NCIC ban bark of toothless dog

Samuel Kobia

National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) chairman Dr Samuel Kobia makes his remarks during the office of the Director of Public Prosecution (ODPP) staff sensitization workshop on election preparedness at the Kenya School of Government, Kabete on April 4, 2022.


Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The April 15 deadline for disconnection of phone lines that have not been registered appears oppressive.
  • Then we have the farce called the NCIC and their Hatelex: a lexicon of hate speech terms in Kenya.

I was watching one of those delightfully irreverent British TV comedies of 1960s vintage. A career civil servant is trying to explain to his Cabinet minister why a hospital has to have hundreds of staffers yet has never started treating patients. He explains the roles of functions of different cadres in the vast bureaucracy, including ‘administrators to administer other administrators’.

The minister cannot understand the logic of so much paper-pushing when the success of a hospital can only be measured results in terms of patients treated. Exasperated, the Permanent Secretary blurts out: “Mr Minister, we don’t measure our success by results, but by activity.”

I thought of Kenya. We have a surfeit of idle petty bureaucrats in government, state corporations, statutory bodies, regulatory agencies and constitutional commissions who occasionally must do something to show that they are still alive and working. Every so often, they will come out with a raft of notices, directives, orders and ultimatums that have absolutely no rhyme or reason and are bound to be abandoned, postponed or declared illegal. Some of them just cause confusion or create problems where there were none, necessitating endless statements to explain and clarify the intention.

I can think of two ongoing issues that have provoked endless debate or outright rejection. One is the mind-boggling statement by the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) purporting to ban from election campaign rallies and social media certain words and phrases it deems as hate speech. The other is the directive by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) for fresh registration of mobile telephone numbers.

Conflicting information

Let us start with the second one. That CA Director-General Ezra Chiloba and the three mobile telephony service providers have been kept extremely busy responding to public outrage and enquiries is proof that the edict on SIM card registration was never properly explained. 

The April 15 deadline for disconnection of phone lines that have not been registered appears oppressive, and lack of clarity over the rationale and exact requirements indicates a monumental communications failure. Many cannot understand why they have to go through the inconveniencing of re-registering a telephone line when they already had complied since 2015, when the requirement was introduced into law.

Conflicting information and explanations from the CA and the three mobile phone providers — Safaricom, Airtel and Telkom (I’m not sure where Jamii Telecommunications and Equitel fit into the picture)­ — only added to the confusion. The picture became even murkier when, in the midst of all the confusion, Information and Communications Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru appointed a task force to, among other things, review SIM card regulations.

By the time Mr Chiloba finally cleared the air on so many issues—including clarifying that the deadline was not a new requirement but implementation of the 2015 law, that those with registered lines need not do so again and that it was not mandatory to personally visit a registration centre and have a photograph taken — the damage had been done and many working hours wasted in unnecessary queues. Then we have the farce called the NCIC and their Hatelex: a lexicon of hate speech terms in Kenya.

Hate messaging

Now, I will be the first to acknowledge that Kenyan political intercourse is full of hate messaging, some of which can be the trigger for violence. This column has been warning about the blatant use of hate messaging and calling for stern action against the purveyors of inflammatory talk on the campaign platform. However, simply taking a long list of words commonly used on the campaign trail and purporting to ban them on account of hate speech displays a lazy and pedestrian approach.

That list is a joke, especially where it merely takes slogans associated with certain campaigns and labels them as hate speech. NCIC chair Samuel Kobia and his band of merry men and women have always appeared ineffectual and clueless but they have outdone themselves this time.

Political sloganeering will always be about competition, rivalries and staking out turf. It will indicate rivalries and antagonism and will often seek to demonise the other side. Some of that will, indeed, be extremist and objectionable but it can hardly be deemed as hate speech.

The NCIC has only opened itself up to accusations that it is stifling free speech and, worse, that it is playing partisan politics by ‘banning’ messaging mostly associated with Deputy President William Ruto’s ‘Hustler Nation’ brigade. To that extent, Dr Ruto’s presidential campaign welcomed an unsolicited propaganda boost for its dishonest narrative about the outsider up against the ‘Deep State’ machinery.

I will say it: Sipangwingwi!

[email protected]. @MachariaGaitho