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Today marks 74 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. The enduring lesson for us all is when one generation fails to promote and protect human rights it will always negatively impact the next generation. The other is that we must find new financial, inter-sectoral and inclusive ways to organise our freedom.

Freedom is now topical and a social obligation for the Kenya Kwanza Administration and opposition Azimio la Umoja. It means everything to everyone including those recently released serious economic crime suspects. Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen describes it best. He argues all humans regardless of their legal context or cultural traditions are entitled to be free from want, fear and neglect. Our constitution decrees we have the freedom to be alive, unafraid, educated, sheltered, safe, informed, fully expressive and equal. These freedoms stop where they infringe on other’s freedoms. Our laws do not license us to steal from the State, discriminate, or kill others.

The National Council on the Administration of Justice presented its annual report to President William Ruto and the public this week. The 150-page report documents legislative and procedural advancements already transforming child rights, bail and bond procedures and access to justice.

Law enforcement agencies, constitutional commissions and human rights organisations protected thousands of whistle-blowers, wildlife warriors, journalists, refugees, women, LGTIQ persons and young people this year. We may all fear violence, but violence impacts the marginalised and poor most and children, women, LGBTIQ+, refugees, persons with disabilities and the economically poor bear the brunt.

Despite this, funding to the justice system is falling. The 2021/22 budgetary allocation of Sh166b is 35 per cent less than the previous year. This translates into Sh3,200 a year for each person in your life right now. The Police (Sh100b), Prisons (Sh27b) and Judiciary (Sh18b) are the big spenders. All the other State agencies get less than Sh4b each. Crucial agencies like the Witness Protection Agency and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights receive a paltry Sh500m. This underinvestment trend is sadly repeated by dwindling international financing for civic human rights organisations.

If we are serious about public safety, law and order, we must look at new financing strategies. Budgetary autonomy for the Judiciary and the Police is an important first step. Rather than relying on a failing aid donor system and a highly indebted and austere state, can we turn to the Kenyan public to protect those that protect them?

For many years, Amnesty International, American Civil Liberties Union, the Black Lives Matter Movement and South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign among others, have funded research and campaigns through individual contributions, fundraising events, and corporate sponsorship. Perhaps, it is time to deepen the culture of social justice philanthropy here. Implementing the Kenya Kwanza manifesto promise to operationalise the Public Benefits Organisations Act (2014) could be a first step towards this.

Most Kenyans are not selfish, short-sighted, and transactional. Most of us do care about our communities, hate corruption and environmental destruction but we often feel too isolated to do the right thing. In my experience, Kenyans want to back those who stand up for human rights, good governance, and the rule of law. They just don’t know how.

An opportunity presents itself with tomorrow’s Freedom Festival fortunately. The #FreedomFestKE is a public appeal to close the year dancing and raising money to protect our freedoms. Telkom Kenya, Standard Media Group, Ole-Sereni Hotel, Nation Media Group, and others are supporting the event and Alfa Kat, Femi One, Eric Wainaina and other artists have generously waived all or part of their fees to participate. To support the work of those who act in our interest, you can buy tickets by texting *229*25# or going to https://mtickets.com/buy/freedom-fest/1972.

Each generation is obligated by the level of freedom it currently enjoys to expand fundamental freedoms and human rights for the next. Our elders did what they could, we must do more.

First published in The Standard on 10th December 2022. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard.

Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]