Kenya | Freedom House

Freedom in the World

Freedom in the World 2017



Freedom Status: 
Partly Free

Freedom in the World Scores

(1=Most Free, 7=Least Free)

Quick Facts

Press Freedom Status: 
Partly Free
Net Freedom Status: 

Kenya is a multiparty democracy that holds regular elections, but its political rights and civil liberties are seriously undermined by pervasive corruption and cronyism, police brutality, and ethnic rivalries that are exploited by political leaders. The country has also struggled to cope with the threat of terrorism emanating from neighboring Somalia; counterterrorism efforts often feature abusive and discriminatory tactics targeting the Muslim and ethnic Somali communities.

Key Developments: 
  • After Islamist militants killed at least 141 Kenyan soldiers in Somalia in January, Kenyan authorities arrested a journalist and a blogger for sharing information related to the attack on social media, adding to a pattern of restrictions on freedom of expression. In April, a judge struck down the legal provision under which the two were arrested.
  • In June, police officers allegedly tortured and murdered the accuser in a police brutality case, along with his lawyer and a driver. The incident highlighted the broader problem of criminality and excessive force among law enforcement agencies.
  • Members of the electoral commission resigned in October as part of a political agreement to reform the body ahead of general elections in 2017. The deal came after a failed constitutional referendum bid and a series of major protests by the opposition, which argued that the existing electoral system was deeply flawed.
Executive Summary: 

A decline in domestic terrorist attacks in 2016 was overshadowed by an apparent rise in the use of lethal force by Kenyan police. An October study found that in the first eight months of the year, police officers killed a total of 122 civilians, a 7 percent increase over the same period in 2015. Police brutality was on display in May and June, when the opposition organized demonstrations aimed at overhauling the electoral commission. At least five demonstrators were killed amid police beatings, tear gas, and gunfire ammunition.

In the year’s most prominent incident of police violence, human rights lawyer Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda, and their driver, Joseph Muiruri, were killed in June. Kimani was representing Mwenda in a court case in which the latter accused police officers of misuse of lethal force. The three were allegedly tortured and then dumped in a river. Five police officers were charged with the murders. Government statistics released in May provided another indication of alarming criminality among police, showing that police officers were implicated in over a third of the crimes reported in 2015.

The year also featured attempts by the government to limit freedom of expression. Journalists, bloggers, and activists were arrested or prosecuted on a variety of charges, and officials allegedly pressured media outlets to curb unfavorable coverage. In January, the Daily Nation fired an editor over an opinion piece that was critical of the administration, and in March the same paper severed ties with a cartoonist known for his biting critiques of powerful figures. Despite these pressures, many media houses continued to produce aggressive reporting on the government, and a number of activists used the country’s moderately independent judicial system to fight back against threats to freedom of expression.

Aggregate Score: 
Freedom Rating: 
Political Rights: 
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