The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Explain Exactly What Makes Hate Speech

editorial

THE National Cohesion and Integration Commission has produced a useful study of coded language in Kenyan society.

Some of the stereotypes that tribes have of each other are positive and some are negative. The Kikuyu, for instance, are simultaneously admired and attacked for their business prowess.

Tribes that practise circumcision have derogatory names for the uncircumcised, and by implication the Luo.

The NCIC wants to discourage use of these negative words through a massive public education campaign.

This is all well and good but the NCIC still needs to properly define hate speech for Kenyans.

A word like 'uncircumcised' can be neutral or negative. It all depends on the context.

It is very difficult, and may even be unconstitutional, to apply 'prior restraint' to stop people saying certain things, or using certain words.

What Kenyans need to internalise are the principles that make a certain statement unacceptable. Restraint should be retroactive. Prosecution should follow when those principles are breached.

Basically there should be no discrimination or harassment on the basis of ethnicity, race, colour or religion. Hate speech is intended to stir up ethnic hatred.

A list of prohibited words will rarely be effective because words can simultaneously have neutral and negative meanings.

Quote of the day: "The essence of lying is in deception, not in words." - English writer John Ruskin was born on February 9, 1819

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