Ongwae, Arati trade blame over Karua teargas incident

Teargas fumes moments after Raila Odinga's running mate Martha Karua began addressing a rally at Gusii Stadium in Kisii on June 30, 2022.

Photo credit: Ondari Ogega I Nation Media Group

Outgoing Kisii Governor James Ongwae and governor candidate Simba Arati have accused each other of being behind the chaos that erupted on Thursday when a tear gas canister was detonated during an Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition rally.

The explosion sent everyone scampering for safety, prompting Azimio running mate Martha Karua to cut short her speech.

Ms Karua was immediately evacuated by uniformed and non-uniformed officers, with thousands of people running helter-skelter around the stadium.

Mr Arati and Mr Ongwae, in separate press briefings, condemned the incident and called on police to thoroughly investigate it and bring the culprits to book.

The blame game is worsening the situation, as tension is still high in the county.

Life in danger

The two leaders apologised to Ms Karua and Mama Ida Odinga, wife of Azimio presidential candidate Raila Odinga, who had left after attending other functions in the county.

Mr Arati, in his briefing on Friday, said his life was in danger and urged police to investigate the real motive of the Thursday chaos.

He claimed that the police officer accused of detonating the teargas canister was said to be a close agent of a top politician in the county.

"Mr Ongwae has on several occasions told me that I will not be the next Kisii governor. I am asking him why he is so focused on me yet he is not on the ballot? What angers him so much whenever he sees me, leave alone my name being mentioned? What does he want with me," said Mr Arati.

He said he would continue to fight corruption in the county, a stance he claimed Mr Ongwae is opposed to, adding that this is why he would rather support all other governor candidates in Kisii but not him.

"If I die today, I ask Kisii residents to continue liberating our county. Let my spirit live on through your resolve for justice. We cannot fight corruption in the country if we do not focus on the counties," he said, telling the outgoing governor to retire peacefully.

He told ODM party leader Mr Odinga to order an investigation into Mr Ongwae and why he opposes his candidacy, noting that his behaviour would affect the Azimio presidential vote.

Kisii County Deputy Speaker Davins Onuso wondered why Mr Ongwae remained in his chair unmoved, long after the teargas fumes had filled the air, forcing his bodyguards to whisk him away.

Chaos that rocked the rally

But Mr Ongwae on Thursday evening laid blame on the outgoing Dagoretti North MP for the chaos that rocked the rally.

He accused Mr Arati of attending a function he was not invited to. “There was supposed to be a meeting only for ladies, our mothers and sisters, who wanted to talk to our two great ladies, and we had arranged that at the stadium by that morning there were between five to ten thousand ladies.”

Mr Ongwae said “unwanted people” raided the meeting with what he called hooligans who went ahead to allegedly disrupt an otherwise peaceful meeting.

“It is extremely unfortunate that [this happened] despite having gone on TV and radio to announce that the function at the stadium was strictly for ladies,” Mr Ongwae said.

“It is extremely unfortunate that one of the gubernatorial candidates decided that could not be and brought very many young men there, broke the gate to the stadium when they were told the young men could not be allowed. They raided the stadium and made it fairly unruly.”

The National Police Service said that the officer who lobbed the teargas canister had not been assigned duties at the stadium and that he was not on any official duties.

But Mr Ongwae maintained that the stadium had “become fairly unruly”.

He claimed he had informed Mrs Odinga and Ms Karua that the stadium had allegedly been invaded by what he described as an unruly mob of youths to cause chaos.

Notably, it is Ms Karua who ordered the stadium to be opened for all residents, male or female, after Mr Arati requested her to do so.

Mr Ongwae alleged that Mr Arati created the chaos and disrupted the meeting, urging the people of Kisii County not to elect him as the next governor.

“I recently told the people not to elect this young man, because he’ll cause a stink of your county,” said Mr Ongwae, who was feasibly bitter and banging tables.

Speaking in his Ekegusii language, Mr Ongwae chastised Mr Arati, stating he was not fit to be a public leader. “Inabatebia moisonde obogambi obo bwa Gusii nkobosari more ekiagera ngochengera more oborai bosareke” (I recently cautioned you against cheering someone who’ll mess up your leadership).

Mr Ongwae said Mr Arati and his team will taint the image of Kisii and deface the good record he had established as the first governor.

Outgoing Kitutu Chache South MP and Kisii ODM senator candidate Richard Onyonka scoffed at Mr Ongwae’s claims, stating that the people saw in broad daylight what happened when the police officer deployed the tear gas without any provocation, forcing Ms Karua to cut short her speech.

Mr Onyonka denied that Mr Arati's team was involved in planning the teargassing of the visitors and challenged Mr Ongwae to declare the role he played in the incident.

“Our team was very peaceful. Less than 24 hours preceding the meeting, Ongwae mobilised former Kisii MPs to a press conference in which drums of war were sounded,” Mr Onyonka said.

“We resolved to remain peaceful and our leader (Arati) sounded reconciliatory when he took the podium. Someone hell-bent on causing chaos, as Ongwae is alleging, couldn’t be reasonable and conciliatory like Arati was until we heard the sound of an explosion from nowhere.”

Politics of deception

Mr Onyonka warned Mr Ongwae to stop what he termed as the politics of deception and strongly defended Mr Arati and his team, saying they were not involved in the teargassing of the Azimio presidential running mate.

“I urge the governor to exercise caution and allow police to complete their investigations. Why is Ongwae panicking and attributing the attack to our team? What does he know? We are peaceful and we shall remain so despite provocation,” Mr Onyonka said.

He said his team had become targeted because it is promising to address corruption and looting of public money by some county officials.

“Team Simba has become targeted for assuring the people of Kisii County that we shall stem out corruption which had become a way of life in the Ongwae regime,” he said.

“Arati has promised to protect the people’s resources and refused to be recruited into the looting team, hence the continued vitriol directed at him.”

Mr Onyonka stated that after Mr Arati refused to play along with those who allegedly looted the resources of the people, Mr Ongwae started campaigning against his being nominated by ODM though he was the most popular of all the candidates who were seeking the party’s nomination.

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