Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Kenyans have taken to online platforms to produce content, maybe more than usual. This ranges from articles, YouTube videos, comedy strips, memes and much more. Content creation has been here since the colonial era, which shows how important it is. But content has also been used as an accelerator of violence, exile because of views that allegedly undermine authority and imprisonment. This now brings us to the issue of content policy.

From the colonial to post-independence eras, Kenyan governing authorities have maintained an ambivalent stance concerning content policy. There have been structures in terms of infrastructure support that has enabled the creation of content, but it has also been a subject of great scrutiny and regulation. In some instances, the content has been outrightly banned.

According to an analysis of the State of Content Policy in Kenya released by KICTANET, “Different content-related policies and laws also reveal a dynamic society that is changing in its socio-cultural conventions, growing in its economic output, and uneasily subject to a conservative, sometimes heavy-handed politico-regulatory structure.”

The analysis further acknowledges that the terms ‘content’ and ‘content ‘policy’ is broad in possible interpretation. Aspects of content – such as cybersecurity and digital content – have been addressed in other reports such as those by us, that is, the State of the Internet  Report (2017) and Global Partners Digital (2016).  It was found that where the Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and of media, it allows us to assume that content – its creation, production, and dissemination – is fundamentally a human right.

Content is also big business, especially with the entry of digital media where there are multiple avenues of generating revenues relating to information. The entertainment, media and digital economy have grown immensely, mostly due to the creation of useful and relatable content for different sections of audiences.

But on the political front, the analysis acknowledges that content can be a troublemaker, in a nation that has transitioned from colonial rule to post-colonial single-party rule to evolving multi-party democracy. Socially or politically controversial subjects have led to the banning of plays, television programs or films, as well as detentions and exiling of the content creators. The post-election violence that followed the 2007 election contributed to a sensitivity against hate speech that has been enshrined in the Constitution. Thus, the regulation of content receives heightened attention in civil and policy discourse. Laws relating to film, media, access to information, for example, have aspects relating to regulating various forms of expression.

There is a tension then about the content policy that emerges at the intersection of the economic, political, and human rights points of view. On the whole, content policy in Kenya has achieved great gains in its establishment but receives mixed reviews in how it is implemented. Ngugi (2008) observed that in matters of freedom of expression, our society has experienced great change but little transformation. It is a view that may be extended to various facets of content policy addressed in this document.

“There are laws enacted in the past two decades that promote an independent press, individual and community rights to information, and copyright and regulatory protections, among others. But the implementation of these laws is not always consistent and incidences of media censorship, as well as bureaucratic and other barriers to accessing information speak to some of the prevailing concerns,” says the report.

You can read the state of content policy 2020