Kenya cracks down on hate speech ahead of poll
- 26 February 2013
- From the section Africa
In order to avoid a repeat of the nationwide violence following the previous elections, the Kenyan authorities are restricting campaign methods which use "hate speech" to whip up ethnic tensions.
Kenya's independent Media Council is monitoring 80 radio stations, TV channels and newspapers round the clock to clamp down on "retrogressive utterances".
Mobile phones, the primary medium used to spread violent messages in the last election, are now subject to tight guidelines.
But in spite of these measures, no arrests have been made linked to online hate speech. Suspected hate-propagators have been acquitted after monitoring bodies failed to provide "compelling" evidence against them.
Colourful rallies full of populist rhetoric and jokes are a feature of Kenya's campaign culture. To get around the new rules, politicians are resorting to using coded language and ethnic stereotyping during rallies, whose subtleties are often appreciated only within the community.
Kenya's National Cohesion and Integration Commission has flagged up three key words in local languages that the Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin ethnic communities - who were at the centre of violence in the last election - use to insult each other.
The front-runners in this year's election reflect two of these groups: Prime Minister Raila Odinga, an ethnic Luo, is competing with deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu.
Mr Kenyatta's running mate William Ruto is a Kalenjin. Both men are facing charges at the ICC over the 2007-08 violence, which they deny.
Another government body has banned the use of anything other than the official languages, English and Swahili, when sending political text messages, bypassing the more than 60 local languages spoken in the country.
Phones and fines
The mobile phone is no longer a free-for-all disseminator of dubious content.
Anyone found guilty of fanning hatred through text message faces a hefty fine of up to $56,000 or three years in jail.
Mobile phone companies are now required to register all SIM cards and allocate unique internet protocol addresses to all the phones on their networks, to make it easier to track down culprits.
Politicians wanting to send bulk campaign text messages have to wait at least 48 hours before dispatch in order for their mobile service operators to vet the content and reject anything they believe could be inciting.
While monitors are seeking out and recording inflammatory statements at rallies, individuals are encouraged to report hate speech to the police via text.
And the government is promising to prosecute people using language it views as dangerous. Warning notices were sent this month to some 30 bloggers and social media users.
A number of politicians and musicians - mostly supporters of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto - have appeared in court in the past year on charges of propagating "hate speech".
To counteract hatred, a media blitz of tolerance is flooding the airwaves.
Some radio stations have even been organising peace road shows, such as a rally on 15 February in the coastal city of Mombasa by Luo-language Ramogi FM.
The Luo heartland is in the western Nyanza region, but they have a significant presence in the key urban centres. A presenter told listeners that they were in Mombasa "to preach peace ahead of the elections".
As polling day draws near, popular stations are playing songs praising the virtues of patriotism and ethnic accommodation.
Kameme FM, one of the main Kikuyu-language stations, has also been airing a song which asks God to "hear our prayers and watch over our nation" since Kenyans were "rising against each other".
The Kalenjin-language Kass FM, meanwhile, is broadcasting a song calling for "love and cohesion". It urges the Kalenjin to "love your neighbours" and "if they wrong you, forgive them".