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Africa

Drive to eradicate ethnic hatred in Kenya

The next presidential election in Kenya is not until 2013 but tensions are already rising. After the unrest of 2007/8, several radio stations face charges of incitement. Now, three musicians are on trial.

Post-election violence following Kenya's last presidential election in 2007 left more than 1,100 people dead. Much of the blame for the political unrest was laid at the door of a number of radio stations which have been accused of inciting violence between members of the country's different ethnic groups. A radio presenter has been charged by the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Learning the lessons of 2007

Kenya's newly-elected parliament reacted to the post-election violence by creating a Commission for National Cohesion and Integration (NCIC).

Kenyans line up to vote in December 2007

The 2007 elections were followed by mass violence and killings

Its role is to eliminate ethnic hatred and ensure peaceful, free and fair elections. Following criticism that the NCIC had done nothing since its foundation in 2008, it has now taken steps to have charges brought against three local musicians who allegedly used their songs to incite ethnic violence between the Kikuyu and Luo groups, the supporters of the prime minister and his deputy, respectively. Should the musicians be found guilty, they face up to three years in prison. The lyrics, in the Kikuyu dialect, contain numerous metaphors and biblical references but no blatant insults. However, there is no doubt about what is meant, commission experts say. The three insist they are innocent and have been released on bail.

'Ethnic hatred should be banned'

Two men weep outside a church where 46 people were burned to death in 2008

Residents mourn outside a church where 46 people were burned to death in 2008

As the next presidential election draws closer, it is becoming more and more important that government institutions and ordinary citizens should renounce ethnic hostilities, violence and hatred, the NCIC's chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia said. The NCIC is working directly with the Kenyan police, the state prosecutor, the electoral commission and other institutions, in order to ensure that the election will be peaceful, free and fair, he stressed.

Politicians from a number of parties have also spoken out against hate speech. One of them is Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka. "Attempts to incite hatred should be banned from election campaigns," he declared.

Many Kenyans believe that the battle to eliminate ethnic hatred will be difficult to win. In 2011 former Deputy Transport Minister Wilfred Machage and parliamentarian Fred Kapondi were charged with inciting ethnic hatred. The cases were dropped for lack of evidence. Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo believes this trend will continue. "Others are beginning to think 'I can say whatever I like because so and so did it before and nearly a year later, we don't hear of the cases'," Kilonzo said.

Growing danger from social networks

An African holding a cellphone

Forwarding SMS hate messages is a crime

While so far it has been mainly radio stations which have been accused of spreading ethnic hatred, the danger attached to online social networks is growing. For NCIC member Halakhe Waqo, the influence of such networks is greater than that of publicly-held political speeches. "Social networks are reaching more and more people in Kenya," he said.

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication, Bitage Ndemo, clarifies the legal situation. "If you forward a hate message, either from an email or an sms, you are actually breaking the law."

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