Activists led by constitutional lawyer Yash Pal Ghai, economist David Ndii and lawyer Maina Kiai, were on Saturday barred from accessing the venue in Mombasa County where they were to address a meeting on regional issues.
The team was blocked from entering Technical University of Mombasa (TUM), where they were to speak about matters including a dwindling economy that has been linked to the government’s move to compel importers to haul their cargo to Nairobi using the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
Police manned the gates of the university to keep them from entering.
Officials of Muslims for Human Rights (Muhuri), the host of the meeting, said they were asked to call it off for “security reasons”.
“We received communication from TUM that they had cancelled the agreement to host us due to security reasons. The management claimed students might be radicalised and cause tension,” Muhuri chairman Khelef Khalifa told the media outside the university.
“We had hired the hall and made all preparations, which was costly. We shall take legal action to recover the money.”
TUM’s Vice Chancellor Leila Abubakar did not respond to the Nation‘s requests for comment on the matter.
Economist David Ndii reacts during a protest outside the Technical University of Mombasa on November 2, 2019, after activists were prevented from holding a planned meeting on the region’s issues. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP
After they were denied entry into TUM, the group resolved to hold a peaceful demonstration outside the university against the government’s move.
Prof Ghai said the meeting was to address devolution, economic issues and the shrinking civic space in the country.
“Being one of the architects of the current Constitution, I can say what is happening in counties is not what we envisaged.
“The Constitution is not being implemented [correctly] as resources meant for county residents are not utilised as required by the law.”
He further said the government has no right to remove Mombasa residents from areas where they enjoy natural resources.
Activist Maina Kiai and constitutional lawyer Yash Pal Ghai during a protest outside the Technical University of Mombasa, where they had planned to hold a meeting but were barred for security reasons, November 2,2 019. PHOTO | KEVIN ODIT | NATION MEDIA GROUP
The team furtheraccused the government of frustrating civil societies to keep them from criticising it.
“We are here to support civil society groups. We shall form more groups to ensure the resources of each county are protected. Today we have the Okoa Mombasa group but we shall move to each county to ensure equity in resource distribution,” said Mr Kiai, who is also a human rights activist.
Mr Ndii said introduction of the SGR freight service was unconstitutional since the Constitution and a number of treaties allow each importer to choose a mode of transport.
“We know the agreement between the Kenya Ports Authority and the Kenya Railways Corporation on a take-or-pay deal.
“We shall continue to say this; that the SGR is uneconomical and cannot pay its debt as it is, so we want the government to make the SGR efficient and [allow] importers to opt for it instead of compelling them [to use it].”