President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014 (archived pdf here). Despite widespread opposition from a large section of the Kenyan public, amendments therein are now the law of the land. The law itself is a mixed bag. There are some good parts that are meant to streamline the criminal justice system. But there are other parts that will certainly be abused by politicians and over-eager security agents, and could lead to a drastic reduction of civil liberties in Kenya.
This is how the bill was passed:
Members of Parliament and Sergeants-at-Arms guard House Speaker Justin Muturi as he reads the motion to pass to the bill.
Civil Society groups in Kenya, and a section of Members of Parliament, have vowed to challenge the constitutionality of the Act in court.
Will the challenge succeed? The simple answer is I don’t know. The Kenyan Supreme Court leans to the right, and is likely to defer to the executive (and its allies in the legislature) on matters related to security. Plus my bet is that if you polled the law a good chunk of Kenyans would support it. It targets “terrorists” and “criminals.” The mainstream churches in Kenya have also come out in strong support, in no small part because suspected terrorists have made a habit of attacking packed churches along the Kenyan coast.
The judicial review process is unlikely to set aside the entire statute. The petitioners will be better served to focus on key clauses that are unconstitutional and ask the judges to strike those out. But I should reiterate that the judges are likely to defer to Parliament and the executive on this one.
From a legislative studies perspective, what is worrying is that in order to get the law passed State House essentially told the National Assembly, “Trust me. I need these powers to secure Kenyan lives and property. And I will not abuse them. Trust me.” And then Parliament capitulated. There was no debate over the State’s total failure to use existing laws to prevent and/or deter crime. Or the corruption and gross ineptitude that ails the security sector. Instead the executive was rewarded with even more power, secrecy, and ability to silence criticism from the media. All open to cynical abuse.
What Parliament forgot is that that there are no good politicians; only constrained ones. And that if unchecked anyone and everyone will abuse power. It doesn’t matter whether they are Pol Pot or the Pope.