The Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs, Joe Mucheru has come out to refute claims that Facebook could be suspended in Kenya. Mucheru said that Kenya is committed to promoting Press Freedom, ruling out any plans to shut down the internet during the election period.
“Media, including social media, will continue to enjoy PRESS FREEDOM in Kenya,” the CS tweeted.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) on Friday threatened to suspend social media platform Facebook, after a report showed that the firm had accepted to political ads containing hate-speech and inciteful remarks, in contravention of set regulations.
“Not clear what legal framework NCIC plans to use to suspend Facebook. Govt is on record. We are NOT shutting down the Internet,” Mucheru added.
Advocacy group Global Witness and Foxglove published a report on Monday saying that Facebook had run several political advertisements that are in contravention of the country’s ethnic cohesion rules.
The two non-profit organizations reportedly submitted ads to Facebook in both English and Swahili to see if they would pass the system’s scrutiny. The ads spoke of beheadings, rape and bloodshed, while some compared people to donkeys and goats. Others went as far as containing profanity and grammatical errors. Surprisingly, the ads in Swahili easily made it through the company’s detection system and were approved for publication.
Some of the English ads were rejected at first due to the profanities and errors. Once they were fixed, the ads passed the detection test despite their messages calling for killings and containing obvious hate speech.
According to a 2020 report from British tech research firm Comparitech on internet disruption, shutdowns in Africa happen during the election period or in cases of civil unrest.
The report highlighted shutdowns in Tanzania and Uganda that were ordered by the incumbent governments in a bid to silence the opposition, giving them the upper hand in the election process against the people’s will.
Nigeria, Ethiopia, Sudan, Chad, Guinea, Togo and Burundi also shut down social media in their last elections, leading to massive losses in their GDPs.
Interior CS Fred Matiang’i has however gone on record to assure Kenyans that no internet shutdowns would take place during the August 9 elections.
He said Kenya is a democratic country and could not engage in retrogressive acts such as internet shutdowns.
“No amount of insults will make us engage in such acts, but in the same breath, we expect those who will engage in politics to behave responsibly,” noted the CS.
The United Nations believes that access to the internet in this digital age contributes to the broader range of human rights including freedom of expression, freedom of information, the right to assemble and association, the right to health care, and standard quality of life through economic activity.
Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that governments are required to adhere to their international human rights commitments. Nations are only required to carry out legal, necessary, and proportional restrictive measures on freedom of expression in exceptional legal cases.