Last week, six Kenyan members of parliament were chucked in a Nairobi prison for four days after being accused of hate speech. This is the political equivalent of being sent to the naughty corner, but it seems to have worked: the “Pangani Six” have now promised to travel the country preaching forgiveness and conciliation. By NJERI KIMANI.
In an apparent Damascene conversion, six Kenyan MPs charged with hate speech last week will embark on a peace caravan in all the 47 of Kenya’s counties to preach against the vice.
Ironically, the MPs in question would not meet face to face until their violent rhetoric put them behind bars together, forcing them to iron out their differences.
The MPs, now christened the “Pangani Six” after their four-day ordeal in the Pangani police cells, claim they have now learnt the price of hate speech. They claim to have used the opportunity in detention to plead with each other for forgiveness, and to start with a fresh slate.
In neat symmetry, the group is composed of three members of the ruling Jubilee Alliance, and three from the opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy. They were arrested last week after making inflammatory statements at political gatherings, reinforcing fears of violence ahead of next year’s presidential election.
Well, after four days of confinement, they are now singing a more peaceful tune.
Denied any outside contact in the first two days, the MPs had to learn how to survive the dingy cells and live with each other. They say the stay in the cells united them more, to the extent that they have all agreed to be represented in court by a single lawyer, James Orengo, a senior CORD official.
The peace caravan will be led by Moses Kuria, a notorious Jubilee attack dog who had allegedly called for the assassination of opposition leader Raila Odinga. Kuria reconciled with Odinga when the latter came to visit him in prison, and on Tuesday the pair even went on a lunch date together.
“Kuria played to his supporters. He was overwhelmed by a crowd and found himself uttering things he did not intend to. I am sure he did not mean it,” said Odinga, saying that he had forgiven Kuria for his comments.
Kuria described the arrest as an eye-opener. He said the group had boycotted food for the first two days in detention, and the hunger they experienced made them realise that they were all equal.
“There was no difference between the hunger for a Jubilee or CORD politician. Our stomach rumbled the same,” he said. “We will partner with the five CORD MPs to form a peace caravan that will traverse the country to preach peace. We realised that what unites us is more than what sets us apart.”
In another strange twist, it was Johnstone Muthama, the fierce government critic, who was pleading with police officers to release Jubilee bigwig Ferdinand Waititu as he needed urgent medical attention.
“We tried asking the senior police officers to ensure that he is at least treated but they ignored us and kept us in the dehumanising cells. However, we had to support each other and hence the need for the peace caravan,” said Muthama.
Waititu said that the move is meant to foster peace in the country as it geared up to the 2017 elections. “We all agreed not to talk ill of any tribe but to strive to reach out to each other all the time. This will be important in ensuring that Kenya transits well after the 2017 elections,” said Waititu.
The MPs joked about their detention. Timothy Bosire (CORD) described how they smuggled in a cheap phone from Raila Odinga, and would use it to communicate with the outside world.
“We would hide it any time we heard the footsteps of the police officers. It was an important lesson on how to live together and foster each other as brothers. We looked out for each other and that is what we intend to continue doing,” he said.
Bosire also described how Muthama converted a plastic bag into a mosquito net, tired of fighting the mosquitoes in the cell (grateful, perhaps, that Kenya’s parliament has resisted calls to ban plastic bags).
Despite the politicians’ enthusiasm, political analysts are not entirely convinced that their change of heart is genuine. Nakuru County Accountability Forum Chair Joseph Omondi, for example, said the publicity stunt was less about reconciliation and more about sending a message to their respective political leaders, and capitalising on all the publicity.
“The Jubilee side was shocked by the president Uhuru Kenyatta directive that anyone caught engaging in hate speech should carry his own cross. This is their way of coming out. On the other hand the CORD politicians want to utilise the platform not only to gain popularity but to show that they have reformed,” he said.
But even if it is a cynical move – and can Kenya’s leopards really change their spots so quickly? – that’s not to say that some good can’t come from it.
“They should be captured in their own initiative and be forced to preach the narrative of reconciliation, especially since they hold some of the highest titles in the country,” Omondi concluded. DM
Photo: An opposition supporter reacts as a mock coffin for the MP Moses Kuria burns on the street in Nairobi, Kenya, as they protest against an MP Moses Kuria of the ruling Jubilee coalition who allegedly called for the assassination of opposition leader Raila Odinga, 14 June 2016. EPA/DAI KUROKAWA
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