“Buy Your Own Coffins and Graves” – Dangerous Speech in Kenya

The Dangerous Speech Project
Defining Inflammatory Speech and Limiting its Effects

“Buy Your Own Coffins and Graves “Threats and dangerous speech are dogging Kenya, one week from the first presidential elections since 2007. The 2007 vote was also preceded by dangerous speech – and followed by disastrous violence. In this all-too-relevant context, we are testing new methods to limit incitement and violence:

  • A collaborative effort called Umati (Kiswahili for “crowd”), to monitor the Kenyan online world for dangerous speech. For example,a letter posted online last week advised Kenyan judges “buy your own coffins and graves.”
  • A campaign designed with our partners Ushahidi and the iHub called “Nipe Ukweli” (Gimme Truth) to counter inflammatory rumors, which were prevalent in 2007/8.
  • Four special episodes of a hit TV drama/comedy called Vioja Mahakamani, which grapple with dangerous speech, based on real Kenyan cases.

“Gimme Truth!” with the Umati Project

We have been collaborating with the Kenyan groups Ushahidi and iHub Research on Umati, a pathbreaking project to monitor the Kenyan online world for dangerous online speech – something no one has attempted before. The latest Umati report, based on four short months of data, shows disturbing levels of dangerous speech at all levels.

To combat this, we designed a brand-new campaign called Nipe Ukweli, or “Gimme Truth,” to educate Kenyans about dangerous speech and what individuals can do to combat its effects. Rumors spread like wildfire on social media but can be refuted the same way. In response to a false rumor that some Kenyans were burning churches, for example, a young activist tweeted a photograph of one of the unharmed churches with the words “stop the lying.” Nipe Ukweli will replicate such efforts.

Hit comedy features Dangerous Speech

Some of Kenya’s most widely recognized media stars are the cast members of Vioja Mahakamani, a hit comedic courtroom drama. We worked withproducers to create four episodes on the topic of Dangerous Speech, which aired nationwide, and are now being used by conflict-prevention organizations on the ground in Kenya. We ultimately hope to use these shows as a model for other countries where ethnic hatred is growing, and there is increased risk of violence.

International advocacy and dialogue

 At the UN headquarters in New York on Feb 1, more than 100 invited guests watched four panelists, including Dangerous Speech Project Director Susan Benesch, discuss Hate Speech and Incitement to Genocide. The diverse and engaged audience continued asking questions even after the interpreters had to quit work, under UN rules. Four days later, at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, D.C., the same panelists met for another discussion on the same topic, with special focus on the best policy options to counter dangerous speech.