Stopping hate speech a civic duty for all Kenyans

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BY Dr MZALENDO KIBUNJIA

There has been concerned among Kenyans at the manner in which hate speech is being used to characterise the campaigns on the proposed constitution in the count-down to referendum elections.

And in his Madaraka Day speech President Kibaki ordered a crackdown on hate mongers in the run up to the constitutional referendum. The Head of State directed all the Government arms and security agencies concerned to take firm and decisive action on individual who may engage in acts of hate speech regardless of their status in society.

The President also underscored the critical role of the media in promoting public interest and urged them to expose politicians and other interest groups out to fan hate speech during the campaigns for or against the proposed Constitution, name and shame individuals engaging in hate speech, lies and negative ethnic persuasions. The President’s order could not have come at a better time.

It is worthy to know that, even before the President’s directives, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) whose mandate is to provide an effective common basis for response to addressing the breakdown in nationhood since independence with the future in mind, has been receiving complaints and information on hate speech and we have investigated over 21 cases successfully one of them being that of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and also KASS FM.

But since summoning seven Members of Parliament after weeks of investigations where we collected evidence which we gave to the police, NCIC has been accused that we are being used to target the No side of the campaign.

It is important to note that as Kenyans we should not forget why the Agenda Four Commissions were set up and we should not have short memory on the pain many Kenyans underwent especially those who lost their loved ones, women raped and those whose property was destroyed. As we embark on another campaign trail yet again, there are those who are still nursing both emotional and physical wounds of the post election violence.

 We all know that the establishment of the Agenda 4  Commissions was due to the fact that  both Kenyans and the international community recognise that the disputed December 2007 elections may have been merely the trigger in respect of long standing experiences of inequality and injustice in Kenya. It was therefore imperative that the mechanisms outlined above were established to ensure the long standing causes of conflict in the country are addressed.

And we as Kenyans told ourselves that never again shall we allow our country to be called a failed state simply because we cannot live cohesively and allow the rule of law to work for us.

The NCIC was borne out of the realisation that long lasting peace, sustainable development and harmonious coexistence among Kenyans requires deliberate normative, institutional and attitudinal processes of constructing nationhood, national cohesion and integration. The NCIC is a key step towards overcoming challenges to building nationhood. Based upon the discussions under Agenda Four, NCIC provides an effective common basis for response to addressing the breakdown in nationhood since independence, with the future in mind. 

According to Section 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008, hate speech is described as follows;  Any person who utters words intended to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence or discrimination against any person, group or community on the basis of ethnicity or race, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both or a newspaper, radio station or media enterprise that publishes the utterances referred to in subsection (1) commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings.

According to Section 13 of the Act, a person is liable to be charged with hate speech when he or she uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or displays any written material.

And anyone who commits an offence under this section shall be liable to a fine not exceeding one million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both.

Indeed the campaign mood has already set in with numerous rallies being addressed or planned across the country. Both the Yes and No camps have set up their campaign secretariats as well as the Church which is conducting a separate campaign from that of the politicians.

Our country is faced with a similar situation like during the last general elections. Luckily, and with hindsight, preemptive steps have been taken to ensure that this campaign period does not become yet another opportunity for individuals to spread fear and despondency in the country using hate speech.

But our key objective is to promote equality of opportunity, good relations, harmony and peaceful co-existence between persons of the different ethnic, racial communities of Kenya and to advise Government on all aspects.

The commission has taken steps to educate the masses on what constitutes hate speech and the legal implications. The commission will also be monitoring speakers during campaign rallies. Action will be taken on those who contravene the law. Hate speech is only a small portion of our mandate which is to make Kenyans of all shades of ethnicity, religion and race tolerate each other and live in harmony. It’s a daunting task but necessary. Prevention of hate speech is the foundation we need to establish even before we start speaking about Cohesion, building a culture of respect and accountability for one’s actions to all Kenyans. Our mandate is bigger but hate mongers need to pave way for Kenyans of goodwill.

It is in this regard that we at the Commission have embarked on dealing with the hate speech and are calling upon Kenyans to help us end this vice which threatens our national unity. Stopping hate speech is a civic duty of all Kenyans.

(Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia is the Chairman, National Cohesion and Integration Commission)

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