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KENYA: Spreading the word of hate

NAIROBI, 22 January 2008 (IRIN) - Inflammatory statements and songs broadcast on vernacular radio stations and at party rallies, text messages, emails, posters and leaflets have all contributed to post-electoral violence in Kenya, according to analysts. Hundreds of homes have been burnt, more than 600 people killed and 250,000 displaced.

While the mainstream media, both English and Swahili, have been praised for their even-handedness, vernacular radio broadcasts have been of particular concern, given the role of Kigali’s Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines in inciting people to slaughter their neighbours in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
 
"There's been a lot of hate speech, sometimes thinly veiled. The vernacular radio stations have perfected the art," Caesar Handa, chief executive of Strategic Research, told IRIN. His company was contracted by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to monitor the media coverage given to the main political parties in Kenya in the run-up to the 27 December presidential and parliamentary elections.

Among the FM stations that Handa singled out for criticism were the Kalenjin-language station Kass, the Kikuyu stations Inooro and Kameme and the Luo station, Lake Victoria.
 
"The call-in shows are the most notorious," said Handa. "The announcers don't really have the ability to check what the callers are going to say." 
 
''There's been a lot of hate speech, thinly veiled. The vernacular radio stations have perfected the art''
Handa heard Kalenjin callers on Kass FM making negative comments about other ethnic groups, who they call "settlers”, in their traditional homeland, Rift Valley Province.
 
"You hear cases of 'Let's reclaim our land. Let's reclaim our birthright'. Let's claim our land means you want to evict people [other ethnic communities] from the place," said Handa.
 
One difficulty in monitoring such stations is that the language used is often quite subtle and obscure.
 
On Kass FM, there were references to the need for "people of the milk" to "cut grass" and complaints that the mongoose has come and "stolen our chicken", according to Kamanda Mucheke, senior human rights officer with the state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), which monitored hate speech in the countdown to the elections. 
 
The Kalenjin call themselves people of the milk because they are pastoralists by tradition and the mongoose is a reference to Kikuyus who have bought land in Rift Valley, Mucheke said.  On another occasion, a caller emphasised the need to “get rid of weeds”, which could be interpreted as a reference to non-Kalenjin ethnic groups.

Out of tune
 
Vernacular music has also been used to raise ethnic tensions. The two Kikuyu stations, Kameme and Inooro, played songs "talking very badly about beasts from the west", a veiled reference to opposition leader Raila Odinga and his Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) colleagues, who come from western Kenya, said Handa. Radio Lake Victoria played a Luo-language song by DO Misiani, which referred to "the leadership of baboons".
 
KNCHR singled out a Kikuyu song by Miuga Njoroge, broadcast on Inooro FM, as worrying. "I hear it was sponsored by the [governing] Party of National Unity," said Mucheke. "The gist of it is Raila [Odinga] is a murderer. He is power hungry. He doesn't care about other tribes. He only cares about his tribe, the Luo community. It says that Luos are lazy. They don't work. They are hooligans. That when they rent houses, they don't pay rent."
 
By allowing such sentiments to be voiced on air, observers say, they earn a degree of legitimacy that can be used to justify attacks on other ethnic groups.
 
"Hate speech is contributing in a big way to get people to take action as a result of the anger they have been feeling individually. You might have an individual feeling but when entire communities are rallied to a cause, people find justification and find the community would support them, [for example] if they burned a house belonging to a Kikuyu. It's not something the community is going to frown upon," said Handa. 
 

Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
A woman suffers in a teargas attack during a demonstration in the Mathare slums, Nairobi
However, Mucheke said KNCHR had witnessed "a remarkable reduction" in incidents of hate speech by the media in 2007 compared with 2005, when there was a referendum on a new constitution. That period marked a dramatic escalation in polarisation of the Kenyan population into two ethnic voting blocks, with most Kikuyu, Embu and Meru people supporting the government and voting for the new draft constitution, while other communities, particularly Luo, Kalenjin and Luhyas, backed the opposition in campaigning against it.
 
Analysts attributed the reduction in hate speech to the fact that radio stations are now being monitored. Three days before the November 2005 referendum, Kass FM was taken off air by the government, which alleged it was inciting listeners to violence. The station was only allowed to resume operations after submitting recordings of its transmissions to the government.
 
KNCHR's major concern in the lead-up to the 2007 elections was hate speech by politicians. In its October report, Still Behaving Badly, KNCHR cited comments by former minister of information Mutahi Kagwe at a rally in his Mukurweini constituency on 13 October.
 
"We are told that people will not be paying rent [if ODM win the election]. Even your milk which is now selling at 17 shillings will be declared free. Since independence we have never had such a dangerous man [as opposition leader Raila Odinga] who wants to destroy our government," Kagwe said.  
 
In another speech, Kagwe compared Odinga to Idi Amin and Hitler, warning his audience that Odinga will start "suppressing us" like those dictators if he wins.

Hate texts
 
A more anonymous way of spreading hate has been through emails and text messages.
 
One text sent before three days of demonstrations, called by the opposition ODM from 16 January, read in part: "We say no more innocent kikuyu blood will be shed. We will slaughter them right here in the capital city. For justice, compile a list of all luos and kaleos [slang for the Kalenjin ethnic group] you know at work, your estate, anywhere in Nairobi, plus where and how their children go to school. We will give you number to text this info."
 
The majority of Kikuyus supported Kibaki, while Luos and Kalenjins overwhelmingly voted for ODM.
 
Many Kenyans, used to making derogatory statements about other ethnic groups, do not realise the implications of what they are doing, according to Linda Ochiel, principal human rights officer at KNCHR. 


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
An internally displaced woman gets food for herself and her child at the Nakuru showgrounds
"People treat it as a big joke. They don't know such stereotypes eventually get fixated in people's minds when they begin to kill people. It's one of the triggers of violence in this country. When we begin to dehumanise other Kenyans and depict them as animals, it's easy to take a machete and hack them to death," she told IRIN.
 
Another serious issue is the circulation of leaflets warning certain ethnic communities to leave their areas.
 
According to one report, leaflets were distributed in and around Bungoma town on 10 January urging Kikuyu, Meru and Embu people to leave the area immediately. It read in part: "Notice to all landlords. Please take note that no Mount Kenya Mafia is your tenant lest you face the consequences. Avail quit notices to them immediately with no hesitation. Comply immediately!"
 
The Mount Kenya Mafia is a name commonly given to the influential Kikuyu, Meru and Embu politicians who are closest to President Mwai Kibaki. Bungoma is in pro-opposition Western Province.
 
On 21 January, the Daily Nation newspaper reported that the hand of a man who had been murdered by a gang was found on the Ukunda-Lunga Lunda road near the coastal city of Mombasa "with a chilling message attached … directing members of two communities to vacate the region".  

Government action
 
Analysts complained of a lack of political will to solve the problem.
 
After the 2005 referendum, KNCHR tried to sue members of parliament who had used hate speech but the Attorney General terminated the case. In 2007, the rights group tried to introduce legislation into Parliament incriminating hate speech. It was rejected by MPs who said it would be used to curtail their freedom of expression.
 
This has created a culture of impunity.
 
"When action is not taken against people who openly make statements which are inflammatory, people keep doing it because they know they will get away with it," said Ochiel.
 
"We want people prosecuted. We would like them to be held accountable. They are responsible for the people who have died," she said. The government had issued a nationwide text message on 3 January advising “that the sending of hate messages inciting violence is an offence that could result in prosecution”.

km/am/mw

Theme (s): Conflict, Governance, Refugees/IDPs,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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