The term policy very likely puts off a lot of folks. It probably evokes images of old men in suits and spectacles droning on about something or other. I, on the other hand, am fascinated by (public) policy. The most basic definition of policy is “a course or principle of action adopted or proposed by a government, party, business, or individual.” Policies help in shaping laws and regulations that govern various actors in a jurisdiction.
In an increasingly interconnected world, there is an emerging realm of cyber policy that is exciting as it is challenging. Safety, security, privacy, autonomy, freedom of expression are some of the aspects that now need to be rethought in the context of the cyber space. If you currently conduct any activity online, it definitely matters how the space is regulated, and what plans are in place to uphold your fundamental rights, as well as technological innovations that you leverage for work or leisure.
So what is the government of Kenya envisioning as protections and measures to underpin fundamental rights and freedoms online for its citizens? Which actors are involved? What laws are in place, and which ones are needed?
Equally, which non-state actors are in the forefront of these deliberations? Who is articulating citizens’ concerns in shaping our cyber policies?
A few things you should know:
i) laws, regulations and policies pertaining to cybersecurity in Kenya largely approach it from the perspective of curbing cybercrime, and to a much lesser extent safeguarding the rights of citizens as they translate to an increasingly interconnected and inescapable digital realm.
Some of the laws in place include the Kenya Information Communications Act (KICA), Chapter 411A and the the Computer and Cybercrimes Bill (2016).
ii) there exists a Computer Incident Response Team Coordination Centre(KE-CIRT/CC), whose role is to facilitate coordination and collaboration in response to cybersecurity incidents. This is to whom you can report a vulnerability or cyber-related incident that harms you or others.
iii) Our constitution, in Article 31, guarantees the right to privacy, including the right to not have information relating to one’s family or private affairs unnecessarily revealed, and to not have the privacy of one’s communications infringed.
a crucial piece of legislation to enforce is yet to be adopted. The Data Protection Bill, 2013 was formulated to give effect to this constitutional provision. It articulates requirements for electronic personal information collection, storage, protection/security, access, disclosure, and misuse.
iv) Cyber policy needs thinkers, lawyers, geeks…(trying very hard not to use the hackneyed term ‘capacity’, but there you have it). Unchartered territories, where issues like sovereignty, Internet jurisdiction, protection of freedoms online and offline, national security all make for very interesting questions with no easy answers. Kenya is a lighthouse country in the region, and her people are sharp thinkers and doers who should explore this space a bit more!
Alternatively, you can listen to this podcast summary of the report.
This report was commissioned by Global Partners Digital, in a series designed to help civil society actors navigate the cyber policy landscape in four countries: Chile, India, Indonesia, and Kenya. It was co-authored by Tyrus Kamau and Juliet Maina.
Back in May 2016, I wrote for the Daily Nation on this nefarious issue of all male panels, otherwise known as manels. They are pervasive. They are normalised. They are problematic. The reactions to the piece have been interesting to follow, primarily via the #SayNoToManelsKE and #SayNoToManels hashtags. (Other hashtags highlighting this issue globally include #AllMalePanels).
I am very pleased to see, and be part of many conversations around this. It is encouraging to note increased awareness on how frequently we are treated to all male panels – in the media, in conferences and events. In turn, these shape perceptions, in many ways, and perpetrate the vicious circle of gendered norms. Some of the popular media shows are notorious for these manels.
Since the fallacious arguments that there aren’t women qualified or willing to show up are often used to perpetuate and justify manels, Ory Okolloh and I decided to put together a database of women in various sectors and industries across the country. 376 women and countinghave signed up, and most importantly, THEY ARE WILLING to show up.
Efforts to tackle valid reservations to participating are also being pursued. For instance, public speaking workshops are being organised for those who have indicated interest.
We encourage more women to sign up, and help in tackling misrepresentation in our public spaces! If you cannot make it to an event/conference/panel you’ve been invited to, you can use this list to recommend other women, and encourage others in your industry to sign up.
Dear men, once again, a reminder, you can (and should) take a pledge not to take part in manels. We welcome a movement of bold men who will create and take such a pledge.
We need champion organisations to also pledge to not organising manels! In the meantime, we keep calling out manels as witnessed; it’s a critical first step in breaking the norm!
By the way, an all male panel with a female moderator is still a manel!
A special shout out to Sophie Mukhwana and Nanjala Nyabola for helping with organising the list, and public speaking workshops respectively. Mashujaa ni nyinyi!💪🏾
Back in 2009, some journalist -perhaps trying to make her story about “the pearl of Africa” land some eyeballs- stated that Uganda was “a place where cell phones could outnumber light bulbs.”
Now, that little nugget has morphed into the widely parroted factoid, that there are more mobile phones than bulbs in Uganda. It’s been cited in keynotes, presentations, maybe even helped advance some careers.
By 2010, we were being regaled with a UN statistic, that there are more people on earth with access to cellphones, than to toilets. It’s only upon digging deeper that one finds that the toilets benchmark for this factoid, is the flush toilet. Assumedly, it is the gold standard of toilets to access.
This particular statistic has been unleashed more specifically on India; though it is cited as both about the world in general, India specifically, and with pepperings of the country of Africa.
“It is a tragic irony to think in India, a country now wealthy enough that roughly half of the people own phones,” so many people “cannot afford the basic necessity and dignity of a toilet,” UN University director.
Behold, the rush to quantity Africa, and indeed the “developing world”. We are our mobile phones, toilets, bulbs and toothbrushes.
Have pointed out severally how uncritical and condescending these kinds of comparatives are; even more unfortunate is we — as Africans, or “global Southerners” — tweet, ooh and aah at these nonsensical references.
So it seems the number of bulbs, for instance, is picked from household surveys, as this Ugandan who was just as tired of that uncritically trumpeted statistic about his country sought to investigate.
Other than to tingle the senses of those excited about “Africa rush 2.0″, what do such findings – flaunted and cited ever so excitedly – do for the perceptions of Africa, not just to the rest of the world, but also ourselves?
As someone rightfully asked, what logical policy conclusion does one draw from these stats? I mean…toothbrushes?
Am I too cynical to think this part of the bigger digital colonialism creeping upon us? Or the digital era’s version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?
One’s tingly senses are activated when one grows increasingly familiar with how such projects have worked to keep us in need, lacking.
Of toothbrushes, toilets and bulbs in Africa. And the mobile phone takeover.
But for crying out loud, this has got to stop. What next, more mobile phones than coconut trees? (Oh snap, did I just inspire some Africa research “expert”?)
On mobile phones, we need a serious push back on the thinking/operational hypothesis that a mobile-first Africa will make for a digitally transformed continent aside from generating consumers for products that will predominantly be from elsewhere.
“For all our excitement about Silicon Savannah, most emerging market countries — including India — are rounding errors when we look at their share of global revenues on the app stores. Revenue is concentrated into a handful of markets that take the lion’s share back into their own countries, with local sales from local developers almost absent except for unique markets such as China, South Korea and Japan,” Winners and Losers in the Global App Economy.
Right off the bat, this is not a dose of political correctness, but a much needed clap back to the vitriol some women have had to bear on the Internet streets.
First and foremost, I want to address the comrade Boniface Mwangi, who is on a meteoric rise to leadership in this country, and who’s an acquaintance. Because you represent the emerging crop of leaders from our generation, be knowing that we will be here to celebrate and admonish you in equal measure. This right here, is a much needed dose of the latter. In warding off Esther Passaris from his timeline, the comrade opted to bring in her relationship status into the argument. I suppose that was with the aim to put an end to that discussion, have the final say? Whatever the case, Boni, that was uncalled for, and is bad manners.
The incident to which I refer has its genesis in your framing a visit to Othaya around the former and current MPs. For whatever reason, you decided to introduce Mary Wambui into the discourse as a mistress. I know, freedom of speech, and no one is here to police that. I’m here to shed insight on the (un)intended consequences of descriptive language. As far as I can tell, Esther questioned that framing, and you invited her to look into other tweets you shared about Othaya; having checked those, they entailed visiting your former teacher, Mrs Mucheru, among other things, none of which justify the mistress reference/framing. It is not lost on anyone who looked that evan in an inquiry about kutaka shamba, you felt the need to once again introduce Wambui as wa Kifaki.
Where you took things after that, however, hapana pris, as we say. This was unnecessary and reeks of sexism, plain and simple. You went to some lengths to frame Esther’s intervention around her private life. Why? To what end? As someone asked you on that thread, do you need to attack a woman to feel powerful? It’s interesting to also note that of all the comments you responded to, it was one by a brother who rightfully stated you are better than that. To which you said, you were responding using her line of reasoning. C’mon son, really?
How was she policing your tweets by questioning a very problematic framing of another woman as a mistress? If anything, Boni, it is you who’s adopted the stance of moral police for women of political prominence. Na it is bad manners. In a later response to Madam Passaris, you then referred to Madam Wambui as Kibaki’s successor. Now what was so wrong with using that framing from the onset?
I’m not going to bog you or anyone else down with literature on sexism. I’m sure you can find that of your own accord. But homie, it is unacceptable to reduce women to their choice of partners, or to any indiscretions in any argument. Disagreements can and should happen. However, there is no excuse for what are not only low blows, but sexist ones at that.
Of the injustices you choose to speak up and fight back on, you must realise that justice for and dignity of women is very much intertwined. And you are failing. You owe the two women — and indeed all women an apology. Your Twitter bio says you’re living your life to make a difference. Surely, it can’t be perpetuating sexism. So, if it’s unlearning the script on how to ‘handle’ women who stand up to an argument or confrontation with you, settle that based on logic, not one’s choice of life partners. You are better than that.
As for the explosive screenshots that have been, it is heartbreaking just how many women were casualties. From the descriptions and rapey comments within the screenshots to the names of women that were dragged in the Twitter mud, it has been a sad display of the simmering and unwarranted hate on women. The comments–my word. I can only hope that you are in safe spaces to deal with what must be traumatic and haunting. Poleni sana.
To all the women affected, your choice of sexual partners should have had nothing in those ego trips. The Internet became very unsafe for several of you this week, and my heart goes out to you. I salute yours and all women’s presence on the Internet. Most often than not, it is a form of protest, to hold your own, and to bear the risk of knowing that what is a great resource today, can so easily be used to tarnish your name. In dusting off this blog’s cobwebs to comment on this, it is in a bid to keep pushing back against the patriarchy, for it is a strong and malignant force.
Finally, for all the brothers who’ve called out these bad, sexist habits, thank you. I hope that you continue to see sexism in its many manifestations, and call it out.
A luta continua. Stay woke, for sexism lurks in all corners.
Net neutrality deliberations go hand in hand with discussions of upholding and preserving the openness of the Internet, widely perceived as a precondition to the realisation of the Internet’s potential. This is particularly relevant with access to the Internet being increasingly accepted as a basic right. Rules and regulations to uphold net neutrality exist within various jurisdictions, and in both developed and developing markets. With mobile data plans as a primary mode of Internet access in developing markets, the practice of zero-rating – where mobile network operators enable customers to download and upload online content without incurring data usage charges, or having their usage counted against data usage limit – is closely interlinked with net neutrality deliberations. The overarching question is whether zero-rating defies the principle of net neutrality, by favouring some content over other content. The challenge for policy makers and regulators in developing countries, as addressed in this paper, is knowing which regulatory frameworks will be needed to expand Internet access to underserved communities, without compromising the fundamental principles of a free and open Internet.
Access to affordable Internet is increasingly a development priority, and even considered a basic right. There are huge economic and social benefits to be reaped from Internet access, as evidenced by gross domestic product contributions, as well as projections. However, a majority of the world’s population, most of who are in developing nations, remain unconnected. A crucial policy debate on how to avail Internet access, while upholding and preserving the openness of the Internet, also known as net neutrality, is emerging as state actors, private sector players and civil society alike operate in this space. The practice of zero-rating – where mobile network operators enable customers to download and upload online content without incurring data use charges, or having their usage counted against data usage limit – is one of the most popular approaches to getting the unconnected online. This follows the fact that the mobile phone is the primary device through which the ‘next billion’ Internet users are expected to get online. The overarching question is whether zero-rating defies the principle of net neutrality, by favouring some content over other content. The challenge for policy makers and regulators in developing countries, as addressed in this paper, is knowing which regulatory frameworks will be needed to expand Internet access to underserved communities, without compromising the fundamental principles of a free and open Internet.
Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of co-authoring a so-titled paper with Dr. Iginio Gagliardone, for the The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). It was a useful exercise in analysing the efforts to enhance cybersecurity in the region, with an initial focus on Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. Below is the paper’s executive summary, and the paper can be read or downloaded here.
This study analyses continuities and discontinuities of collective efforts toward enhanced cyber security in Eastern Africa, with a particular focus on Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia. Focusing on the challenges that have followed the contours of East Africa’s distinctive digital cultures, it challenges the view that cyber-security and cyber-resilience are simply technical problems that can be solved by reducing the gap with more technically advanced nations. On the contrary it shows how cyber-security is a inherently political challenge and that, in the absence of adequate checks and balances, the increasing securitization of domestic and international politics may require costly trade-offs with individual and collective freedoms.
Three concepts are suggested – emulation, extraversion, and enculturation – that can serve to better capture how Kenya, Ethiopia, and Somalia have respectively answered emerging cyber-threats. These concepts, rather than adding to the already abundant jargon in this area, are simply meant to encourage analysts to pay greater attention to how in each national context the technical, social and political interact in unique ways and produce distinctive outcomes. In Kenya public and private actors have sought to live up to international standards, keeping up with the country’s reputation as a regional ICT powerhouse, but it is unclear how such an ambitious agenda will find concrete applications. Ethiopia displays higher risks that the need to guarantee better cyber-security can further legitimize repressive measures in the new media sector. Finally in Somalia, in the absence of a functioning state, hybrid solutions have been found that connect traditional practices and new technologies to offer some level of certainty to individuals using services that are vital for the life in the region, such as local and international payments over mobile phones.
In 2014, I had the pleasure of contributing to a fascinating production titled Exploring Kenya’s Media Policy Landscape: 1963-2013. Commissioned by the Media Policy Research Centre, I was tasked with exploring the impact of social media on journalism in Kenya. I assessed some conceptual frameworks on social media, social media’s effects on communication – the rise of citizen journalism, examples of social media users challenging traditional media (#someonetell…), as well as a critique of online citizen journalism. I also investigated social media adoption trends by mainstream (traditional) media, benchmarking the local against international media. The challenges and opportunities of social media for mainstream media, as well as social media’s implications for media policy (e.g. whether bloggers are journalists) round up the chapter contribution.
The working papers collection was officially launched on 27 February 2015.
Below is the executive summary of the working paper, and a link to the publication download (page 66- 90). I welcome feedback and additional thoughts on other factors to consider. (It was also very interesting and saddening to note the dearth of analysis on this subject matter during my literature review).
The [social media and journalism] chapter explores the impact of social media on journalism, with examples and analysis anchored in the Kenyan context. It begins with an overview of social media, the tools and practices shaping it, and dives deeper into the social media landscape in Kenya. Social media structure and adoption is increasingly challenging ‘traditional’ channels and agents of information dissemination in the country. Journalists and mainstream media are no longer the sole or primary source of breaking news. Citizens are now more connected with each other through platforms that enable conversation, co-creation and in some instances organizing towards collective action. Through social media, and citizen journalism, there has been an amplification of voices, groups and communities that would not otherwise attract mainstream media attention. Several examples of how social media users have challenged both local and international traditional media’s reportage on national issues are highlighted. Social media use, however, is hinged on opting in, which is a factor of access and affordability of Internet and (mobile) devices. The limitations notwithstanding, social media continues to be adopted by Kenyan media, informing various practices such as setting up of blog sections on the media’s online portals, use of social media to stir conversation around news content, introduction of social media editors, and social media policy guidelines for journalists. The role of journalism remains significant, to sift through vast volumes of data and information generated, and make sense of it through application of journalistic skills. Though social media hasn’t yet completely disrupted journalism and traditional media in Kenya, its significance and ubiquity continues to rise and challenge the latter’s practices. How social media impact straditional media’s monetization streams as well as media policies is also discussed. The chapter concludes with the recommendation that more research and studies on social media in Kenya should be conducted in Kenya, to better inform policy practices. Journalism practitioners, trainers, researchers and policymakers should continue to assess and appreciate social media’s value in Kenya towards improving the media industry and creating a more democratic society.
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. At iHub, we believe in having user experience at the heart of consumer-facing technology. Also, I’ve heard many a Facebook exec counter the backlash with a valid question: how many advocates (for/against) have actually used Free Basics? So, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, I dug out my Airtel Kenya SIM card (Airtel is the current sole partner) and took the app for a spin. (For the record, I’m testing out Free Basics on a Smartphone — a Samsung Galaxy S3 to be precise, will also test out on a feature phone in coming days).
Step one: Downloaded the app from Google Play Store (used my paid-for Internet, not sure if one can download it without incurring charges).Free Basics needs access to:
(Pretty light app: 1.18MB)
Step two: Read through the Data and Privacy Policies.
17 applications are available on Free Basics in Kenya. Two are news sites: BBC News and Daily Nation. Facebook and its Messenger platform also feature. One can also access Brighter Monday, one of the most popular job sites around, Scholars4Dev for scholarship information, as well as OLX, where one can search for real estate, cars, job listings and more (one can also submit an ad). Ebola Information, Facts for Life, Totohealth, BabyCenter & MAMA offer health information (the latter three focus on maternal and child health). You also have Accuweather (one can get weather information on local towns and cities, and one can search by postal code or city to access more info). Girl Effect offers ‘articles and tips for girls’. Jamii Forums ushers you to various boards to discuss news, platforms, politics and more. Supersport is available for sports updates. Wattpad offers access to free books and stories (none of which are by local writers, to my knowledge). Then there’s good ol’ Wikipedia.
That, for now, rounds up the ‘on-ramp to the Internet’ in Kenya. Would be happy to hear from any early testers if any of these apps weren’t there when the initiative was launched. Back then, Facebook had a pre-selected range of applications. Now, they say all it takes to have your content on the Free Basics platform is meeting the participation guidelines and technical specifications, i.e. developing for the platform, to meet zero-rating requirements.
Some Initial Observations (make of them what you will!)
While loading, a message reads ‘Visit popular websites for free with Free Basics.’
Popular, by whose demand?
Scrolling through a couple of news articles via the Daily Nation app, I noted that the comments section was missing. One can read and share a story, but not comment on it. To share, one has to leave Free Basics, where data charges apply. (Oddly enough, that was the case for the ‘share via Facebook’ plugin on the site).
Same thing with the BBC News app. Having found the BBC Africa section, and found a news item on Kenya, I sought a comment section, to no avail.
Daily Nation was a pre-selected app for #FreeBasics in Kenya. Means that you get news from a predetermined source by Facebook.
Over at Jamii Forums, I quickly scrolled to the ‘Kenya Forums’ section. One can see all the latest posts, and to participate, one has to log in. This presumes that one is already signed up for Jamii Forums. Meanwhile, on the main site (over on the Internet I pay for), there’s a pop up that asks me to register, since I don’t own an account yet. I would be very keen to observe a first time Internet user’s behaviour around this barrier to participation.
The Ebola Information app (from UNICEF) rightly indicates that while there are no known instances of the virus in Kenya at this time, many citizens are concerned, and that the site is presented to answer frequently asked questions. Great! Only…
Over at the Wikipedia app, I couldn’t even see the option to edit a news article, let alone it redirecting me to the paid-for Internet. My hypothesis: it creates the notion that Wikipedia is to be consumed, and not necessarily contributed to. Imagine that carried across to Wikipedia as many of us know it!
The analysis above is selective, and I’ll factor in my own bias (wariness about this version or ‘ramp’ to the Internet). The argument for or against Free Basics takes many forms, primarily of a technical nature. I like to bring back what I call the ‘spirit of the Internet’: the ability to connect, consume, create, collaborate and correct (content)— all in equal measure. The above sets the scene for consumption, which is one component, but not the only component of the Internet. Much in the same way that in many parts of the developing world, the pervasive notion that Facebook is the Internet needs some serious correcting.
While I imagine that the Free Basics advocates would say that this only encourages folks to cross over to the open Internet to comment on the news articles or sign up for such popular fora, the assumption is that people are inherently motivated to go to that trouble. This, in a country known for peculiar mobile telephony use. While I don’t have the stats to corroborate my take, I imagine that this would dis-incentivise many from going to the trouble of all the clicks it would take to participate. I could be wrong, but I don’t have the stats.
One of the first things I noticed in step two, was the (lack of) Community Standards around Free Basics. Over at the Free Basics Participation Guidelines, it is stated that services are not rejected on the basics of their (Facebook’s) Community Standards. For reference, said standards address self-injury, dangerous organisations, bullying and harassment, attacks on public figures, criminal activity, sexual violence and exploitation, and regulated goods. So we know what does NOT form the basis of rejection of platforms as far as such standards go, so what does? (Or is that since it’s mostly a consume-first platform, these aren’t necessary?). What happens if, say, Free Basics in Kenya or elsewhere, has a niche audience that would form a prime target for some problematic organisation or ideology that violates the community standards? How can Free Basics users learn the principle of self-regulation, that governs paid-for Internet use, including Facebook itself? How do Free Basics users report inappropriate content?
We all want as many people, if not all to be connected. But the idea of a ‘free’ Internet is a particularly nefarious one, leaving room for loopholes such as these, and actually creating various tiers to Internet access. This has been compared to tiered access to water and education. While some may say that some water or education is better than none, why is it that there are different forms to access? So some Internet is better than none at all (especially for the developing world). But, what constitutes ‘some Internet’? Who decides on what ‘some Internet’ is, and why are they the ones to decide?
There are many arguments packed into the zero-rating, net neutrality and Free Basics discussions, and it wouldn’t do justice to pack them into one article. I will try to tackle the various domains, from my perspective, in future posts.
Would love to conduct this exercise with first time Internet users. Currently thinking through the research design, to enable unearthing of insights on the Internet they aspire to access, versus versions such as Free Basics issued. For now, I welcome discussion and feedback on the above, and perhaps others to take Free Basics on a spin in their respective territories! After all, advocacy for a free(as in freedom), open and secure Internet will require evidence and not mere opinion.
In the past week, we have seen one faux-pas in an Embakasi digital prayer cell group go viral, and the private recordings of a private affair between a DJ and a woman become a matter of ‘public interest’. All irreversible. All embarrassing to those in them, and entertaining and/or appalling to the (un)willing recipients.
These are some of the outcomes of a digital society, one that is set to continue growing in number, of both passive and active users. The gadgets in our hands and on our laps, or on our desks, are avenues to transmit all manner of content and data. “Traditional” disseminators of information find themselves contending for attention with the more connected and engaged audiences who have the means to create, produce and share news, gossip, (mis)information and more, at their disposal.
Kenyan media and corporate Kenya have, since the turn of the decade, been getting in the social media game. The creative ways in which social media managers for various brands leverage a trending topic to do some product placement is impressive, if sometimes inappropriate, and speaks to just how mainstream social media have become as channels for communication and marketing. There are dedicated social media channels for breaking and sharing news, and engaging audiences. Civil society, one would contend, is being redefined or reclaimed on social media.
We have, to some extent, a digital government. Indeed, this was the alternative branding for the incumbent government during the pre-2013 election campaign period. Many a politician can be found on social media. A primary motivation, especially for those who engage in their personal capacity, is to directly share, and perhaps connect with the electorate. As with mainstream media and corporates, politicians are having to learn that the rules of social media engagement are different. These are avenues for many-to-many communication; it does not suffice to merely broadcast, no matter who you are.
The question many are now asking is whether social media use should/can be regulated.
Recently, some Kenyan lawmakers called on the Communications Authority to draft policies that would enable Parliament to enact laws around regulating the use of social media. They cited the fast-moving, irreversible nature of information shared on these platforms. We have seen the good, the bad and the ugly presented by real-time sharing of information. In their case, the parliamentarians cited a case of the news of an MCA’s passing being posted first on social media, before the family of the deceased was informed. That, in fact, isn’t the first of those cases. Nor is the sharing of unverified information, rumours or misinformation new, much in the same way we are used to alternative versions of events being shared on these platforms.
The desire to regulate social media is not unique to the Kenyan government. It is an issue that comes up often in many countries, including our neighbours who have interesting laws in effect. Efforts to reign in electronic forms of communication through laws such as the contentious Security Bill, and the recent announcement by some Members of Parliament hint at reactive, rather than proactive and evidence-based approaches. The benefits of social media, and the Internet in general, in connecting people to each other, and to vast opportunities don’t seem to be at the fore of legislative considerations. Besides, regulating social media content is a game of whack-a-mole, at best. It has been offered that a more effective approach to dealing with bad speech or content, is to enforce more speech, free speech.
Digital literacy, in my view, is best acquired through continued engagement, and not necessarily trainings, especially in the pedagogical format favoured in most cases. Granted, there might be an appetite for the latter. It is through trial and error, and being corrected along the way by others with whom we engage, that we learn when to stop and question the veracity of a piece of information before spreading it. This is increasingly evident among Kenyans online. The confrontations and counter narratives presented around the news items capturing public attention this past week, and many other times before, indicate that it’s not easy to propagate one narrative, and for it to go unchallenged. This is starkly different from traditional forms of communication, where the audience often would not get a chance to share their views, especially in a sustained fashion, be it traditional media or politicians as the information nodes.
Lawmakers would do well to spend time better understanding how social media in Kenya are used, before proposing laws to ‘regulate’. The bad and the ugly are not the entire story.
Many democratic societies today are grappling with upholding and defending free speech, as well as drawing the lines on where it crosses over to hate, or even dangerous speech. Hate speech remains a term without a universal definition. In Kenya, recent history is littered with evidence of the impact (but not necessarily a direct correlation) of speech on violence, especially during election periods. In 2007/8, we saw the addition of SMS and social media platforms to the propagation of rumours, but also to the creation of innovations like Ushahidi to fill the media gap with crowdsourced and verified information. It was after that unfortunate time that we also saw the introduction of hate speech into law.
Article 13 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act, 2008 provides a framework of what constitutes hate speech and ethnic hatred. Article 33 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 guarantees the right to freedom of expression, but points out that freedom does not extend to propaganda for war, incitement to violence, hate speech or advocacy of hatred – constituting ethnic hatred, vilification of others, incitement to cause harm- or based on any ground of discrimination as contemplated in article 27(4). For reference, article 27(4) highlights that the State shall not discriminate directly or indirectly against any person on any ground, including race, sex, pregnancy, marital status, health status, ethnic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, dress, language or birth. Further, article 91 of the katiba reads that political parties shall not (a) be founded on a religious, linguistic, racial, ethnic, gender or regional basis or seek to engage in advocacy of hatred on any such basis; (b) engage in or encourage violence by, or intimidation of, its members, supporters, opponents or any other person.
However, as often is the case, the problem is not the absence of legal frameworks. It takes people and institutions to enforce the words in these documents.
Over the past week, YouTube clips of former Nairobi mayor, George Aladwa addressing an audience in Kibera during Mashujaa day have done the rounds, and stirred reactions, ranging from outrage at his utterances,to a spirited defence against his arrest. Nor is Aladwa the first political leader to be careless with his words. There have been comparisons to Moses Kuria’s words to energised youth in Gatundu a couple of months back. What dominates discourse now is the political party affiliations of each, and how the law has (not) been applied in each case.
Those defending Aladwa posit him as a victim. That he was arrested and grilled for hours while the same didn’t hold for Moses Kuria, for instance, does merit a spirited debate. What is worrying, however, is the notion that his words were taken out of context, an argument brought forth, by, among others, Raila Odinga. In so doing, the discussion is now along blurred lines, and the issues condensed into one false narrative: Aladwa, as a symbol of some injustice.
I would like to bring back to the fore the audiences who have been subjected to Aladwa’s, Kuria’s and other politicians’ charged speeches. One trend observed since the 2005 referendum about inflammatory political speech is that it moved from being overt to covert; more parables, proverbs, and nuanced. The coded language doesn’t outrightly call for action to be taken against a certain group, and the framing is in passive tense; ‘we must take action against group X’ has become ‘action must be taken against some people’. This is left to the audience to decipher who the people are, and what the action to be taken is. Whether by design or by default, this seemingly exonerates the speaker – often a politician wielding significant influence over the audience addressed – whose defence then becomes that they cannot be held accountable for the actions taken by his audience. We have also had hate speech and/or ethnic incitement cases taken to the courts, none of which have resulted in full prosecution or sentencing. The NCIC, in the meantime, has been employing Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR); which has basically entailed speakers (mostly politicians) being asked to apologise to the audience they offended. How effective that mechanism is, we can’t know for sure, but perhaps the symbolism of it does resonate.
In the recent case with Aladwa, CORD, in speaking out, had a chance to be the bigger party, to condemn the clear incitement that was, and then address whatever context they insist was misinterpreted. Jubilee politicians, in their reactions, did not have to resort to the set of adjectives they did, to describe Mr Aladwa’s actions. In all this, it is the audience susceptible to incitement that is all but forgotten in the discussion; the people of Kibera who were present that day, and those who were at the rally in Gatundu. What did they take away? How are those words sitting in their minds and hearts, and are they contemplating acting on them? What is being done to counter the impact of the charged words meted out on them? What about all the other cases that are unrecorded or brought to (social) media attention? History has a way of repeating itself, if we fail to draw lessons from it. As the swahili proverb goes, fahali wawili wakipigana, nyasi huumia.
This article also appeared on the Daily Nation on October 26, 2015.