7 February 2013

Kenya: Three Words Politicians Must Avoid

Nairobi — The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has flagged three key phrases among them thief, uncircumcised and dog as some of those used to stir negative ethnic tensions.

NCIC vice chairperson Millie Lwanga said the coded words were being used to create stereotypes against some of the target communities in a bid to mask direct hate speech and cause unnecessary tribal divisions.

Lwanga added that the words, which were mostly used in vernacular settings, must be avoided during the campaign period as they undermined integration.

"Thief, uncircumcised, dog, monkey or any animal phrase are terms we feel do not promote unity or anything positive in any way and they should not be tolerated. And we have a detailed list of many other words that we feel hamper cohesion," she cautioned on Thursday.

The commission, which was releasing findings of a survey on coded language, noted that their use was also widespread during the 2007 electioneering period, which led to a blood bath.

NCIC Acting Director of Programmed Julius Jwan added that the words were mostly used in political contexts.

"They are used to judge a given people or sway the views of an inner group about a given community. Some of these terms can be used to express outright hate and when you do this what are you trying to achieve?" he posed.

Lwanga also said that there was need to embark on massive education to correct some of the perceptions as a means of fostering unity.

She added that the diversity of Kenyan tribal differences could also be celebrated through the educative forums if they are held between different communities.

"Now we are talking about governors so if someone comes to you and tells you, you cannot trust a member of community X because of either of these stereotypes then you know they are perpetrating negative stereotypes for political gain," she argued.

She also urged politicians to focus their campaigns on issues that would reform the country as opposed to hateful statements.

Lwanga further reminded Kenyans of the 2007 bungled elections saying they must not allow a repeat.

She observed that the commission was closely monitoring the campaigns being conducted country wide to ensure that they do not end up polarising the country.

"We realise that when some statements are picked by certain people they may become ethnicised so we are trying to guard from that and we cannot wait for things to take their own natural course because it will be difficult to bring people back to the national agenda," she argued.

The commission also listed ignorance, suspicion, unfair generalisation of isolated incidents and ill motivated politicians as the root cause of these hateful words.

The study was conducted last year sampling 39 counties across the country, with a total of 1,233 participants.

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