It is the silly season and ominously, with its usual menu of foolish jokes, plastic dancing and flat speeches, oblique messages that have been gnawing dangerously at the edges of political utterances are forming into full-bloom hate speech.
The four politicians currently under investigation are a small number of the many who have continued to make divisive and provocative statements against other communities.
Meru Senator Linturi, Kitutu Chache South MP Richard Onyonka, Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot and Mr Abubakar Amana just happened to make their statements at a time of particularly high sensitivity and the security agencies could not pretend not to have heard them.
Being politicians, they will argue that their comments have been misrepresented and that the context must be considered.
Some, like in Linturi’s case, will even cause unrest as their supporters react in defence of their leader. We saw tyres burn and people confront police in Meru. At the end of the day, they will have earned the publicity they crave and will, like others before them, get away with nothing more than a night in a police cell.
This is extreme recklessness because other than the selfishness, nothing can justify the irresponsibility exhibited by these remarks. These people, and others before them, must know how fragile the nation’s social fabric is. The country remains deeply divided along tribal lines much as we pay lip service to living in unity and brotherhood. These divisions become glaringly evident during elections when politicians trigger the primitive us-versus-them narrative to win votes from “their people”. The stakes get really high during presidential transitions like we are currently experiencing.
The 2007/2008 tribal conflagration will always be a particularly dark spot in the history of this country. Communities that were seen as “not belonging’ in the areas that they had settled in were cornered and killed in the most grotesque manner, the most macabre being the torching of a church in Eldoret that was offering shelter to frightened members of the Kikuyu community.
Kenyans generally, but some communities more than others, have for all sorts of (il)legitimate reasons moved out of their ancestral lands to settle elsewhere.
Seek livelihoods elsewhere
The Kikuyu and the Kisii are particularly noted for this, the former’s intrepidness vastly contributed to by the historical fact that a lot of their land was acquired by colonialists and the new government at independence had to resettle them elsewhere. The Kisiis simply have no land and have, perforce, to move and seek livelihoods elsewhere.
Of course other communities are settled in other parts, but not to the same degree as these two. It is also true Rift Valley has been a favourite destination of many people from these two communities. Not surprisingly, therefore, they suffered the brunt of the 2007/2008 clashes. They were killed, maimed and forced out of their homes. Many internally displaced people have never been resettled. The wounds inflicted then have not healed and they take very seriously comments like those of Senator Linturi, especially given the place and occasion at which he spoke.
These Kenyans derive no comfort from the existence of entities like the National Cohesion and Integration Commission. It is as effective as a newborn chick – all squawk and fancy declarations that are a waste of time. The Act that gives it effect may be clear about what constitutes hate speech and the punishment due if found guilty. But it has yet to find one politician or any other Kenyan guilty for the last 12 years it has been around.
Apart from the current four leaders, there have been more than 10 others who have offended this law and are still laughing at Kenyans. This needs to be corrected urgently.
Meanwhile, politicians and especially those seeking the presidency must come out and unequivocally condemn this vice. Deputy President William Ruto in particular shoulders an enormous responsibility because of his pre-eminence in the Rift Valley province. This region was the epicentre of the 2007/2008 atrocities, the consequences of which have never been fully addressed. Claims that the presidency is owed to Dr Ruto’s people on account of a pact with President Uhuru Kenyatta can only fan tensions and the region remains a particular hotspot.
The security forces, the media, the churches and everyone else that bears a duty of care must prevent any region in the country from being the killing fields of 2022.
The writer is a former Editor-in-Chief of Nation Media Group and currently manages BlueCrane Global Consulting. [email protected], @TMshindi)