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Kenya: Protect freedom of expression

Three bulls were grazing in a meadow and were watched by a lion who longed to capture and devour them, but felt that he was no match for the three so long as they kept together.

So he began by false whispers and malicious hints to foment jealousies and distrust among them. This strategy succeeded so well, that before long the bulls grew cold and unfriendly and finally avoided each other and fed each one by himself apart.

No sooner did the lion see this, then he fell upon them one by one, and killed them in turn.

This month, a Bill by the chairperson of the National Security Committee seeking to amend the National Cohesion and Integration Act emerged and has been on everyone’s lips.

The proposal in the Bill by Kiambaa MP Paul Koinange seeks to criminalise incitement against any person, group or community on the basis of social status.

In other words, the Bill comes at a time when the country is divided over the hustler narrative pushed by a section of the political class.

Those opposed to the hustler talk are of the view that it can create a class divide in the country which would, in turn, divide Kenya even further.

In Nazi Germany, divisive talk against the Jews was used to attack, profile and castigate a section of the population leading to the Holocaust.

In Rwanda, extremist Hutus referred to the Tutsi in derogatory terms and went further to create a narrative to cut down the tall trees. We all know how that ended.

In the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya, one tribe was (and still is) referred to as madoadoa, and this divisive narrative was used to hurt a section of the population.

At the end of it, Kenya had lost more than 1,200 citizens to the violence while another 650,000 had been evicted from their homes.

In all these cases, people allowed themselves to be distracted by sideshows like the bulls in the fable above and forgot to confront the common enemy. When a hyena wants to eat its children, it first accuses them of smelling like goats.

We must not condone any talk meant to divide this country. But at the same time, we cannot criminalise freedom of expression, which is clearly enshrined in our Constitution.

Class division is a reality that we cannot run away from and the disparity between the rich and poor is glaring. We cannot be seen to be blocking people from discussing issues that affect them.

The disparities in the Kenyan society are a fact and we must do everything possible to reduce unemployment and create an environment where we have a wider middle-class population, as we bridge the gap between the rich and the poor.

We need to focus on the goals that we have set as a country such as the Big Four agenda and Vision 2030. Growing the economy is the most critical way to bridge the gap and avoid talk of hustlers in future.

Politicians must be mindful of the narratives they create as they seek higher positions. Only they will be held liable for their actions if they burn the nation in pursuit of their ambitions.

We must all focus on making the country better for all Kenyans regardless of their tribe, class, education, status or even religion. All Kenyans aspire for the same thing – prosperity in order to live positively and take care of their loved ones.

As we do this, we must guard against any talk that causes others to feel excluded. But we cannot lose the gains made in ensuring freedom of speech in the process.

It is therefore important that the Bill before Parliament is withdrawn so it does not end up infringing on freedom of expression.

We must always work hard to ensure that we defend all the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution because if we don’t, it will affect us negatively in future.

This article was published by The Star.


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