Expand NCIC’s Mandate to Tackle All Forms of Hate speech

Kenya’s 2007/2008 post-election violence exposed the country’s ethnic divisions in its starkest form. The role of the political class in the crisis cannot be overemphasized, but most importantly, the fact that Kenyans bought into the divisive rhetoric is more concerning. Lives were lost, property destroyed, family ties permanently broken, and some are yet to find a decent alternative to call home.

The enactment of the National Cohesion and Integration Act of 2008 gave a glimpse of hope to those profiled and discriminated against on ethnic grounds. Kenyan citizens have since grown in resilience, with many now woke and able to detect any attempts to prick our cohesion as a society, be it online or offline, by politicians, other leaders or individuals. The promulgation of the 2010 Constitution further discouraged discrimination in almost all its forms and mandated the State to take legislative and other measures to implement the provisions of Article 27 fully. The State and other persons have been obligated not to discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone.

The context of Kenyan society is dynamic, with diverse identities beyond tribes. While the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) may have and continues to serve its purpose, albeit with a myriad of challenges, its mandate remains restrictive and not reflective of the contemporary needs of our communities. The Act needs amendments to align with the Constitution, as discrimination is intersectional and does not only manifest in ethnicity. Kenya has witnessed hate speech in many other forms relating to class, gender, sexual orientation and other emerging stereotypes that have literally jeopardized individuals’ lives.

A perception opinion poll commissioned in 2023 by Amnesty International Kenya and Tribeless Youth indicated that one in every two Kenyans had experienced discrimination. The lack of a holistic piece of legislation on Article 27 and the limited mandate by NCIC makes it even more difficult to tame those who continuously propagate hate among Kenyans.

Discriminative narratives, if left unchecked, will continuously threaten our democracy as they counter our national values and principles as well as go against the indivisibility and universality of human rights. Leaders cannot purport to encourage sustainable development while deliberately neglecting sections of society by condoning impunity towards their violations through wanton hate speech and crimes.

The expansion of NCIC’s mandate by providing for hate speech beyond ethnicity will go a long way in curbing the spread of discriminative and profiling actions in public spaces and, in turn, may progressively shape Kenyans’ perceptions of see other citizens as human beings worthy of dignity and equal rights. Any utterances made by leaders, whether political, religious or cultural, have profound impacts on Kenya’s general cohesion and integration, thus warranting moderation to maintain peace and stability.

Zaina Kombo is Amnesty International Kenya Equality and Anti-Discrimination Campaign Manager and writes in her personal capacity. Email: [email protected]