Update: In early 2016, a number of NGOs filed a petition seeking to compel the Cabinet Secretary to commence the implementation of the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act, 2013. The Petition (No. 351 of 2015) is before the High Court. This follows long-term efforts by NGOs to advocate for the implementation of the PBO Act, which was enacted in 2013, but has yet to be implemented. For example, NGOs have written a number of letters to the Cabinet Secretary of Devolution and Planning and presented a public petition to Parliament that was supported by Kenyans from across the country. The Government of Kenya attempted to amend the PBO Act through several bills tabled before Parliament in 2013 and 2014. While civil society successfully thwarted these plans through spirited campaigns, they continue to face new challenges. For example, during the first quarter of 2015, a task force was set up by the Ministry of Devolution and Planning, which consulted with stakeholders and the public regarding proposed amendments to the PBO Act. Most recently, in April 2016, MP Agostinho Neto proposed an amendment to the PBO Act, 2013, that would dictate that the Act comes into force within 14 days of its publication. Please see the "Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives" section of this report for more details.
Traditionally, Kenyans lived in communities characterized by strong patterns of social ties and relations. People came together to promote mutual interests, pool resources, express ideas and participate in the governance of their communities as the communal structures afforded them the vehicles to do so. These structures included ethnic and kinship groups, such as families, clans and lineages, as well as councils of elders and age groups.
Associational life is still deeply rooted in Kenya. It forms the basis on which Harambee (self-help) initiatives thrive. The term civil society, however, is relatively recent and is often associated with quests for social transformation and the realization of social justice. From the early 1920s until 1963, civil society organizations  (NGOs) played a prominent role in the struggle for independence. From the time of independence until the late 1970s, many NGOs worked closely with the government to complement its service delivery efforts. However, the 1980s and 1990s were characterized by new dynamics: as western donors made economic support to the Government conditional on good governance and democratization, NGOs began to demand a multi-party system. NGOs also became more vocal on national political issues such as constitutional reform and good governance. Indeed, NGOs contributed immensely towards the transition (in 2002) from authoritarian to democratic rule through their efforts to advance political rights and freedoms as well to broaden the democratic process.
The new political dispensation in 2003 brought about an observed improvement in government/NGO relations as meaningful dialogue and increased engagement between the two sectors began to take place. The former and current Governments have encouraged NGOs and other stakeholders to partner with them, especially in addressing the complex issues facing the country. However, NGOs are aware that they need to address issues of competence, sustainability, and credibility within their own sector more earnestly if they are to play their role and engage with other partners effectively. There are some efforts being made in this regard.
Many of Kenya’s laws are statutory in nature and generally codify England’s common law rules. In addition, Kenyan legislation regulates organizations substantially through enforcement of the organization's founding documents. Generally, the legal environment in which NGOs operate is supportive of civil society. However, the legal framework is characterized by multiple laws, which are implemented by different government ministries, agencies and departments. The diverse and sometimes overlapping laws present difficulties for the government in developing harmonized, systematic and coordinated plans and approaches to civil society. To compound the problem, the NGO regulatory agencies are under-resourced and find it difficult to manage their basic functions effectively. For example, although the NGO Coordination Board (the government body that regulates NGOs) can issue directives on the need for NGOs to file their annual returns, it lacks the capacity to carry out inspections and ensure that NGOs adhere to these directives.
NGOs anticipate that the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act, 2013 will address some of the challenges that the sector faces under the law that it supersedes, the Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination Act, 1990. Unfortunately, however, the PBO Act has yet to be implemented. The parliament was expected to deliberate on proposals contained in a Bill that aimed to amend the PBO Act, 2013, but civil society successfully thwarted these plans through spirited campaigns. As of early 2016, NGOs were still pressuring the government to commence the implementation of the PBO Act, 2013.
 The term Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) is used generally in Kenya to refer to the wide array of organizations that operate in the realm between the individual and the state and are formed to promote the interests of their members or the public good. The term “NGO” is used specifically to refer to entities that are registered by the NGO Coordination Bureau. Though NGOs are just a small part of the larger NGO sector, they are the most visible. Under the NGO Coordination Act of 1990, NGOs can be established for the benefit of the public at large and for the promotion of social welfare, development, charity or research in the areas inclusive of, but not restricted to, health, relief, agriculture, education, industry, and the supply of amenities and services.
|Organizational Forms||Non-Governmental Organizations||Societies|
|Registration Body||NGO Coordination Board||Registrar of Societies|
|Barriers to Entry||(1) Vague grounds for denial of registration;
(2) Government discretion in setting terms and conditions on NGO registration;
(3) No fixed time period for registration review.
|(1) Vague grounds for denial of registration;
(2) Mandatory registration (unregistered societies illegal).
|Barriers to Activities||NGOs must reach agreement with the NGO Coordination Board on a variety of issues before commencing activities.||(1) Registrar of Societies has wide discretion relating to the investigation, arrest, and search of any society;
(2) The failure to maintain a register of members or annual accounts may expose a society to heavy penalties, including imprisonment;
(3) Where it is alleged that a society is unlawful, the burden of proof is on the society.
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||No legal barriers||No legal barriers|
|Barriers to International Contact||No NGO can become a branch or affiliate of foreign organizations of policial nature, except with prior consent of the NGO Coordination Board.||No legal barriers|
|Barriers to Resources||No legal barriers||No legal barriers|
|Barriers to Assembly||No time limit specified for the authorities to respond to organizers' notification requests or right of appeal; counter-demonstrations prohibited; excessive force used by security officers.||No time limit specified for the authorities to respond to organizers' notification requests or right of appeal; counter-demonstrations prohibited; excessive force used by security officers.|
|Population||45,010,056 (July 2014 est.)|
|Type of Government||Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 62.06 years
Female: 65.01 years (2014 est.)
|Literacy Rate||Male: 90.6%
Female: 84.2% (2010 est.)
|Religious Groups||Protestant: 47.7%; Roman Catholic: 23.5%; Muslim: 10%; indigenous beliefs: 10%; other: 2%|
|Ethnic Groups||Kikuyu: 22%; Luhya: 14%; Luo: 13%; Kalenjin: 12%; Kamba: 11%; Kisii: 6%; Meru: 6%; other African: 15%; non-African (Asian, European, and Arab): 1%|
|GDP per capita||$1,800 (2013 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency, 2009.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||145 (2015)||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||37.6 (2014)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||42.4 (2014)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||139 (2015)||1 – 177|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Partly Free (2016)
Political Rights: 4
Civil Liberties: 4
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
||21 (2015)||178 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1972|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||--|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1972|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||--|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||2001|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1984|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2008|
|African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights||Yes||1992|
|African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child||Yes||2000|
|Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community||Yes||2001|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa||Yes||2006|
|Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights||Yes||2004|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
On August 4, 2010, at a national referendum, Kenyans voted in favor of a new constitution. The constitution review process, which preceded the referendum, has been touted as the most participatory constitution review process worldwide, as it was consultative from the start and largely integrated the views of the public in the final document. The new constitution promises far-reaching and comprehensive reforms in the governance of the country.
Relevant provisions include:
Implementation of rights and fundamental freedoms
21. (1) It is a fundamental duty of the State and every State organ to observe, respect, protect, promote and fulfill the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights.
Freedom Of Expression
33. (1) Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes—
- freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas;
- freedom of artistic creativity; and
- academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
(2) The right to freedom of expression does not extend to—
- propaganda for war;
- incitement to violence;
- hate speech; or
- advocacy of hatred that—
- constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm; or
- is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27 (4).
(3) In the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, every person shall respect the rights and reputation of others.
Access To Information
35. (1) Every citizen has the right of access to—
- information held by the State; and
- information held by another person and required for the exercise or protection of any right or fundamental freedom.
(2) Every person has the right to the correction or deletion of untrue or misleading information that affects the person.
(3) The State shall publish and publicise any important information affecting the nation.
Freedom Of Association
36. (1) Every person has the right to freedom of association, which includes the right to form, join or participate in the activities of an association of any kind.
(2) A person shall not be compelled to join an association of any kind.
(3) Any legislation that requires registration of an association of any kind shall provide that—
- registration may not be withheld or withdrawn unreasonably; and
- there shall be a right to have a fair hearing before a registration is cancelled.
Assembly, demonstration, picketing and petition
37. Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.
Right to Language and culture
44. (1) Every person has the right to use the language, and to participate in the cultural life, of the person’s choice.
Court Cases on Public Participation
Kenyan courts have decided several cases interpreting the new Constitution on issues related to the freedom of association and public participation, including one case in the context of trade unions. In the National Gender and Equality Commission V Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) & Another  eKLR, the court found that the IEBC did not develop sufficient guidelines or take specific steps aimed at increasing or promoting the participation of vulnerable groups within the electoral process other than passively inspecting the party lists submitted to it.
In another case, Law Society of Kenya V Attorney General & 2 Others,  eKLR, the courts sought to determine whether there was public participation as enshrined in the Constitution. The Law Society of Kenya argued that the Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendment) Act, 2012 was enacted without public participation required by the national values and principles of governance set out in Article 10 in the Constitution. They urged the court to annul the law in the event it found that there was no public participation noting that in view of the magnitude of the amendments, there ought to have been public consultation. The court found that the petitioner did not show or demonstrate that there was no public participation in the whole process.
Similarly, in Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution v Parliament of Kenya & another & 2 others & 2 others,  eKLR, Katiba Institute (a not-for-profit organization) submitted that the Leadership and Integrity Act was invalid insofar as it ignored views of Kenyans on effective enforcement, hence defeating the essence of public participation. However, the Court did not hold that the Act is unconstitutional for want of public participation because the petitioners did not address the standard to assess the level of public participation in the legislative process.
In addition, in Moses Munyendo & 908 others v Attorney General & another,  eKLR, the court considered whether the Crops Act, 2012 and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Authority Act, 2012 (“the AFFA”) which were passed into law and assented to by the President on January 14, 2013, were unconstitutional on the grounds that they were enacted without public participation. However, the court held that the petitioners did not discharge their burden of showing that the statutes were enacted without public participation.
Finally, in Nairobi Metropolitan PSV SaccosUnion Limited & 25 others v County Of Nairobi Government & 3 others,  eKLR, the petitioners sought a declaration that paragraph 6.1 of the Schedule to the Nairobi County Finance Act, 2013, which authorized the Nairobi City County to change the motor-vehicle parking levies, is unconstitutional, to the extent that there was no public participation in the process of the making, and enactment of the Act. The court held and found that there was adequate and appropriate public participation prior to the enactment of paragraph 6.1 in the schedule to the Nairobi City County Finance Act, 2013.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant regional and national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include (see also Kenya Gazette):
- The Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination Act, Act No. 19 
- The Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination Regulations 
- Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination (Amendment) Regulations 
- The Non-Governmental Organizations Council Code of Conduct 
- The Companies Act, Chapter 486 of the Laws of Kenya 
- The Societies Act, Chapter 108 of the Laws of Kenya 
- The Trustees (Perpetual Succession) Act, Chapter 164 of the Laws of Kenya 
- The Trustee Act, Chapter 167 of the Laws of Kenya 
- The Income Tax Act, Chapter 470 of the Laws of Kenya 
- East Africa Community Customs Management Act 
- Income Tax (Charitable Donations Regulations) 
- Sessional Paper No. 1 
- The East Africa Community Treaty 
- The East Africa Community Customs Management Act 
- The Public Benefit Organisations Act  (not yet operational)
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
1. The PBO Act is not yet operational and will only commence after the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning publishes a date for its commencement. Since the law was passed in January 2013, there have been several attempts to substantively amend it.
For example, on October 30, 2013, the Government published the Statute Law Miscellaneous (Amendments) Bill, 2013, which contained several amendments to the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act, including proposals to cap the amount of funding NGOs can receive from external donors at 15% of their budget. However, the proposals to amend the PBO Act were defeated during the Second Reading in Parliament and withdrawn from the Bill.
Then, through the Statutes Law Miscellaneous (Amendments) Bill, 2014, the Government once again sought to amend the PBO Act in June 2014. Unlike its predecessor (Statutes Law Miscellaneous (Amendments) Bill, 2013), the differently worded Statutes Law Miscellaneous (Amendments) Bill, 2014 did not propose to restrict the amount and sources of income available to PBOs.
However, some of the proposals that were a source of concern for civil society in the Bill of 2013 were still contained in the Bill of 2014. For example, there were proposals to give the PBO Regulatory Authority wide discretionary power to impose terms and conditions for the granting of certificates of registration. There were also proposals to limit the independence of the PBO Regulatory Authority by giving the executive greater say in making appointments to the board of the Regulatory Authority. Further, the voice of civil society was to be greatly reduced as the proposals sought to cut down the number of representatives to the board.The proposals to amend the PBO Act were withdrawn in the Statutes Law Miscellaneous Amendment Bill, 2014.
Yet another attempt to amend the PBO Act emerged towards the end of 2014. The National Council for NGOs (an umbrella association for NGOs in Kenya) together with the Ministry of Devolution and Planning (the Ministry in charge of NGOs) circulated a Memorandum that outlined 54 proposed amendments to the PBO Act. Some of the proposals are highlighted below. They call for:
- More effective regulation of PBOs by:
- Re-registration and regulation of all agencies doing public benefits work (approximately 350,000 agencies) under one regulatory regime. This is to include, in addition to NGOs, organisations that are registered under other legal frameworks like the Companies Act and the Societies Act;
- Requiring PBOs to publish their annual audited financial accounts in newspapers of national circulation;
- Compelling PBOs to submit their audited accounts to the Auditor General (the Government official tasked with auditing public accounts);
- Empowering the PBO Regulatory Authority to impose terms and conditions for the grant of registration certificates.
- Greater transparency and accountability of PBOs by:
- Preventing PBOs from receiving more than fifteen percent of their total funding from external donors;
- Requiring PBOs, which receive more than 15% from external donors to apply for a certificate as a “foreign public benefit organization”.
- Increasing the proportion of Kenyan citizens that international PBOs must have on their local boards, from 1/3 to 2/3.
- Enhanced control by the Executive of the board of the PBO Regulatory Authority by:
- Giving state officers the task of appointing Board members of the PBO Regulatory Authority;
- Reducing the number of persons from the Federation of PBOs who will sit on the Board.
In addition, the proposals also seek to remove the provisions in the PBO Act, which:
- Require the Government to provide financial, tax incentives, benefits and other support to PBOs;
- Compel every state organ to ensure that its policies and other transactions are carried out in a way that supports a favourable environment for PBOs.
After the proposed amendments went public, the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of Devolution and Planning unveiled a Task Force, and charged it to receive views from the public on the proposals. The Task Force held forums in several regions around the country where they heard from various stakeholders. In all the forums, CSOs continued to urge the government to commence the implementation of the PBO Act in its present form.
As of early 2016, a number of CSOs are before the High Court seeking orders to compel the Cabinet Secretary to commence the implementation of the PBO Act in its current form. In April 2016, MP Agostinho Neto proposed an amendment to the PBO Act, 2013, that would dictate that the Act comes into force within 14 days of its publication.
2. The Rules and Regulations that will guide implementation of the PBO Act have yet to be passed. The NGO Coordination Board has prepared and published draft Rules and Regulations. Once discussed by the public and gazetted, the Rules and Regulations, together with the Act, will likely pave the way for the establishment of a more conducive environment for PBOs. Various stakeholders are discussing their expectations regarding the Rules and Regulations.
3. The Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Initiative on Standards is a civil society-led initiative, which aims to strengthen the competence and sustainability of the CSO sector through developing sector-wide standards, building the capacity of CSOs to comply with the standards and establishing an institution to assess compliance with the standards. This initiative brings together CSO networks and capacity building initiatives that were previously working on the development and application of CSO Standards, and also engaged CSO leaders in participatory workshops held in all eight provinces of the country.
Currently, VIWANGO is assessing a number of CSO applicants on their level of compliance with the CSO Standards. Already a number of CSOs have gone through the certification process and are now accredited. They have therefore received their respective marks of excellence.
Through this sector-wide initiative, CSOs are sending an important message to the Government and all potential partners that they intend to conduct themselves in a professional, competent and transparent manner. It will therefore lay the foundation for improved relationships between CSOs and the Government.
4. Religious organizations are also grappling with their share of challenges. In January 2016, the Attorney General (AG) proposed and published Religious Societies Rules aimed at regulating religious organizations. According to the AG, the rules sought to address public concerns regarding the abuse of some religious organizations for purposes of swindling the public, engaging in money laundering, promoting radicalization, and creating a public nuisance. The rules require each religious society to belong to umbrella organizations in order to promote self-regulation; require their leaders to possess a certified copy of a theological certificate; and require each religious society to declare all assets and liabilities and submit annual returns. Religious leaders strongly opposed the rules, noting the government’s failure to conduct proper consultations before publishing them. Thereafter, the President met with religious leaders and announced that the government had withdrawn the rules. He directed the AG to subject the draft rules to comprehensive public consultations with all stakeholders.
5. Kenya's National Assembly on April 28, 2016 approved the Access to Information Bill on third reading. There is ongoing deliberation by a legal committee on whether it should be forwarded to the Senate for consideration or move directly to the president for assent. The Bill gives the government the power to reject any information that will “cause substantial harm to the ability of the government to manage the economy of Kenya” or that which involves “unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual… or infringe on commercial interests….”
NGOs in Kenya may assume one of six available organizational forms:
(1) Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are registered by the NGO Coordination Board and governed by the NGO Coordination Act of 1990 (Act No. 19, Laws of Kenya) and its Regulations of 1992. The Act will be effectively replaced by the Public Benefit Organisations (PBO) Act, 2013, as soon as the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution officially announces the PBO Act's commencement date. All NGOs that were registered under the NGO Coordination Act will be deemed to be registered as Public Benefit Organisations (PBOs) on the commencement date. The PBO Act, under section 2, defines “Public Benefit Organisation” as a voluntary membership or non membership grouping of individuals or organisations, which is autonomous, non-partisan, non-profit making and which is:
– Organised and operated locally, nationally or internationally;
– Engages in defined public benefit activities; and
– Registered by the Authority.
“Public Benefit Activity” is defined under section 2 as “an activity that supports or promotes public benefit by enhancing or promoting the economic, environmental, social or cultural development or protecting the environment or lobbying or advocating on issues of general public interest or the interest or well-being of the general public or a category of individuals or organisations.
(2) Companies limited by guarantee and not having share capital are registered by the Registrar of Companies under the Companies Act (Chapter 486, Laws of Kenya). They can exist to promote any legal purpose as long as these are contained in the memorandum of incorporation and articles of incorporation. As but one example, many service delivery institutions – such as schools and healthcare organizations – are registered as companies limited by guarantee and having no share capital.
(3) Trusts are established by families, groups or individuals to hold and manage assets for the benefit of others. Trusts may be incorporated under the Trustees (Perpetual Succession) Act (Chapter 164, Laws of Kenya) for religious, educational, literary, scientific, social, athletic, or charitable purposes (Trustees (Perpetual Succession) Act, Section 3(1)).
(4) Under the Societies Act, a society is "any club, company, partnership or other association of ten or more persons, whatever its nature or object, established in Kenya or having its headquarters or chief place of business in Kenya" (Societies Act, Section 2). The definition specifically excludes trade unions, cooperatives, corporations, and certain other entities. Societies are registered and regulated by the Registrar of Societies (Societies Act, Section 8). After grassroots organizations, societies are the second largest category of NGO: there are over 70,000 societies registered in Kenya.
(5) Cooperative societies and unions are registered at the Department of Cooperatives under the Cooperative Societies Act (Amended) 2004, No. 12 of 1997. They include consumer, producer and marketing cooperative societies in rural and urban areas and housing development societies found in major urban areas. They are voluntary membership organiations and advance the welfare, economic interests and goals of their members.
(6) Grassroots organizations include harambee or self-help groups and community-based organizations (CBOs) such as neighborhood associations. Self-help groups and CBOs are formally recognized through registration under the Department of Social Services in the Ministry of Gender and Children Affairs. As the largest group in the NGO sector, they operate primarily at the village and community level.
Public Benefit Status
Under section 7 of the PBO Act, the Public Benefit Organizations Regulatory Authority (the government agency that will register PBOs) has the authority to bestow public benefit organization status on organizations that are registered as PBOs, and those that are registered under other laws.
Currently registered NGOs are recognized under the NGO Coordination Act as being “established for the benefit of the public at large and for the promotion of social welfare, development, charity or research in the areas inclusive of, but not restricted to, health, relief, agriculture, education, industry, and the supply of amenities and services.”
The other NGO forms are not restricted to public benefit purposes:
- Trusts may be established to promote religious, educational, literary, scientific, social or charitable, or athletic purposes.
- Societies may be established for any purpose or object.
- Cooperative societies and unions can be created for the promotion of the welfare and economic interests of their members.
For more information on the PBO Act, please see the US International Grantmaking Note on Kenya.
Barriers to Entry
Under the NGO Coordination Act (to be repealed by the PBO Act), ambiguous provisions were sometimes used to curtail transparency and hinder registration of certain NGOs. For example, the NGO Coordination Board could refuse registration of an NGO applicant if it was satisfied that its proposed activities or procedures were not “in the national interest”; or if it was satisfied, on the recommendation of the NGO Council,  that the applicant should not be registered. While the Board may sometimes furnish the applicant with an explanation for the refusal of registration, the Board was not legally required to do so. In practice, denial on the broad ground of the “national interest” has been used unjustifiably to curtail the rights of NGOs. . However, Sections 6- 13 of the new PBO Act provide clear, straightforward criteria for registration of PBOs and a clear, explicit timeline for processing an application for registration.
The following is a range of potential legal barriers to formation, establishment and registration of NGOs under the NGO Coordination Act and the Societies Act:
First, the Government may deny registration of societies on vague and ambiguous grounds, which invite arbitrary and subjective decision-making. Similarly, the Registrar of Societies has wide discretion to refuse to register a society if he has “reasonable cause to believe” that the society has among its objects, or is likely to pursue or be used for, any unlawful purpose or any purpose prejudicial to or incompatible with the peace, welfare or good order in Kenya, or that the interests of peace, welfare or good order in Kenya would otherwise be likely to suffer prejudice by registration of the society. The Registrar may also refuse to register a society where he is satisfied that such society is a branch of, or is affiliated to or connected with, any organization or association of a political nature established outside Kenya. Additional reasons for denial apply where the terms of the constitution or rules of the society or the name of the society is in any respect repugnant to or inconsistent with any law or is otherwise undesirable.
Second, the NGO Coordination Act is vague and ambiguous on a number of issues where wide discretion is given to the NGO Board and the Minister. For example, the certificate of registration for NGOs may contain such terms and conditions as the NGO Coordination Board may prescribe.  There are no guidelines, however, to ensure that the Board uses this prescriptive power in a clear, objective and predictable manner.
Third, the NGO Coordination Act does not explicitly provide a fixed time period within which the NGO Coordination Board must act on NGO registration applications. In practice, however, applications for NGO registration are often processed within about 90 days.
Finally, NGOs and societies are subject to mandatory registration, at least according to the law as written, although this has not proved problematic in practice. Under the NGO Coordination Act, for example, it is illegal for any person to operate an NGO in Kenya without registration and a certificate under the NGO Coordination Act. In practice, however, many NGOs that fall within the definition of NGO have opted to register under alternative legal forms. The Societies Act provides that every society which is not a registered society or an exempted society is an unlawful society. Hence, where ten or more persons get together, they are expected, according to the law, to have that group registered. There are stiff penalties for operating as a society without a registration certificate. This legal provision is, however, rarely enforced.
 The NGO Council is a national umbrella body for NGOs. Once NGOs are registered by the NGO Coordination Board, they are required to apply for membership in the Council. The Council is supposed to represent the interests of its members, but is currently inactive.
 Kameri-Mbote, Patricia, Dr. (2000) ‘The Operational Environment and Constraints for NGOs in Kenya’ IELRC Working Paper, www.ielrc.org.
 Section 12(4) NGO Coordination Act
Barriers to Operational Activity
The new PBO Act in section 4 makes the Government responsible for providing an enabling environment for PBOs to operate. This is in line with the Government's obligations under international law to respect the freedoms of association and assembly. PBOs have a duty to furnish the Regulatory Authority with their annual report of activities and audited financial returns, six months after the end of every financial year (Section 31). The Authority may institute inquiries to determine if the activities of a PBO do not comply with the PBO Act or any other law (section 42(1)(h)). The powers of the Authority to cancel or suspend registration of a PBO are limited to specific instances and to be exercised in line with clear procedures, aimed at safeguarding PBOs (section 18 and 19).
The Societies Act includes a number of potentially troubling legal barriers affecting societies:
- The Act gives wide discretion to the Registrar of Societies and sweeping powers to various government officials with respect to investigating, arresting, entering and searching the premises of any society.
- The Act makes it an offence for a society to fail to keep a register of its members, their names, and the date of admission and exit. Where societies fail to comply with requirements to provide membership lists, annual accounts or other information, they are liable to heavy penalties, including fines and imprisonment.
- Where it is alleged that a society is an unlawful society, the burden of proving that it is a registered or exempted society or that it is not a society shall lie with the person charged.
In practice, however, these powers are rarely exercised. Societies generally operate under minimum supervision. Only occasionally, where a group is suspected to be conducting illegal activities, have the provisions in this Act been put into effect.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
Generally, there are no legal barriers for NGOs to speak out or engage in advocacy efforts on any issues of public importance. The PBO Act (sections 66 and 67) provides that PBOs may engage freely in research, education, publication, public policy and advocacy.
Barriers to International Contact
The NGO Coordination Act Regulations provide that no NGO can become a branch of or affiliated to or connected with any organization or group of a political nature established outside Kenya, except with the prior consent in writing of the NGO Coordination Board, obtained upon written application addressed to the Director and signed by three officers of the NGO. Where an NGO fails to do so, it is guilty of an offence. This provision may be interpreted narrowly and hence serve as a barrier to communication and cooperation.
Barriers to Resources
Generally, Kenyan law provides a conducive framework for NGOs to seek and secure funding. For example:
- NGOs are permitted to engage in economic activities provided that the profits are used to further the NGO’s purposes and that the activities are directly related to the NGO’s purposes or carried out on behalf of its beneficiaries. NGOs can conduct the business activities either directly or through for-profit subsidiaries.
- The PBO Act (section 65) provides that PBOs may engage in lawful economic activities provided the income is used solely to support the PBOs public benefit purposes.
- Local resource mobilization through harambees (public fund-raisers) is recognized, as long as it adheres to the guidelines in the Public Collections Act, which is generally enabling.
- There are no special rules relating to the receipt of foreign funds by NGOs.
- NGOs are permitted to compete for government funds in free and open competitions where specific guidelines have been established. (There are, however, very few instances where NGOs receive funding from the Government.)
Nonetheless, in 2015, the government pressured or ceased funding of NGOs that are allegedly associated with Al-Shabaab. For example, three NGOs were banned and accused of operating outside the law and financing terrorism in May 2015: Muslim for Human Rights (Muhuri), Haki Africa and the Agency for Peace. However, civil society and foreign governments have questioned whether such allegations against these NGOs are justified and protested Kenya's actions to ban these NGOs.
Barriers to Assembly
The freedom of assembly is protected in Kenya’s Constitution, in Article 37: “Every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities.” The Public Order Act regulates the organizations and staging of public gatherings and demonstrations.
Advance Notification. Under Sections 5(1) and 5(2) of the Public Order Act, notification of the intent to hold public meetings and public processions is mandatory. The threshold that triggers the notification requirement is when 10 people are present at an assembly. Section 5(2) of the Public Order Act states that, “Any person intending to convene a public meeting or a public procession shall notify the regulating officer of such intent at least three days but not more than fourteen days before the proposed date of the public meeting or procession.” At least two practical concerns arise:
- There is no time limit specified for the regulatory authority to respond to the notification; it is only assumed that the regulatory authority must respond before the date of the proposed assembly.
- There are no statutory provisions about the right to appeal a negative decision from the regulatory authority. However, case law and specific legal provisions within constitutional and public administrative law allow challenges to oppressive and unreasonable government action. Despite this, practically speaking, it may not be possible to challenge and reverse the decision of a refusal from the regulatory authority in sufficient time for the meeting to take place, especially where the notice is submitted close to the day of the meeting.
Spontaneous Assemblies. Due to the notification requirement, spontaneous demonstrations are not allowed. According to Section 5(1) of the Public Order Act, “No person shall hold a public meeting or a public procession except in accordance with the provisions of this section.” According to Section 5(1) anyone who participates in an “unlawful assembly” is liable to imprisonment for up to one year.
Time, Place, Manner, and Other Restrictions. According to Section 5(3), subsection (2)(b) of the Public Order Act, the notification about holding an assembly must specify “the proposed date of the meeting or procession and the time thereof, which shall be between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m.” Thus, there are time restrictions for holding an assembly.
Simultaneous Assemblies. Sections 5(2) and 5(4) of the Public Order Act also do not allow more than one demonstration on the same day, at the same time or at the same venue/route. This in effect prohibits counter–demonstrations. The regulating officer will, however, allow another demonstration on a different date, or time and route.
Enforcement. Since 2011, there have been a number of demonstrations involving clashes between demonstrators and police and military personnel. The police have been accused of using excessive power to intimidate Kenyans who protest. This been affirmed by videos of police abusing protestors, particularly vulnerable groups, such as internally displaced persons (IDPs).
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports||Kenya, Universal Periodic Review 2010|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs||Kenya|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes|
|U.S. State Department||2014 Country Reports|
|Failed States Index Reports||Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index|
|IMF Country Reports||Kenya and the IMF|
|International Commission of Jurists||Not available|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library||Kenya|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at email@example.com.
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Kenyan Assembly Approves Access to Information Bill (April 2016)
Kenya's National Assembly on April 28 approved an Access to Information Bill on third reading. There is ongoing deliberation by a legal committee on whether it should be forwarded to the Senate for consideration or move directly to the president for assent, according to a close observer of the situation. The Bill gives the government the power to reject any information that will “cause substantial harm to the ability of the government to manage the economy of Kenya” or that which involves “unwarranted invasion of the privacy of an individual… or infringe on commercial interests….”
NGOs board bankrupt, Parliament told (April 2016)
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Fresh bid to amend Kenya's NGO law opposed by civil society (September 2015)
Civil society have criticized fresh attempts to amend the law that was passed more than two years ago to regulate NGOs but has never been implemented. They want Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru to drop her bid to amend the Public Benefits Organisations Act, which they consider a move to curb the operations of civil society in the country. Waiguru's Ministry has indicated that it has forwarded proposed amendments to parliament but it is not yet clear what those amendments are. But previous attempts to amend the law sought to restrict external funding for civil society. This will be sixth attempt by the government to amend the law.
Embassy rejects plea on funding NGO (May 2015)
The UK has turned down a request by Kenya that it stops funding Haki Afrika, a Mombasa-based NGO that the government has linked to terrorism. The Foreign Affairs Ministry had on May 12 written protest letters to the US, UK and Norwegian governments asking them to stop funding the organisation whose bank accounts were frozen in the wake of the attack on the Garissa University College in April 2015.
NGOs lose licences over terrorism claim (May 2015)
Three NGOs have been banned in the ongoing clampdown on CSOs accused of operating outside the law and financing terrorism. Muslim for Human Rights (Muhuri), Haki Africa and the Agency for Peace and Development have been deregistered and barred from operating in the country after the sector regulator, the NGO Coordination Board, cancelled their licences. The three were among organisations gazetted by the Inspector General of Police on suspicion of supporting Al-Shabaab activities. The decision to publish their names was taken after the April 2 terrorist attack on the Garissa University College in which 148 people were killed.
Ban NGOs linked to gay rights, says team (May 2015)
A taskforce set up to gather views on suggested amendments to a law governing NGOs could stir further controversy after it recommended a ban on those that advance gay rights. The 11-member team led by nominated MP Sophia Abdi handed in its report to Devolution Cabinet Secretary Anne Waiguru. In its proposals, the team suggested that a law be passed to ban organisations involved in indecency, espionage or terrorism.
NGOs in Kenya urge taskforce not to alter law (March 2015)
Proposed changes to the Public Benefits Organisations (PBO) Act will open up more avenues for corruption and political interference, civil society leaders warned in a petition to a government-led taskforce at a recent meeting in Nairobi. More than 40 NGOs presenting their petitions to the PBO Taskforce, which for the past three months has collected views across the country, unanimously called on the Kenyan government to implement the Act without any changes. The NGOs told the taskforce that the proposed changes would create unnecessary mistrust between them and government.
15 NGOs Deregistered On Suspicion of Funding Terrorism (December 2014)
Fifteen NGOs have been de-registered, their bank accounts frozen, assets repossessed and their names forwarded to the Anti-Terror Police and Interpol for investigation on suspicion of funding terror activities in Kenya and the Horn of Africa. Making the announcement, NGO Coordination Board chairman Fazul Mahamed Yusuf said, "Noting that NGOs are vulnerable to abuse as conduits of terrorism financing and money laundering, the Board has put measures in place to curb such occurrences." Yusuf at the same time announced the de-registration of a further 510 NGOs for non-compliance in accordance to regulation 24 of the NGOs Coordination Regulation Act of 1992.
Bill on NGO funding proposes a return to days of intolerance (November 2014)
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Democracy and development under siege in Kenya (November 2014)
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100,000 jobs at risk over law on NGO financing (November 2014)
New legislation to reduce foreign funding for NGOs could result in the loss of over 100,000 jobs. A proposed amendment to the Public Benefits Organisations Act of 2013 would cap foreign funding for NGOs at 15 percent of their total budgets. However, virtually all of Kenya's 8,500 NGOs rely on donor aid to fund their operations. "In areas such as the former North Eastern Province and other arid areas, 80 percent of health programs are supported by NGOs. Why would you want to kill such initiatives?" asked NGO Council chairman Ken Wafula.
Fresh Onslaught on Foreign Funding and Civic Space (October 2014)
Civil society groups are crying foul at what they see as a fresh onslaught from the Jubilee Government to check their activities after unsuccessful attempts last year to limit foreign funding. Some activists point to the ongoing Kenyan cases at the International Criminal Court (ICC) as the main reason for the renewed efforts to shrink the political and legal space in which they operate. Mr Christopher Gitari of the International Centre for Transitional Justice said that "any efforts to hold meetings with victims of the 2007/2008 post-election violence are usually closely monitored by police and intelligence officers and sometimes disrupted." In addition, a fresh amendment to the PBO Act sponsored by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria is now in the works. The amendments, if adopted, will limit foreign funding of NGOs to 15 percent.
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Civil Society States Position on Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2014 (July 2014)
We, the over 200 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) and stakeholders drawn from all the 47 counties in the Republic of Kenya meeting in Nairobi on July 14 – 15, 2014 to discuss the state and future of the civil society in Kenya, wish to register our pleasure with a number of the proposed amendments to the Public Benefit Organizations (PBO) Act and note that this is a step towards enhancing the spirit of the Act, in line with the Government's promise to support the civil society sector and promote Kenya's political and socio-economic development. While we are pleased with some of the amendments, there is still concern that some of the proposed amendments are stifling and do not promote an enabling environment for the CSO sector.
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A week after being elected into office in elections supervised by the Government, the new NGO Council National Chairman Wilson Kipsang Kipkazi has sounded a warning to what he terms 'CSOs undermining the State'. Kipkazi, in the company of the NGO Council Chief Executive Officer Kevinnah Loyatum, has claimed that about three foreign NGOs were working with some Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to undermine the Jubilee government. According to the NGOs Council, "We know activities of some foreign NGOs and the millions of shillings they have channeled to the grassroots in parts of this country. We are telling them all NGOs must co-operate with the government of the day. The NGO Council will not work in isolation from the government," said Kipkazi in an interview with The Standard.
MPs throw out Bill targeting NGOs (December 2013)
Goverment moves to cut NGOs foreign funding (October 2013)
Civil society accuses judges of derailing reforms (November 2012)
Civil society to educate public on Constitution (August 2012)
Civil society up in arms over Integrity Bill (August 2012)
NGOs council wants funding at grassroots (June 2012)
Rights activists reject amended laws (June 2012)
NGOs wrangle over law to rein in sector (May 2012)
Ntimama finally appoints NGO board (March 2012)
Civil society already driving vision 2030 (July 2011)
Illegal NGOs to be closed (March 2011)
Kenya: Don't waste the new Constitution (August 2010)
Kenya: Voice of reason in law review (August 2010)
House agrees to repeal law on injustices (April 2010)
Civil society to educate public on draft law (May 2010)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL NGO Law Monitor partner in Kenya, Faith Kisinga Gitonga, consultant on the enabling environment for civil society.