The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: NCIC May Ban 'Code Words'

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission is considering banning 25 vernacular words and phrases which it says are 'negative and promote emotive stereotypes" when used in reference to certain Kenyan communities.

The commission has presented its recommendation to the government to ban the use of such words. The recommendation follows a study on the use of coded language and stereotypes which the commission said were likely to cause annoyance, invoke ill feelings, discourage combined ventures, entrench mistrust and discourage social interactions.

"There is need to strongly discourage the use of negative emotive stereotypes and coded language that have the intrinsic potential of causing tension and conflict between different ethnic groups," the report releasedyesterday says.

"We are thinking on banning this negative words because they are offensive," said the commission vice chair Millie Lwanga when she launched the report.

The report does not say exactly how the use of such words would be discouraged. One option is that the government can criminalize the use of such words in forms of communication.

The other option is a deliberate civic education against their use. According to the study, all Kenyan ethnics communities held entrenched believes about members of other ethnic communities.

Every linguistic community also held stereotypes and sometimes used coded expressions to refer to other ethnic communities.

Some of these were specific to particular communities while others are general and referred to all other communities. In most instances, all ethnic communities studied were aware of stereotypes and/or coded expressions used to refer to them by other communities in Kenya.

The study also revealed that while every ethnic community had both positive and negative stereotypes about them by other communities, most of these were historical and deep-rooted and had been passed on from generation to generation to the extent that it was not possible to identify exactly when the community started using.

However, there are more recent stereotypes and coded expressions associated with the 2007/2008 post-election violence in Kenya or "political" relationships and/or affiliations between different communities.

Several stereotypes and coded expressions reflect the cultures of the target communities; associated with the economic activities of the communities referred to or captured the peaceful and close social relationships between communities such as the reference to the Luhya by the Luo as kayuochwa, translated literally as our in-laws; kep mama (in-laws)-- Kalenjin when referring to Abagusii; va mabwoni or jarabuon (the people of potato) Luhyia and Luo in reference to the Kikuyu; kamama (uncle) Kalenjin reference to Kikuyu; Rubwa (Highlander) Kikuyu reference to Kipsigis; jabot (those who live in the mountains) Luo in reference to Kalenjins and many others.

The study revealed that while many of the different communities knew of the negative stereotypes with which they were regarded, this did not in any way deter them from engaging, interacting and doing business with those communities that held these negative views.

Politicians and influential community leaders were to blame for using the stereotypes and coded expressions to propagate hate and incite people to violent conflict for personal motives such as to win support against political opponents, instil fear in some sections of the society or to rally support when threatened with certain consequences such as being sacked from government positions.

Among the names suggested for outright ban include all those that make reference to uncircumcised men which the study says are directed atthe Luo; six words from different communities that are directed at the Kikuyu and ten words used by different communities in reference to their 'rivals' who are usually their neighbors.

The cross section of words to be banned range from the commonly known kihii (Kikuyu for boy or uncircumcised person) to the little known emoit (Turkana for cattle thief).

Coincidentally, some of the words like 'emoit' are also shared by other communities and do not in any way reflect any negative stereotypes or coded language. In Iteso, Emoit is the name of person and denotes 'born by the wayside."

"The study illustrates that there are plenty of good perceptions about Kenyan ethnic communities more than bad ones," the study said.

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