activists have expressed alarm over a clause which criminalises the publication of “false, misleading or fictitious data.”
Punishment for this can be a fine of $50,000 (42,000 euro) or up to two years in prison, or both.
The Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) last week urged Kenyatta not to sign the bill, arguing it would make it easy for authorities to gag journalists publishing information they dislike.
“Kenyan legislators have passed a wide-ranging bill that will criminalise free speech, with journalists and bloggers likely to be among the first victims if it is signed into law,” said CPJ’s Africa coordinator, Angela Quintal.
Additionally, anyone found guilty of publishing false information that “is calculated or results in panic, chaos, or violence” or that is “likely to discredit the reputation of a person” can be fined $50,000 or jailed for up to 10 years.
Article 19, a London-based freedom of expression watchdog, in an April analysis of the bill, said it contained important additions modelled after relevant international standards.
However it also “contains several broadly defined offences with harsh sentences that could dramatically chill freedom of expression online in Kenya.”
Rights activists have warned about an increasingly hostile and oppressive environment for journalists in Kenya, after a dramatic and bloody election season in 2017.
“While political tensions have eased, the ability of journalists to report and comment freely continue to be undermined by state officials,” Human Rights Watch said earlier this month.
In January government closed three television stations for a week after they tried to provide live coverage of opposition leader Raila Odinga staging a mock inauguration ceremony, a move criticised by Kenya’s foreign allies.
Then in March, eight prominent columnists working for Kenya’s biggest media group, the Nation Media Group, quit over increased meddling by government and a loss of media freedom at its outlets.
Kenyan police fired teargas and clashed with both ruling party and opposition supporters Tuesday ahead of the swearing in as president of Uhuru Kenyatta after two disputed polls that have left the nation deeply divided.
As foreign and local dignitaries poured into the 60,000-seat Kasarani stadium in Nairobi where the ceremony is to be held, the opposition attempted to gather for a “memorial rally” honouring the more than 50 people killed, mostly by police, in four months of political upheaval.
However police fired volleys of teargas and beat opposition supporters, prompting running battles in the area, an AFP reporter said.
Meanwhile at the Kasarani stadium chaos erupted as a crowd attempted to force its way into the venue, prompting police to fire teargas at Kenyatta supporters who tried to fight their way in.
“I just want to see President Uhuru Kenyatta because I voted for him, why are we being beaten like NASA (opposition),” said Janet Wambua, who was among the angry crowd.
Joseph Irungu of the interior ministry planning committee had said there was space for 40,000 people who did not get in to watch the event on big screens outside the stadium. However no such screens were provided, further angering the crowd.
Around 13 mostly African heads of state are expected to attend the ceremony where Kenyatta, 56, will be sworn in for his second and final five-year term.
These include the presidents of South Sudan, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia and Somalia — among others — while prime ministers, foreign ministers and special envoys will represent other African nations, as well as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and Serbia.
– Two elections and a historic court case –
Kenyatta’s inauguration comes after the Supreme Court validated his victory in last month’s rerun poll.
However, the swearing-in may not draw a line under the country’s political crisis with Odinga vowing to fight on.
The electoral strife goes back to an August 8 poll that was annulled in September by the Supreme Court, citing “irregularities and illegalities”.
The court ordered a rerun in October that was boycotted by the opposition, handing Kenyatta a landslide of 98 percent of votes cast by just 39 percent of the electorate.
The disputed election season has split the country along ethnic and regional lines, although political violence has not reached the scale of that which followed a 2007 poll when 1,100 were killed.
Odinga, denied the presidency for a fourth time this year, believes that he was cheated and the 72-year-old has refused to recognise the result.
He has promised to found a “third republic” — following independence from Britain in 1963 and a new constitution adopted in 2010 — as well as to continue a programme of protests and economic boycotts aimed at undermining Kenyatta’s “dictatorship”.
The current political crisis draws on a deep well of social, ethnic and geographic grievances in the country of around 48 million people.
In areas loyal to Odinga, an ethnic Luo, there is a sense of having been ground down and discriminated against since independence, not least by Kenyatta’s Kikuyu group, which has given Kenya three of its four presidents.
The months of disruption and unrest, plus the holding of two separate elections, have badly affected the economy, hitting the poorest hardest while leaving the wealthy political elites relatively unharmed.
President Uhuru Kenyatta on Monday said his victory in Kenya’s boycott-hit election re-run was a “revalidation” of the people’s will after a vote he won in August that was overturned by the courts.
“On 8th August, 15 million Kenyans came out to vote. Of these, 8.4 million Kenyans voted for me. On October 26th, 90 percent of those same voters came out once again to support my bid,” he said in his victory speech after winning 98.2 percent of the vote following a boycott by rival Raila Odinga.
“This was nothing more than a revalidation of their general will, a statement of their national intent in support of myself and of the Jubilee government.”
Kenyatta also said his August win, in which he took 54 percent of the vote, had never been called into question.
“When my victory was put to the test in the Supreme Court, this was the verdict: the court did not challenge my overwhelming mandate of 54 percent. The numbers were never questioned,” he said.
What the court had queried, Kenyatta argued, was the manner in which the results were transmitted.
“What the court questioned was the process of declaring my victory. Because the court did not question my victory, they, by extension, with their ruling, validated my 54 percent numbers.”
But Thursday’s vote was fraught with problems. Polling was prevented by violent demonstrations in four western counties where Odinga supporters had widely observed a boycott.
And with turnout among Kenya’s 19.6 million registered voters standing at just 38.8 percent, there are likely to be questions over the credibility of the election, analysts say.
Kenya’s election chief was to announce on Sunday whether elections will go forward in flashpoint opposition areas, where a boycott sparked violent protests in a poll set to hand President Uhuru Kenyatta a landslide, but tarnished, win.
With the counting almost done after Thursday’s presidential re-run, the results remained on hold as officials mulled what to do about 25 constituencies where voting was blocked.
There, supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga managed to prevent hundreds of polling stations from opening, prompting violent clashes with police which continued for several days, leaving nine dead and scores injured.
At least 49 people have died since the first presidential election of August 8, which was later overturned, prompting Kenya’s worst political crisis in a decade.
Following Odinga’s boycott, Kenyatta is almost guaranteed a crushing win.
But it was looking ever more like a Pyhrric victory with low turnout figures likely to tarnish the credibility of a vote that has deeply polarised the nation and sparked international concern about the future of east Africa’s most stable democracy.
With ballots checked and verified from 235 of the 265 constituencies where voting actually took place, the counting process was drawing to a close, although it remained unclear whether a result could actually be announced without figures from areas where voting was blocked.
– ‘No Raila, no peace!’ –
With the nation in waiting, Odinga showed up at a church in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum which has been rocked by fierce clashes over the last few days.
“No Raila, no peace!” chanted the large crowd which had gathered outside to hear him speak, some of whom had marched over from Kibera, another of the city’s poorest districts.
“We are telling Uhuru… the people of Kenya will not be ruled by the gun,” he said in Swahili, to whistles and cheers.
“You cannot kill people because they did not vote.”
Plans to restage the vote in the rebel western regions on Saturday were quickly called off after a second day of protests over fears for the safety of polling staff, with election chief Wafula Chebukati saying he would make another announcement on Sunday.
Thursday’s presidential re-run was ordered by Kenya’s Supreme Court after it overturned Kenyatta’s August victory over “irregularities” in the transmission of votes in a ruling that said the vote must be completed by October 31.
“None of the questions raised by the Supreme Court’s nullification of the original vote were answered by the election,” wrote Nic Cheeseman, an expert on African politics at Birmingham University in central England.
– ‘No winners’ –
And although the official results were likely to notch up a landslide for Kenyatta, “the low turnout and the circumstances surrounding the polls means that his government has gained little.
“Given all this, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this was an election in which there were no winners,” Cheeseman wrote.
Although the protests largely tailed off on Saturday after the election chief postponed plans for a repeat vote in the west, tensions remained high with scuffles reported in several areas and even isolated incidents of politically-driven ethnic violence between neighbours in the Nairobi slums.
While the Supreme Court ruling was hailed as a chance to deepen democracy, the acrimonious bickering between Odinga and Kenyatta — whose fathers were rivals before them — has sharply divided a country where politics is already polarised along tribal lines.
The Kikuyu, Kenya’s largest ethnic group and the one to which Kenyatta belongs, have long been accused of holding a monopoly on power and resources, while the Luos, among them Odinga and his supporters, have felt marginalised and excluded for decades.
Kenya’s political crisis is the worst since a 2007 vote sparked months of politically-driven ethnic violence that left 1,100 people dead.
While the dynamics of 2017’s political crisis are very different, the memory of the bloodshed a decade ago is never far away.
Odinga has vowed a campaign of “civil disobedience” and is demanding another new election be held within 90 days.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga’s withdrawal Tuesday from a re-run of the presidential election is the latest in a series of dramatic developments over the disputed vote:
Kenyan voters turn out in large numbers on August 8 after a tight race between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Odinga, his longtime rival.
There are fears the bad-tempered campaigning will lead to violence. More than 1,100 people were killed in politically motivated tribal violence after the 2007 election.
Early results give Kenyatta a comfortable lead but are immediately rejected by Odinga, who claims hackers broke into the electoral commission database and manipulated the results.
The official results are published on August 11 and give Kenyatta 54.27 percent of votes to Odinga’s 44.74 percent.
Angry protests erupt immediately in Odinga strongholds. The violence continues for days. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights says 37 people are killed, most of them by the police.
Odinga takes his complaints to the Supreme Court. In a shock announcement, its judges on September 1 declare the results of the poll “invalid, null and void” and orders a re-run within 60 days.
The annulment is a first for Africa.
The date for the new election is later announced as October 17.
A confidential memo in which the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) admits to irregularities and failings in the conduct of the vote is made public on September 7.
As doubts grow over Kenya’s ability to hold a rerun of its presidential election, the French biometrics firm OT-Morpho that provides the electronic voting system says on September 18 it will not be ready in time.
The Supreme Court issues days later a detailed judgement lambasting the IEBC for failing to properly conduct the election.
The commission announces that it has to push the re-run back to October 26 in order to prepare.
Kenya’s chief prosecutor on September 23 orders an investigation into the commission over the conduct of the vote.
Late September the ruling Jubilee Party introduces a bill seeking to resolve “ambiguity” in the electoral law.
The opposition slams the move as an effort to render legal some of the “irregularities and illegalities” cited in the Supreme Court’s cancelling of the vote.
Protests erupt in early October as Odinga calls on his supporters to pressure the government to overhaul the election commission, threatening he will not take part in a re-run otherwise.
On October 10 he withdraws from the re-run, saying the election panel has failed to make needed reforms.
But he also indicates this does not mean his battle is over, citing legal arguments his party believes will compel election officials to begin the whole process from scratch.
Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta will remain president until a new leader is sworn in, the country’s attorney general said on Friday, seeking to assuage fears of a constitutional crisis if elections are delayed further.
Questions have mounted over the status of the government after the Supreme Court annulled Kenyatta’s victory in August’s presidential election due to widespread irregularities.
A planned re-run for October 17 has already been delayed once — the vote is now set for October 26 — prompting fears of a constitutional crisis if the polls are not held within the 60-day limit that expires October 31.
“I wish to state categorically that there is no room for doubt as to what the constitution provides,” Attorney General Githu Muigai said at a press conference, called to clarify the law on the issue.
“From the day a general election is declared to the day a new president or a re-elected president is sworn in, government continues without lacuna, without any void.”
Muigai said Kenyatta would retain full executive authority, but would not be permitted to make certain appointments or dismissals.
“Even in the very unlikely event that the election wasn’t held on the 60th day, that does not delegitimize the constitutional order,” said Muigai.
He said there were various methods of expanding that constitutional time period under the guidance of the Supreme Court.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) faces a mammoth task in organising a fresh election in a little more than a month after being excoriated by the top court for its bungling of the August vote.
The opposition, which accused the commission of rigging the poll in favour of Kenyatta, has demanded that top officials be sacked and that providers of election materials and technology be changed.
The Supreme Court said the IEBC had announced Kenyatta’s victory over opposition leader Raila Odinga without properly verifying the result, outlining a tallying process that had gone “opaquely awry”.
Kenyatta in turn accused the court of staging a judicial “coup”, saying it had undermined democracy by arguing that “numbers don’t matter, it is processes that matter.”
The botched election has plunged the country into its biggest political crisis since a disputed poll in 2007, which led to violence that left more than 1,100 people dead.
The electronic voting system due to be used in a re-run of Kenya’s presidential poll will not be ready in time, the French biometrics firm behind it said on Monday.
OT-Morpho provided Kenya’s Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) with equipment to identify voters biometrically in the August 8 election.
The result of the vote was annulled by the Supreme Court, and a re-run has been scheduled for October 17, when the system is to be deployed again.
But in a statement, OT-Morpho cautioned that it was unable to deploy the same equipment that was used on August 8.
It was leaving the computer system and its data untouched to enable a possible external audit, in the light of the disputed outcome, it said.
“As a consequence, in the scope of the fresh elections, OT-Morpho has to reinstall a fresh new RTS system as well as all 45,000 KIEMS kits,” it said, referring to the computer system for transmitting provisional results and to the laptops used for biometric ID.
“This represents a very significant amount of work, which can not be secured by October 17th,” the company said, adding it had “previously informed the IEBC of this information.”
The opposition, whose leader Raila Odinga lost out to incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta, has alleged that the August vote was rigged and the electronic vote-tallying system was hacked.
OT-Morpho, in its statement on Monday, reiterated that an internal audit of its system showed no intrusion or manipulation of data.
It repeated that it was willing to have its equipment scrutinised “as quickly as possible” by outside experts, working under the IEBC’s authority.
Voting on August 8 was carried out on ballot papers that were then manually counted. The results were then collected electronically, backed on paper by so-called 34A tallying forms.
But the opposition said many 34A forms were delayed and often had not been signed or stamped, or were illegible or lacked serial numbers or watermarks.
OT-Morpho pointed to a further hurdle in its ability to collaborate in the October rerun — “the detailed conclusions of the Supreme Court, specially on the technical aspects of the systems, which are still unknown at this time.”
Odinga has threatened to boycott the re-run, notably unless several IEBC members step aside, insisting the transmission system inflated Kenyatta’s score.
Under Kenya’s constitution, the IEBC has until October 31 to hold the new election.
It was the first time a presidential election result has been overturned on Africa, and follows three previous failed bids by 72-year-old Odinga for the presidency — in 1997, 2007 and 2013.
After the 2007 vote, Odinga’s supporters took to the streets, and a resulting crackdown coupled with a wave of politically motivated tribal violence left over 1,100 dead.