While online freedom of expression in Kenya is quite robust, the space is increasingly drawing the attention of authorities seeking to introduce regulations, even as media and entertainment content continue to transition to online-first distrubution models. These are some of the observations made in the State of the Internet in Kenya 2016 report, the second such report launched by the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) to map out the Internet landscape in Kenya.
The report was launched under the iFreedoms Kenya project, which aims to promote knowledge on human rights and media rights online in Kenya. This year, it once again documents significant events that have taken place in the period to November 2016.
"This report highlights the considerable issues that transpired in the last one year. This is the second report we are launching, as part of our contribution to promoting and enhancing human rights and media rights in Kenya", BAKE Chairman Kennedy Kachwanya said at the launch of the report.
Freedom of expression online came into sharp focus in 2016 in Kenya, with at least 60 incidences of bloggers and journalists being arrested. In some instances, they were presented in court, but the majority incidents saw the arrested individuals released after a few days without charge, a move aimed that appears more inclined towards intimidating them and others in the space.
One significant development was the striking down of Section 29 of the Kenya Information and Communication Act (KICA), which would make ‘improper use of a licensed telecommunications gadget’ an offence. was ruled unconstitutional in April this year. This has been a great relief. However, two sections of the penal code - Section 132 and Section 194 - remain in place, pending constitutional determinations in the High Court.
In addition, the report documents the growth of blogging as a profession in Kenya, citing both numerical growth in niche specific blogs and also employment in the sector. Lifestyle, business and creative writing blogs recorded growth during the period while political and entertainment blogs had decreased readership.
We thought it wise to document human rights issues facing children, women and LGBTIQ communities because incidences of their harassment online have been on the rise. We have also noted an increase in intellectual property rights cases online where online content creators have seen their content used without their consent. Kennedy Kachwanya, BAKE Chairman
While Social Media, and the Internet in general, has played a significant role in the past year, transforming lives and providing public interest news, there have also been concerns about its use with some calling for its regulation. Moreover, the possibility to either shut down the internet during the 2017 General Elections in whole or in part remains a glaring possibility.
In addition, the acquisition of FinFisher, a remote monitoring and surveillance software, by the National Intelligence Service (NIS) and its utility to monitor and possibly bring down web platforms is alarming.
The report, and other publications by the iFreedoms Kenya Project, are available here.