Kenya: Hate speech as a political tool risks inciting more violence

Kenya: Hate speech as a political tool risks inciting more violence

A spate of inflammatory statements from Kenya’s politicians is making an already-tense political environment even worse. Unless something is done to prevent and prosecute hate speech, the situation could spiral out of control. By NJERI KIMANI.

Kenya could be on brink of violence yet again if nothing is done to curb the clear examples of hate speech being spouted by politicians across the country.

This week, seven Members of Parliament – three aligned with the ruling Jubilee Party, and four with the Cord opposition coalition – have been summoned by police to discuss controversial statements. According to police, remarks made by these politicians over the weekend “are said to be laced with ethnic hatred, vilification, and border on incitement”.

On Saturday, lawmaker Kimani Ngunjiri was caught on camera saying that he will eject the Luo community forcefully from Nakuru, always a political flashpoint. Kimani remained adamant in a press conference on Monday that he was misquoted, saying he referred only to the Luos who had accompanied Cord leader Raila Odinga to a rally in Nakuru at the weekend.

His sentiments come only a few days after leaflets were distributed in central Nakuru, calling for all Luos to leave the town.

Meanwhie, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria said Raila Odinga should eat “maize” – local slang for bullets. In the Kikuyu language, Kuria also said: “We won’t be troubled by (Odinga) forever. He can as well bite the bullet and we bury him next Monday. His protesters will throw stones for just one week and life continues. If it’s war they want, it’s what they will get. Tell Raila he can bite the bullet but if they want peace they should come and let us negotiate,” said Kuria at Kasarani Stadium.

Kuria has a track record on hate speech, with pending charges of incitement to violence hanging over his head. He is also among the 11 MPs nominated to engage in dialogue regarding the ongoing dispute on the future of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. His tone in his recent statements suggests that he is not a natural mediator, however.

Among the other MPs wanted for hate speech are Cord lawmakers Aisha Jumwa, Timothy Bosire and Junet Mohamed. After making statements at police headquarters on Monday evening, Junet has since been arrested.

In a country where there is no written law specifically against hate speech, there is little to restrain politicians from engaging openly in verbal abuse.

This needs to change, said National Cohesion and Integration Commission Chairman Francis Ole Kaparo.

We, and the various law enforcement agencies that we work with, are going to put our foot down to ensure that hate-mongers are brought to justice. Any politicians tempted to indulge in hate speech should immediately stop this. They should address the people in a better way. We are going to stamp out this hate speech, and we will do so very firmly, I assure you,” said Kaparo.

Courts are a letdown when it comes to handling hate speech cases. We also lack people to monitor and investigate hate speech and hence taming the loose tongues of the politicians has been a major challenge,” he added.

Nakuru youth advisor to the governor Kimani wa Kimani claims that failure to have a law that spells out how the perpetrators of hate speech will be punished has contributed to the reckless talk of politicians. He also worries that those loose tongues will lead Kenya into a repeat of the devastating 2007/2008 post-election violence.

Giving a politician a bail of half a million is peanuts. Yet these are the people who pick up tribal sentiments to people who cannot even afford to bail themselves out. They do not know the price we have paid for peace and the efforts that youth have engaged in, including door to door campaigns and coffee bars to encourage each other to live in peace,” he added.

Crispus Wathimba, a politician, wants politicians engaged in hate speech to be totally barred from participating in the elections.

That is the only way to ensure that the people are never given a platform to vent on other communities,” he added.

Wathimba claims that all politicians should have certificates of good conduct to prove that they do not have criminal records.

We have been rotating leaders who do not have the interest of Kenyans at heart,” he added. DM

Njeri Kimani is a journalist based in Nakuru, Kenya.

Photo: Opposition supporters carry a mock coffin they prepared and burned in the streets as they protest against Member of Parliament (MP) Moses Kuria of the ruling Jubilee coalition who allegedly called for the assassination of opposition leader Raila Odinga, in Nairobi, Kenya, 14 June 2016. EPA/DAI KUROKAWA


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