, NAIROBI, Kenya, March 18 – Liz Mkamboi Lenjo joined social networking website Facebook five years ago.
But it was not until March 9 that she felt she had to post the following message on her timeline: “I will not condone any statements that are tribal by nature. If you are one of those consider yourself un-friended and blocked. And if you have issues with the Presidential results go to the Supreme Court, FB is not the avenue to unleash such un-called for statements. I AM TRIBE KENYA!”
The former beauty queen and mother of one says she was compelled to take the drastic action as she could no longer stomach the insults being traded by members of different ethnic communities during the tallying of presidential votes following the March 4 General Election.
Lenjo is not the only Kenyan to post such statements on their Facebook timelines and even the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) Vice Chairperson, Milly Lwanga, is concerned about the increase in hate speech by Kenyans on Facebook and Twitter following the elections.
“Hate speech on social media had actually subsided to a great extent in the period before the General Election. But then we noted that just immediately after the elections, when the results started coming in, particularly with the delayed tallying of the presidential results, hate was rising to levels that were becoming uncontrollable.”
Section 62 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008 states that, “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.”
Lwanga is however adamant that the threat of jail time may not be the best way to tackle the problem of hate speech by Kenyans on social media platforms. “When we do investigate things and find cases of hate speech, the Act says that for every violation that we find, we must first strive to apply alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and use enforcement as a final straw because once you jail somebody or you fine them, it becomes very difficult for you to then cultivate a relationship of trust.”
The commissioner says the creation of County Executive Committees that reflect, “the face of Kenya,” by the governors-elect, could help foster a sense of national unity.
Angela Crandall like Lwanga is concerned about the increase in dangerous speech by Kenyans on the World Wide Web following the March 4 polls. “Qualitatively, we have noted more polarisation online, with the community appearing to align with one side or the other (which was less apparent online prior to the elections).”
Crandall as part of the iHub research project, Umati, has been monitoring Kenyans’ online conversation around the General Election since September 2012.
Noting these concerns, the Ministry of Information and Communication says it will working on legislation to ensure Internet users register their IP (Internet Protocol) addresses as is the case with mobile phone SIM cards.
While this may have significantly reduced the number of hateful text messages being sent out, Lwanga is convinced it is, “like putting a band aid on a festering wound.”
“We need to openly discuss the underlying problem before it erupts. Pretending everything is okay and trying to gag discussion around issues of ethnicity on social media will only lead to Kenyans searching for another outlet.”