By D S
It is an incontestable fact that vernacular radio stations have played a key role in educating and informing a largely ignorant populace that does not speak nor understand Kiswahili and English, our two national languages.
For a long time it has been argued that the preservation of our various cultures is hinged on the promotion of vernacular. Professor Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, a leading literati, has time and again implored us to use our vernacular, and he is one of the leading promoters of vernacular radio stations for the same purpose. He has even written a novel in Kikuyu.
Thus, it can be said that the need to preserve and promote our cultures is largely responsible for the proliferation of vernacular radio stations. Education of the section of society that does not understand English or Swahili is the second reason advanced for the continuation of vernacular radio stations.
However, some overzealous tribal bigots have hijacked these vernacular radio stations and consequently converted them into vitriol-spewing establishments meant to malign other tribes and tribal figures by developing and brooding negative stereotypes.
In the run up to the 2007 elections, a slew of radio stations made it their agenda to propagate hate speech.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) singled out a Kikuyu song by Miuga Njoroge that was broadcast on Inooro Fm and Kameme Fm. The Song had been sponsored by the Party of National Unity (PNU), ironically. The essence of the song was that Raila Odinga is a murderer. That he is power hungry. That he doesn’t care about other tribes. That he only cares about his tribe, the Luo community. That Luos are lazy. They don’t work. They are hooligans. And, that when they rent houses, they don’t pay rent.
That is just one case that KNCHR could single out. There are many other cases of vernacular radio stations propagating hatred. When such sentiments are voiced on air, they earn a certain degree of legitimacy which can be used to justify attacks on other ethnic groups. These derogatory statements get fixated on people’s minds. The stereotypes dehumanize people from other tribes by depicting them as animals, and, thus, making it easy to pick a panga and hack them to death.
During Moi’s tenure, around the year 2000, he warned the nation over the dangers of vernacular radio stations. He said: “vernacular radio stations such as Kameme FM should be banned because they can be misused to incite anarchy and genocide just as it happened in Rwanda.’
Indeed the example of Rwanda is a poignant one. During the genocide of 1994, the notorious Radio Mille Collines (RMC) played a significant role. During a call-in show, the minority Tutsi community was pejoratively referred to as ‘cockroaches’. In no time, the clarion call was ‘kill the inkotanyi (cockroaches).’ We all know what happened.
It is no different here. Kameme FM has been in the forefront dehumanizing Luos by allowing callers who call during call-in shows to use derogative terms such as ‘kihii’ etc. to refer to Luos. Moses Kuria has been terming them as uncircumcised and, as such, less human. Other vernacular radio stations from other tribes, including Lake Victoria, are no better. This is a recipe for disaster.
It is high time NCIC sought the scrapping of vernacular radio stations. Yes, the radio stations have an integral role in the education and information of a mostly ignorant populace. Yes, they serve well in the preservation of people’s diverse cultures. But they have outlived their purpose and are now being used as conduits of ethnic hate.
Besides, long before radio technology emerged, we had our cultures. Our cultures are not going to disintegrate simply because vernacular radio stations have been scrapped. And, moreover, nowadays, virtually everyone can understand some Swahili. Therefore, it is high time vernacular radio stations got banned: They are a threat to national peace and security. In the hierarchy of priorities, a nation’s security comes first before culture.