Civic society in Horn, East and Central Africa increasingly inhibited despite some progress, says Oxfam
Arusha, Friday 29th November 2019 – Despite some progress, civil society organizations are witnessing increasing inhibitive legislations and media censorship in the Horn, East and Central Africa (HECA) region, said Oxfam and the East African Civil Society Organizations’ Forum (EACSOF) at the Horn East and Central Africa Region Annual Civil Society Symposium named ‘navigating the shifting civic space in the HECA region’, which took place 27th-29th November 2019 in Arusha, Tanzania.
“In Tanzania, the media has been effectively subdued through legal as well as administrative measures which has led to self-censorship and important public interest stories not being told,” says Pili Mtambalike a veteran journalist and press freedom activist. Being in the media for the past 30 years, I have noted the rapid deterioration of press freedom and freedom of expression in the last few years than at any other time in Tanzania’s history,” she adds.
The symposium came at a time when the East African Community (EAC) is celebrating its 20th anniversary and when the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) is best suited to lead the development of a regional Civil Society (CSO) Bill to harmonize the national legislations at the EAC region. Development of the Bill is considered a step in the right direction to address the shifting and most often alarming backslide on human rights.
“Introducing a regional bill could be the hope to safeguard the rights and responsibilities of civil society organizations. This symposium provided a space for civic organizations and media and other civil society actors to assess the state of human rights relating to civic space around freedom of assembly, association and expression. At a time when regional governments are seeking to accelerate economic progress and regional integration, the region is still dogged by conflict and fragility, as well as an alarming trend of restrictive policies and laws,” said Lydia Zigomo, Oxfam’s Regional Director in Horn, East and Central Africa.
The symposium, which brought together legal experts and civil society organizations from Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Nigeria and Botswana, discussed the shifting trend of civic space in the region. Civic space in most of these countries is facing an uncertain future due to the formulation of ‘inhibitive legislation’, media censorship, widespread harassment, physical violence and incarceration of activists.
In Uganda for example, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) Act 2016 came into force in March 2016 and placed several obligations on NGOs working in Uganda. Since its establishment, over 10,000 NGOs in Uganda have been considered to be operating with invalid permits. The Ugandan government also introduced mandatory tax for WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to bring in much-needed revenue, even as activists describe it as an attempt to violate the right to freedom of expression.
In Burundi, the government promulgated the Code of Penal Procedure (Law No 1/09) on May 11, 2018 that introduced "special methods of investigation" which allows for interception of electronic communications. In Sudan, particularly Khartoum, security forces violently dispersed protests and detained activists, journalists, bloggers, and opposition politicians, bringing trumped up charges carrying the death penalty against activists.
While Ethiopia and Kenya have stood out as examples of positive change, clear patterns of government repression in South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea against peaceful citizens; protesters, activists, and journalists give a clear indication of the shifting and shrinking civic space. The symposium ended up with the EACSOF Annual General Meeting where civil society movements analysed current developments, elaborated common strategies and fostered solidarity between the civil society actors in pursuit of greater and more impactful engagement with EAC at continental, regional and national levels.
“Governments within Horn, East and Central Africa should renew their commitment to the respect, protection and promotion of the enjoyment of civil rights by the citizenry especially through enactment of human rights based legal
and policy regimes that promote citizen participation in governance and providing channels to demand for transparency and accountability from their leaders,” said Martha Makenge, EACSOF’s Program Coordinator and Acting Chief Executive Officer.
Notes to editors:
About the East African Civil Society Organization Forum (EACSOF)
East African Civil Society Organization Forum (EACSOF) is an inclusive platform for Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) to dialogue and foster sustainable equitable development in East Africa through participation of CSOs that was founded in 2007 as the autonomous umbrella for all CSOs and NGOs in East Africa. EACSOF carries out capacity building, advocacy and lobbying activities to its member organizations in the pervasive areas of integration including at not limited to Human Rights, Good Governance, Policy Formulation - Policy Information - Policy Dialogues, Trade Negotiations, Special Interest Groups, Budgetary Implications, promoting Peace and Security in EAC, Social and Economic Justice, promoting Environment, Natural Resources and Climate Change, Mainstreaming Science and Technology, education and youth engagement in good Governance mainstreaming gender and the like. EACSOF was created in response to provisions contained in Chapter Twenty-Five (25) of the Treaty Establishing the East African Community (EAC) that comprises of Article 127, Article 128 and Article 129.
EACSOF has been constantly following up the integration process of the EAC, with particular interest of observing the implementation of the EAC Treaty, Protocols, Laws developed in EALA as well as Policies, Strategies, Plans and Programs and engaging with the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) on litigation issues.
For more information about EACSOF visit: https://eacsof.net/
About Oxfam in the Horn, East, and Central Africa (HECA) region For over 50 years, Oxfam has been working in the Horn, East, and Central Africa (HECA) region, focusing its programs in ten countries: Burundi, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda. We have a strong network of country teams who deliver our work and augmented by regional and global capacity on fundraising, advocacy and learning advisory support.
From humanitarian response to our work on helping crisis-affected people rebuild their lives, we aim to support activities that will achieve change at scale at all levels. Raising the voices of the communities we work with is critical to influencing a sustainable shift in local, national, regional and global policies and practices of both state and private sectors.
Our Vision A transformed and stable Horn, East and Central Africa region, where people exercise their right to challenge power and have dignity and security to drive transformative change in their lived experiences. For more information about Oxfam HECA’s activities and current updates follow our social media platforms: Twitter: @OxfamEAfrica Facebook: @oxfamineastafrica Website: www.oxfam.org I https://heca.oxfam.org
For media enquiries please contact:
Martin Namasaka Regional Media and Communications Advisor Mobile: +254731953944 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Marwa Communications Manager Oxfam in Tanzania Mobile: +255689505141 Email: BMarwa@oxfam.org.uk
Jonas Ndunguru Communication Assistant EACSOF Secretariat Mobile: +255689157119 Email: email@example.com