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iHub Research By Nanjira Sambuli / January 21, 2014

#UmatiForum: The Many Faces of Online Hate Speech in Kenya


What do Kenyans understand hate speech to be? What events and issues influence hate speech online? Who/what are the key drivers of online hate speech in Kenya? Has online hate speech catalyzed offline (violent) events?

These are some of the guiding questions for the Umati Project, which seeks to identify and understand the use of dangerous in the Kenyan online space. It was born out of concern that new media may have played a catalysing role in Kenyan 2007/08 post-election violence. The project monitors blogs, forums, online newspapers, and social networks, notably Facebook and Twitter.

In the run up to the 2013 Kenya General Elections, the Umati Project observed wide-spread use of ethnic hatred and incitement online. There are great challenges as far as the legal, policy and technical regulation of such online hate speech. Further, hate speech continues to be observed even after the election period. Most notably, events such as the ICC cases and the Nairobi Westgate Mall attack have been observed to trigger the propagation of hateful speech, and further, a subset of it termed ‘dangerous speech’ or speech with a potential to catalyse violence. (The term dangerous speech was coined by Professor Susan Benesch of American University).

Under Section 13 of the National Cohesion and Integration Act of 2008, a person who uses speech (including words, programs, images or plays) that is “threatening, abusive or insulting or involves the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour commits an offence if such person intends thereby to stir up ethnic hatred, or having regard to all the circumstances, ethnic hatred is likely to be stirred up.” Notably, the Act mentions ethnic hatred to constitute racial, ethnic or national discrimination – and does not include hatred based on religion, gender, nationality, sexual preference, or any other group category. Other Kenyan laws also touch on hate speech; the 2010 Constitution notes that freedom of expression does not extend to hate speech, but does not define that term; while the Kenya’s Code of Conduct for political parties (attached to the Political Parties Act) forbids parties to “advocate hatred that constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm.”

Key findings from the 2013 monitoring period indicate that while online hate speech may not be a sole precursor of violence on the ground, it can offer a window of insight into the conversations that Kenyans have offline. Furthermore, online hate speech is disseminated by identifiable commenters who use identifiable language (English, Kiswahili and Sheng’), that dangerous speech can be a reaction to events that happen on the ground (such as the Nairobi Westgate Mall Attack), and that the hate speech generated online predominantly encourages discrimination against members of another tribe or group.

With this in mind, iHub Research welcomes you to a public panel forum on 28th January 2014 at the iHub (4th floor, Bishop Magua Centre, Ngong’ Road, Nairobi) from 5pm – 7pm to engage in a discussion on The Many Faces of (Online) Hate Speech in Kenya. This session will be an opportunity to share insights from the Umati project, as well as from government, politics, civil society, traditional and new media representatives. The forum will also facilitate a debate on what the root causes of hate speech in Kenya are, and what can be done to effectively address these.

The forum’s panelists will be:

iHub Research will also launch the Umati 2013 Report during this event. More on the Umati Project and previous findings available  here

Kindly RSVP here.

Got questions you’d like to see addressed during the forum? Do share them in the comments section below.



*image courtesy of Gaddo Cartoons*


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Author : Nanjira Sambuli

Research Manager- Governance and Tech. Find me on Twitter: @NiNanjira

  • Mathias Kinyoda at 12:08:05PM Tuesday, January 21, 2014

    Are there laws or what is the government doing to protect Kenyans from cyber bullying and online defamation? There are many blogs and social media pages operating which are used by blackmailers to slander people’s reputation and in as much as the police and relevant authorities know about the activities of such blogs, nothing has bone. For how long will these cyber criminals go free and continue ruining the lives of innocent Kenyans?

  • Nanjira Sambuli at 12:11:11PM Tuesday, January 21, 2014

    Good question regarding the laws, Mathias.

  • Shitemi at 12:07:49PM Wednesday, January 22, 2014

    A lawyer friend was telling me that he is dealing with such a case. His client, a prominent politician instructed him to do something…. Anyway, basically, there is no law. This issue should be handled by media council. but in his word “MCK has made a conscious decision not to regulate.” it frustrated him and declined saying it only regulates professional journalists who are guided by the media council’s code of conduct. so the best is to sue them for defamation on a one on one basis. but many are sharp. they register them under some company and domain in other countries. Tracking them means, lodging the requisite disclosures in the court of laws in those countries… so probably more big people need to be harmed for something to be done…

  • A Recap of #UmatiForum: The Many Faces of Online Hate Speech in Kenya at 16:58:54PM Thursday, March 6, 2014

    […] the end of January, iHub Research, with generous support from Internews, hosted the #UmatiForum: The Many Faces of Online Hate Speech in Kenya, a public conversation on the nature of online hate speech in Kenya. The Umati Project has been […]


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