July 21, 2020
Francis: defending human rights in Kenya during the COVID-19 pandemic
Francis is a human rights defender from Kenya and former guest of Shelter City. He shared with us his experience as a human rights defender during the ongoing pandemic, how his work has been affected and the new strategies he developed.
The consequences of the measures against COVID-19
The measures taken by the government to counter the pandemic have negativatively impacted Francis’s human rights work in various ways.
Francis fights to defend civil rights by advocating for justice and accountability, and documenting and reporting cases of police brutality and extrajudicial killings. His work often takes place on the streets, through demonstrations, petitions, small assemblies and direct action.
The Kenyan government imposed a lockdown in various parts of the country, including Mathare, the informal settlement in Nairobi where Francis lives. As a result, Francis could not go out and carry out his activism.
Moreover, Francis shared that before the pandemic he organized education opportunities and trainings for human rights defenders on civil resistance and direct action, but now this is more difficult.
The measures imposed by the government had also negative consequences on his financial situation. The difficulties in carrying out activism meant that Francis was not able to pay his rent or feed his family.
Covid-19 measures decreased the opportunities for human rights defenders to come together.According to Francis, solidarity is their strenght but now activists are locked in different cities or areas.
The Kenyan government took advantage of the measures to counter the pandemic. Francis explained that it is now easier for the government to monitor activists as the movement of people has decreased. Moreover, the government discriminates against grassroots human rights defenders by not classifying them as vulnerable or including them into the aid proramme. As a consequence, they are not able to receive support.
Developing new strategies
Despite the difficulties, Francis continued his human rights work. According to him, grassroots activists are flexible and they are able to develop new ways of campaigning.
Francis has collaborated with other human rights defenders from Kenya in creating a platform called COVID-19 Support Human Rights Group on Facebook with the aim of connecting human rights defenders with organizations that can help them.
They are also launching a campaign to ask the government for money as human rights defenders work to assist the government’s actions, for instance in healthcare. This campaign relies on the use of a WhatsApp group.
Francis encouraged the civil society to remember that their main goal is to control the government’s action and they should carry it out even during the ongoing pandemic. This is important because, for instance, governments have used the pandemic as an opportunity to negatively amend laws.
Getting through the lockdown
Francis also shared with us how he kept going during the lockdown.
As a big fan of soccer and despite not being able to go to matches, watching sports games on TV were a good therapy for him.
Sharing his challenges with other human rights defenders also helped him. According to Francis solidarity and keeping in touch are fundamental.
“We are not alone, we are many. We talk to each other, we make jokes; we do campaigns.” – Francis