What About the People?

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. 

How To Deal: Grenade Attacks

The menace is upon us, and with the overwhelming shortage of disaster management/prevention techniques, any and all information disbursed must be shared.(Bruno Mars won’t be catching no grenades for us.)

Thanks to World Vision Kenya’s  latest report on Terror Attacks in Kenya [PDF File], here’s some highlights on how to deal in light of a grenade attack. We cannot afford to entertain ignorance on such a matter as this, so do spread the word and let’s mitigate the risk.

The war with the Somali Militant group ALSHABAAB has seen them turn to Nairobi and other towns of Kenya where they target innocent civilians because they are soft targets.
Their weapon of choice is the hand grenade. They are striking at night when visibility is low hence the chances of being seen are minimal and also getting away from the scene is smooth in the cover of darkness. This is also the time when there are not many law enforcement officers in Patrol.
If a grenade rolls to your feet:
1. Turn in the opposite direction and take one giant step.
2. Drop to the floor immediately, face down.
3. Cross your legs, keeping them straight with your feet pointing toward the grenade. We cross legs to protect vital organs, arteries and nerves on the legs.
4. Keep your arms at the back of your head at the nape of the neck these also will protect major arteries.
5. Keep your mouth open to balance pressure so your eardrums don’t burst.
If you hear a blast do as above. Don’t keep running. The blast range for a grenade is about 30 metres in all directions. You will sustain far less injury if you are face down on the ground than if you are upright. Grenade fuse-times are between four and eight seconds. So you can never outrun the impact.
IMPORTANT: If you hear an explosion and you are not in that locality, do not go there to check; another one may be thrown in the gathered crowd – go as far away as possible.


1. Conduct a scene survey TO MAKE SURE YOU ARE SAFE and if person is injured because of a blast you should suspect a head or spinal injury therefore, prevent any movement.
2. If there is severe bleeding stabilize it immediately as loss of blood can cause shock and death very quickly. Use of direct pressure or tourniquet if a limb has been severed.

3. Make sure the casualty is rested in a semi-sitting position if there is no suspected head or spinal injury. Send for medical help.

4. Monitor breathing and if ineffective, give assisted breathing. If breathing stops, give ARTIFICIAL RESPIRATION.
5. Give person care until medical help arrives.
1. If you are going shopping, make sure you know the exit routes of the supermarket you are in, do not go with children and spend as little time as possible there. Always be on the look out for suspicious characters.
2. Do not spend time at bus stops; get on to the earliest bus/Matatu and leave.
3.  Avoid the city center as much as possible.
4. Keep your family and friends informed of your where-abouts.
5. Report any luggage in any public place that is left unattended immediately to the authorities and leave the scene as soon as possible.”
Check out the rest of the report for more details and some visuals on what to do. Be safe!