Kenyan court prevents attempts by Bridge International Academies to muzzle critics
Nairobi, Kenya, 23 February 2018
The High Court of Kenya at Nairobi dismissed on Tuesday the application for an interim injunction against the Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) and its Secretary General, Mr Wilson Sossion, which had temporarily barred them from publicly discussing the operations of the largest chain of private schools in Kenya, Bridge International Academies, pending the hearing and final determination of the suit. This ruling is an important step to correct the attempt by the American company to silence critics in Kenya.
This decision follows a case filed by Bridge in March 2017 accusing KNUT and Mr Sossion of defamation. This case followed concerns raised by Mr Sossion regarding Bridge’s lack of compliance with education standards and the profit making nature of the company. Mr. Sossion’s criticisms are however well documented in a report published by KNUT. In March 2017, Bridge secured a gag order which restrained the KNUT Secretary General and KNUT officials from publicly mentioning or engaging in constructive criticism of Bridge.
Several other reports from various independent sources, including academic researchers and journalists have made similar findings, informing the call to investors to cease support to Bridge which was signed by 174 organisations in August 2017.
In the ruling, Justice Richard Mwongo, emphasised that education was a matter of public interest that deserves a public discussion: “Not only does the constitution guarantee every child the right to basic education, it is also a fact that education is of such importance that the public are often engaged in questioning the happenings in public and private education issues at all times”
Resistance to transparency and accountability
These actions are emblematic of Bridge’s continued resistance to public scrutiny and transparency, further evidenced in the many litigation cases that it is engaged in. In a report published on 21 November 2017 by the UK parliament, Stephen Twigg MP highlighted Bridge’s “hostility to independent assessment”. In May 2016, an independent researcher, Canadian doctoral student, Curtis Riep, was arrested at the request of the company in Uganda, after Bridge issued a public notice in the local newspapers “warning” the general public of Riep’s presence. Mr. Riep was released without charge after Bridge was unable to provide any evidence to support their claims.
Bridge and its supporters have also used “aggressive” techniques to dismiss critics on social media, as the Minister of Education of Uganda, Mrs. Janet Museveni, recently qualified this month following the decision of the Government of Ugandan to close all Bridge schools in the country for failing to meet educational standards.
Linda Oduor-Noah from the East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights) said: “Education requires transparency and accountability, especially for actors serving marginalised groups. Trying to silence KNUT was an obvious way to avoid a public conversation about the profit and legality of the operations of Bridge. We are delighted that the judge decided to reopen that conversation, pending the final judgement.”
Zulekha Amin from the Economic and Social Rights Centre (Hakijamii) added: “The attempt Bridge made to silence its critics only reinforces the suspicions that they have a lot to hide. It is shameful that an American company like Bridge Academies comes to Kenya, runs 405 schools largely without the necessary authorisations, and then refuses to have a public and transparent debate on its operations. Kenyans will not continue to be merely point of extraction for multinational corporations.”
High Court Ruling - Bridge International Academies Limited -vs- KNUT and Wilson Sossion
Information Statement on ongoing cases involving Bridge International Academies
Article by Ugandan Minister of Education, Mrs. Janet Museveni
Report by KNUT and Education International - Bridge vs. Reality: A study of Bridge International Academies’ for-profit schooling in Kenya
Report by UK Parliament - DFID’s work on education: Leaving no one behind?
East African Centre for Human Rights: Linda Oduor Noah,
Global Initiative for Economic Social and Cultural Rights, Sylvain Aubry,
East African Centre for Human Rights (EACHRights)
Economic and Social Rights Centre-Hakijamii
The Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC)
Global Initiative for Economic Social and Cultural Rights (GI-ESCR)