Democratic rights are increasingly not respected in East Africa, a new report on the global status of freedom indicates.
In Kenya, the survey by Washington-based Freedom House, a non-partisan non-governmental organisation, recounts the controversial 2017 presidential election process, in which a “court-mandated rerun was marred by a lack of substantive reforms, incidents of political violence and a boycott by the main opposition candidate, Raila Odinga.”
“These factors undermined the credibility of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s victory, in which he claimed 98 per cent of the vote amid low turnout,” the Freedom House report said.
The group gives Kenya an aggregate freedom score of 48 out of 100 points — a drop from 51 points in the previous year’s report. That score places Kenya among 58 countries described as “partly free.”
Freedom House also reported a decline in democratic rights in Tanzania, which had a slightly higher aggregate score than Kenya.
Tanzania, with 52 points in the new report and 58 in last year’s survey, is categorised as “partly free.”
“The government of President John Magufuli — who took office in 2015 as a member of the only ruling party the country has ever known — stepped up repression of dissent, detaining opposition politicians, shuttering media outlets, and arresting citizens for posting critical views on social media,” the 2018 survey states.
Uganda saw its ranking improve from “not free” to “partly free,” even though its current score of 37 is significantly lower than either Kenya’s or Tanzania’s.
Freedom House bases its elevated evaluation of Uganda on “the resilience of the media sector and the willingness of journalists, bloggers, and citizens to voice their opinions.”
The report adds, however, that “the political environment remained tightly restricted under the regime of long-ruling president Yoweri Museveni.”
Rwanda is included among the 49 countries rated “not free.” It gets an aggregate score of 23 — a slight drop from the 25 points Rwanda received in last year’s Freedom House report.
The new study does not offer an explanation for Rwanda’s ranking.
Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan also qualify as “not free” on the Freedom House table.
South Sudan is given the second-lowest score — two points — of all 195 countries surveyed by Freedom House. Somalia fares little better, with a score of seven points. Burundi, also riven by internal conflict but not to the same extent as Somalia and South Sudan, gets a score of 19.