16 September 2017

Kenya: National Cohesion Organ Unable to Contain Hate Speech and Incitement

As inter-ethnic tension and hate speech related to the elections increases in Kenya, the body in charge of national cohesion says its mandate is limited and is reaching out to other government agencies to help it handle the situation.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) has conceded that the expectations of Kenyans are so high but that its hands are tied.

The NCIC chief executive Hassan Mohamed told The EastAfrican that the law under which the commission operates is "narrow" and only allows them to act when an individual or group of people has stirred ethnic hatred, leaving one community aggrieved and threatened.

"Most cases are related to individuals using abusive words, defamation and incitement to violence. However, cases of incitement belong to the police and other agencies. Our mandate is to promote peaceful co-existence among ethnic groups and ensure equitable treatment of ethnic groups in public employment," said Mr Mohamed.

He added that Kenyans expect the commission to act on all cases of incitement yet the prosecutorial power belongs to the Director of Public Prosecution.

Mr Mohamed said that in reaction to demands for action, the commission will pursue amendments to the NCIC Act to give it more powers.

They recently formed a special committee in conjunction with other institutions that are mandated to deal with ethnic incitement. They include the DPP, the Police Service Commission, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the National Intelligence Service and the Serious Crimes Office.

Post-election violence

"If we work with other agencies, we are confident that we will fill the evidence gaps that have rendered the collapse of all the cases that we have taken to court because we rely on the media and YouTube, which judges have rejected," said Mr Mohamed.

The NCIC was created as a consequence of the 2007/8 Kenyan post-election violence that divided the country along ethnic lines.

Section 13 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act, 2008, defines hate speech as "Any person who utters or publishes words which are threatening, abusive or insulting. Such a person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, and commits an offence".

Besides hate speech, the commission is supposed to monitor ethnic discrimination in employment in the civil service, and in the distribution of resources.

The NCIC is mandated to facilitate and promote equality of opportunity, good relations, harmony and peaceful co-existence between persons of the different ethnic and racial communities of Kenya, and to advise the government whenever these areas are breached.

However, majority of Kenyans are of the opinion that the commission, which receives $4 million annually from Treasury, is doing very little to stem the growing hate speech and a number have called for its disbandment.

Besides politicians, social media is awash with hate speech. This has sparked concern that, if left to continue, the situation could lead to ethnic strife like the Rwanda genocide of 1994 or the inter-ethnic strife in South Sudan that has left the country at war for four years.

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