News / Toronto

Toronto NGO aims to stop violence by dispelling hate rumours in at-risk countries

The Sentinel Project monitors and dispels rumours that have the potential to spark violence or genocide.

Members of the Una Hakika team speak to a community in Kenya.

Contributed

Members of the Una Hakika team speak to a community in Kenya.

A Toronto non-profit’s mission to prevent genocide and hate-based violence by dispelling rumours is expanding.

The Sentinel Project has been working in the Tana Delta region of Kenya since 2013 on a project called Una Hakika, which translates from Swahili to “Are you sure?” Now, it’s expanding across all of Kenya and launching another initiative in Myanmar.

The NGO monitors and dispels rumours that have the potential to spark violence or genocide, said co-founder Chris Tuckwood.

The NGO launched in 2008 with Hatebase, an online project which tracks hate speech around the world in order to detect where populations are at risk. Hatebase caught the eye of Canada’s International Development Research Centre which funded the Una Hakika project—helping the Sentinel Project move from online to on the ground.

“We went from this small NGO in Canada that was just writing reports and monitoring situations, to actually doing things in the field,” Tuckwood said.

Over the past two years, the organization has recruited 200 local ambassadors in Kenya who report local rumours and help debunk them. The volunteers disseminate verified information by text message and social media, hopefully stopping misinformation before it erupts into violence.

For example, rumours that an Orma group had obtained 3,000 AK-47s to use against the Pokomo, or that a Pokomo nurse was trying to inject Orma children with poison, were false but inflamed the conflict, said Tuckwood.    

More than 80 per cent of the residents of Tana Delta own mobile phones and 1 in 15 adult phone users have subscribed for updates from Una Hakika, said Tuckwood.

The project’s expansion is timely, Tuckwood said, as Kenya is headed towards an election in 2017.

The new project in Myanmar will operate with specific concern for the Muslim Rohingya minority, which Sentinal Project has concluded is at high risk of genocide or violence. 

More on Metronews.ca