P052 – Transforming Laws Through Protest. Free Speech in African Societies
10 July, 09:00 – 10:30

Skupien Stefan / Humboldt-Universität of Berlin
Khamala Charles Alenga / Kabarak University / Université de Pau


Transforming Laws Through Protest – Free Speech in African Societies

This panel takes a critical look at the complex development of law through the lens of freedom of speech as a legal and social phenomenon. Recent legal developments in African societies have seen a number of challenges, ranging from constitutional reforms in more than 20 countries during the last decade to the involvement of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in African politics. We claim that law as a restrictive as well as an freeing instrument is at the core of many recent mobilisations, giving room to analyse its usage and effects by different stakeholders. The freedom of speech is at the same time a pillar of recent protest and mobilisation and as well as subject to regulation. The panel’s authors will compare European and African instruments of Human Rights and their focus on freedom of speeches to circumscribe the extent of pluralism that is necessary to facilitate democracy. A second approach will compare constitutional instruments  throughout East Africas to analyse the interdependence of rights and the importance of freedom of speech. Another author will present research on NGOs taking up new Kenyan constitutional rights to engage in public affairs. Finally, an online project will be introduced as a method to analyse online hate speech contents in Kenyan contexts, offering data to raise awareness of new avenues of hate speech and their regulation.

Changer les lois à travers la protestation – la liberté d’expression dans les sociétés africaines
Le panel examine le développement complexe du droit par l’exemple de la liberté d’expression comme phénomène juridique et social. Les derniers développements juridiques dans les sociétés africaines ont connu plusieurs défis comme les réformes constitutionelles dans plus de vingt pays pendant la dernière decennie à l’engagement du tribunal pénal international dans la politique africaine. Le droit constitue un instrument restrictif et la liberté est au coeur des mobilisations récentes. Ce parti pris donne l‘espace pour analyser l’usage et les effets pour les intervenants. La liberté d’expression est en même temps le pilier des protestations récentes et est sujet de règlement. Dans ce panel les auteurs compareront l’instrument des droits de l’homme de l‘Européen et de l‘Africain et leur foyer sur la liberté d’expression pour restredindre le degré du pluralisme nécessaire pour faciliter  la démocratie. Une deuxieme approche comparera les instruments constitutionnels des pays de l‘Afrique de l’Est pour analyser l’interdépendence des droits et de la liberté d’expression. Il s’agira de parler également des ONG qui utilisent les droits constitutionels kenyans pour s’engager dans les affaires publiques. Finalement, un projet technique sera présenté comme méthode d’analyse des discours haineux dans le dcontexte kenyan. Cette methode offre des moyens pour mobiliser l‘attention sur les nouvelles orientations de discours haineux et de son réglement.


Paper 1

Khamala Charles / Kabarak University

Protesting Unequal Resource Distribution: Protecting Positive Ethnicity, Preventing Hate-Speech

Rwandan genocide was attributable to primordial ethnic hate in search of group identity. To regulate incitement to violence, some scholars thus advocate “peace journalism.” Hence conflict journalists are required to be development specialists. By criminalizing “genocide denial” such repressive post-conflict media policy further suppresses genuine political debate. Conversely, this paper argues that media freedom during Kenyan electoral contests should be left to the journalist’s discretion to inform. Voters exploit positive ethnicity to acquire voter information at lowest cost. Electoral freedom also enables citizens to hold officials accountable. However groups which are denied access to governmental resources opt to either “exit” the state or resort to violence.
Evidence from Kenya’s 2007 electoral conflicts, suggests that hate speech incited ethnic violence. This paper compares article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights with Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to determine the balance of tolerating offensive, shocking or disturbing expression against the state or groups. The argument is that pluralism demands a media policy which facilitates democracy. To prevent economic discrimination, media policy should promote public broadcasters rather than silence private owners.

Paper 2

Njagi Joan / Society for International Development

New Political Dispensation Challenged by Old Political Cultures

The Kenyan Constitution promulgated in August 2010 is considered one of the most progressive in Africa. Public participation as a function of inclusive, accountable and transparent governance is made explicit by the Kenyan Constitution, which provides the public with easy access to courts to receive and respond to complaints, the right to form associations and to assemble, demonstrate, picket and petition public authorities. The Constitution further provides the right to recall legislators and the right to protect the provisions of the Constitution through referendum. This paper documents the experiences of two non-state actors in taking up opportunities presented by the Constitution to engage in public affairs. The paper compares the experiences; successes and challenges of two non-state actors, one at national level and the other at county level; both participating in formulating and contesting laws. It demonstrates the challenges of a progressive Constitution in the face of a
retrogressive political environment.

Paper 3

Odhiambo Samuel / Law Society of Kenya

Towards responsible free speech: A Comparative evaluation of pertinent emerging legislation and jurisprudence in Africa

Each of the five East African Constitutions among other rights provides expressly for the freedom of speech, or of opinion as the Rwandese and Burundian Constitutions term it. While the interdependence of these rights and freedoms is for granted, there is a discernable overarching importance of the freedom of speech as a protector and enhancer of these other rights and freedoms. The fine tunings of what should be acceptable free speech that is liberating in its enjoyment, conscientious in its application and sensitive to other’s rights in its effect has proven to be delicate. State interests, sometimes legitimate, but other times bordering on oppressive, make issues of free speech no easier.
As East Africa, and indeed Africa grapples with the same conundrum that (in varying degrees) currently bedevils other jurisdictions like Russia, China, France, Syria, North Korea and even America, it becomes necessary to herein attempt an exposition and a rationalization of the situation in the socio-legal atmosphere around this freedom, the freedom of speech. While at this Africa just might get the time consider whether to be more regimented in its approach to freedom of speech or whether to let go of the brakes and declare for itself “Je suis Charlie”.

Paper 4

Sambuli Nanjira / iHub Research Nairobi

Free Speech and Hate Speech in Kenya: Monitoring Efforts And Legislative Dynamics

Discussions on freedom of speech and expression in Kenya go hand in hand with those on hate speech given the country’s history of violence incited by hateful rhetoric in the political sphere. The advent of social media has diversified and democratized communication channels, providing an avenue to exercise freedom of expression, but also to disseminate hate speech. The latter dynamic has in particular framed the conversation on social media use in Kenya, within mainstream media and government circles. Legislative processes in the recent past are indicative of the government’s intolerance to dissent and criticism, and currently, freedom of expression, as guaranteed under the Constitution of Kenya 2010 is under threat of curtailment.
Through the Umati Project, an online hate speech monitoring effort, insights into what fuels online hate speech, the shortcomings and legal precedent on hate speech prosecution, as well as efforts to protect freedom of expression by citizens, civil society and the opposition have been observed. One key finding from online monitoring efforts is that, while difficult to establish a causal link between online speech and offline violence, the former offers a key window of insight into offline conversations, convictions and perceptions held.
This paper proposes an exploration into the speech dynamics in Kenya through monitoring, legislative and awareness-raising perspectives.

← Back to list