Events surrounding the controversial Security Laws (Amendment) Bill led to the temporary suspension of a sitting of Parliament on Thursday, December 18. The session was a special one for which members of Parliament (MPs) returned from their Christmas break, and was supposed to be dedicated to the final reading of the bill and to the confirmation of Joseph Nkaissery as interior secretary.
However, MPs from the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) began making noise and disrupting the session, saying they needed more time to read the bill (which has changed to some extent since its first reading a weak earlier). Speaker Justin Muturi denied the request, prompting some more vociferous disruption from the Cord benches.
Cord had vowed in the days before the reading to stop the bill from passing because of the concerns it has that the bill infringes important civil rights; the government deployed police in riot gear outside the National Assembly building from dawn on Thursday to control possible demonstrations.
The National Assembly eventually passed the bill with a few changes. Scenes in the Assembly on December 18 were unruly, as members of Parliament (MPs) fought over the mace and an MP from Cord – who wanted to stop the vote on the bill – tore up the Assembly’s order paper. The deputy speaker was splashed with water. Cord’s efforts were futile, however, as the majority coalition in Parliament (Jubilee) easily had the numbers to pass the bill.
The bill as it will be enacted contains some changes to the very concerning first draft that was tabled a weak ahead of the special session, most importantly removing provisions that would have given the interior secretary wide powers to police demonstrations. It is welcome news that these clauses have been dropped, but the new law will still have a chilling effect on civil rights.
The way in which the bill was forced through the assembly – with Jubilee giving very little time either to the opposition or to civil society for consultation and debate – will tend to increase polarisation in government. It will take some time to measure the actual effects of the bill, but the country is expected to see more heavy-handed measures against suspected extremists in Mombasa, and unrest in reaction to that. The bill itself, and the manner in which Jubilee is passing it, represent a step back for democracy and governance in Kenya.
Analyst: Francois Conradie