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Miguna Miguna (left) with Raila Odinga (center) at the symbolic swearing in ceremony (photo: Reuters/B. Ratner)
Miguna (left) with Odinga (center) at the symbolic swearing in ceremonyImage: Reuters/B. Ratner

Is Kenya turning its back on democracy?

Sarah Steffen
February 7, 2018

Kenya's government has deported a lawyer who attended the symbolic swearing in of opposition leader Raila Odinga. It's just the latest in a string of events stirring up fears that Kenya is moving towards dictatorship.


Opposition politician and lawyer Miguna Miguna, who had been charged with treason for attending the symbolic swearing in of opposition leader Raila Odinga at the end of January, was kicked out of the country on Tuesday.

Government authorities put him on an international flight to Canada, claiming he had renounced his Kenyan citizenship years ago.

The authorities also suspended passports of 14 opposition leaders, effectively barring them from leaving the country.

At least one other opposition member has been arrested.

Kenya's government also shut down four of the country's TV stations for nearly a week for attempting to broadcast the swearing in ceremony.

Two of the stations were allowed to go back on air on Monday, days after a court ordered them reopened.

Miguna, who ran for governor in Kenya's contested 2017 elections, had been arrested after attending Odinga's mock inauguration last week.

The ceremony was supposed to protest Uhuru Kenyatta's win last year — the opposition says the original vote in August was rigged and then boycotted the repeat election arguing electoral reforms had not been made after the Supreme Court nullified the first round of elections.

Miguna had been in detention despite Kenya's High Court ordering his release. He had not been seen for five days before he was deported to Canada. Miguna, who's a member of the National Super Alliance coalition, also holds Canadian citizenship.

The President of Kenya's Supreme Court, David Maraga, issued a rare statement slamming the government for not complying with court orders.

"Compliance with court orders is not an option for any individual or institution," the statement said, adding compliance was not a favor to the judiciary, but a crucial constitutional obligation.

Protest against unlawful deportation

Lawyers at the High Court in Nairobi took to the streets accusing authorities of breaking the law.

"The government not only broke the law, but they also abused police power by incarcerating a citizen of this country. Purporting to deport him is very grave," said lawyer Kipkoech Bernard Ngetich, chairman of the Rift Valley Law society. "If someone is a citizen by birth who has not renounced his citizenship there is no way he can be deported."

Lawyer Brian Kinyua said the Kenyan government had worsened the political atmosphere by breaching the constitution.

"They know they are actually breaching the constitution, that is what they are blatantly doing," he said, warning nobody was above the law, "not even the president." 

At the High Court in Nairobi, Justice Luka Kimaru has summoned the director of criminal investigations and the inspector general of police to court to explain why they failed to bring Miguna to court on several occasions and then deported him to Canada.

James Orengo, a lawyer and a leader in the opposition said if the two security officials refuse to show up in court, they should be charged.

"We need the judiciary to stand firm. In the years past, they were completely emasculated by the state," he said. "One of the things we really want to insist on is that the judge should make an order that Miguna must be brought back to the country." 

Moving backwards

The clampdown on opposition figures is dangerous for democracy, says human rights activist and regional director for ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, Henry Maina.

"The last treason charges were largely in the 1990s, just as the country was turning into a multi-party democracy. So knowing that we've had seven elections, and we seem to be going back to treason charges — that implies we are going back to the pre-1990 days where the executive was using state security to maintain itself in power and it had very little regard to human rights at all."

Recent events are "clear indications that Kenya may be moving backwards, perhaps more closer to an authoritarian system than closer to a democratic system," he added.

Opposition leader Odinga has not been arrested yet. "Odinga has a fanatical following… big masses who would take to the streets if they heard their leader had been touched," lawyer Ngetich said. "They would almost make the country ungovernable."

He also stressed Odinga had not committed a crime. "There was no offense of treason or related to treason that was committed by any person if you read the law very strictly."

That view was echoed by Maina. "Our constitution clearly provides for peaceful assembly and association, so to the extent that the people who assembled did not commit any violent act, then it is problematic to call their meeting illegal," he said.

Andrew Wasike and Chrispin Mwakideu contributed to this report. 

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