Shrinking Civic Spaces in Institutions of Higher Learning and Communities

Leonida Odongo
Posted November 28, 2020 from Kenya

Civic space continues to shrink on daily basis. The more the world is advancing in terms of technology and globalisation, the more states and institutions are devising new methods of restricting civic spaces. The methods used include surveillance, swoops and searches , criminalization of protests  and criminalization of gatherings and presence of security apparatus everywhere.

Within institutions of higher learning, civic spaces shrinks through a variety of ways. In some instances vocal students become targets of intimidation for speaking out against issues happening in their institutions, others become frustrated and may end up not graduating. Additionally sometimes the leadership chosen may not have the interest of students at heart.

Various mechanisms are used to shrink civic spaces, sometimes it is the use of police especially when students go on strike, and police are called to stop the riots. In some cases there is excessive use of force leading to students being hurt, hospitalised .In the aftermath of a strike, some students find themselves having to engage the disciplinary committee and the not so lucky ones find themselves suspended, additionally, in extreme cases some students get killed in the process of protests.

The atmosphere that has existed among university students and the police, more so public universities in Kenya has been one of mistrust. Whenever students see the police, especially on the Kenyan streets, some become agitated more so when students are disgruntled . There have been reported cases of police using excessive force to quell riots in universities. Examples of this include violence against students at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Juja, other examples include the 2016 Student Organization of University of Nairobi (SONU) elections where it was reported that students were brutally attacked and their property damaged by police officers as well as the gunning down of Meru University student leader Evans Njoroge who was protesting against increment of school fees

It is against this backdrop that an initiative that brings enhances the capacity of students on rights and basic law has come up. Through training on human rights  and paralegalism ,  university students and community members are equipped with knowledge and skills on how to defend and demand their rights .Additionally  students are engaged through provision of safe spaces to discuss issues affecting them and relevant referrals are made. During the psychosocial sessions , students share their fears .Additionally  to address the age old mistrust existing between university students and police , student-police dialogues are held where students share their experiences on encounter with the police , both good and bad. The police  respond to issues and concerns raise by the students .Asked what their expectations are during student-police dialogues , majority of students mention that  they would like to understand the rationale for police brutality.

Student-Police dialogues coupled with human rights education and paralegal training will go a long way empowering students on their rights and at the same time equip them with the much needed skills to be able to solve problems existing in communities. Additionally , training community members to be paralegals helps remove law from being an elitist element to being something well understood by many people.

Comments 4

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Tamarack Verrall
Nov 28, 2020
Nov 28, 2020

Dear Leonida,
When University students come together to share ideas on how our countries and the world as a whole can be better, the status quo all too often reacts by sending in police, and what you describe in the beginning of your story is heartbreaking and so true, that these days online surveillance infringes even more profoundly on human rights than before. That there are dialogues growing, room being made for talks to continue and develop, and even paralegal services is such good news. May all those meeting for the good of people, remain safe and able to find each other.

Leonida Odongo
Dec 04, 2020
Dec 04, 2020

Dear Tam,

Thank you for the comments .

Kind regards

Leonida

Karen QuiƱones-Axalan
Dec 03, 2020
Dec 03, 2020

Hello, Prof. Leonida,

Your observation is right, and I agree with Tam, too. It's sad when we thought we have technology at our side to speak out, and yet the powers that be are trying to control our digital freedom.

I know this from a World Pulse sister in Uganda who shared about what was happening there, but she couldn't speak out in her social media accounts because the government might track her down and her life will be endangered.

Thank you for raising your voice to important topics, as always!

Leonida Odongo
Dec 04, 2020
Dec 04, 2020

Dear Karen,

You are most welcome.

More energy!

Leonida