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iHub Research By Nanjira Sambuli / June 26, 2014

Speech: What’s Dangerous, and What’s Not?


With much happening in Kenya’s political scene that has many wary of the kind of speech being used in some of the rallies, and by some influential speakers most notably politicians, it is worth taking a step back and assessing what freedom of speech means, and its bounds.

The term hate speech does not have a universally agreed-upon definition. It includes, but is not limited to speech that advocates for or encourages violent acts against a specific group or creates a climate of hate or prejudice, that could in turn, encourage the committing of hate crimes. In this context, speech can include any form of expression, including images, film and music. It is important to keep in mind that a hate comment about an individual does not necessarily constitute hate speech, unless it targets the individual as part of a group.

Hate Speech Under Kenyan Law: 

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 hatred against a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality (including citizenship) or ethnic or national origins– and does not include hatred based on religion, gender, sexual preference, or any other group category. The 2010 Constitution notes that freedom of expression does not extend to hate speech, but does not define that term, while 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.”


The Umati project adopted a definition of harmful speech that takes into consideration forms of hate speech beyond those based on ethnicity and race as provisioned in Kenyan law. The images below offer an overview of the framework and factors we look into to categorize speech that is dangerous, that is, with a potential to catalyze or inspire violence (a subset of hate speech):


The Benesch danerous speech framework (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

The Benesch danerous speech framework

Factors for identifying online inflamatory speech (CLICK TO ENLARGE)

Factors for identifying online inflamatory speech


Categorization (CLICK TO ENLARGE)



Also check out: Umati Report (January – November 2013)

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Author : Nanjira Sambuli

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

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