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Kenya reins in hate speech ahead of constitution vote

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So, what has changed? Part of the peace deal that ended the postelection violence was an agreement that hate speech would be outlawed. “Before that ... this kind of rhetoric was seen simply as the normal thrust of politics,” said Mwalimu Mati, director of Mars Group Kenya, an anticorruption watchdog group.

Typically, the goal of politicians is to highlight contrasts between their policies and their rivals’. But in Kenya, the aim has been to show the electorate the spoils that will flow to them if they vote for a particular candidate, and the spoil-of-spoils in Kenya is land.

A strong undercurrent of antagonism runs between sections of the country’s 42 tribes over feelings that lands that traditionally “belonged” to certain ethnic groups have been “stolen” by others. Politicians bent on staying in power ruthlessly exploit these feelings. They have done this with speeches that are now legally defined as incitement.

The 2008 National Accord and Reconciliation Act set up state bodies to hunt for hate speech and to present examples as evidence. “Let all know that the law now allows us to act on such people,” Mathew Iteere, Kenya’s top policeman, said when the MPs were arrested.

Strategic Research, contracted by the United Nations to monitor local language radio stations during the 2007 election, has reported no “mongoose” comments.

“But that doesn’t mean that we’re not seeing efforts to target people in different ways,” warns general manager Dan Ahere. “There are plenty of reports referring to discussions of rallies, of press articles about the constitution, which seem aimed at dividing people, if not according to their community then according to emotive issues raised by the referendum.”

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