NCIC must apply the law equally on hate speech

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MOSES KURIA

With just over four months before the next general elections, it is incumbent upon all leaders, political and otherwise, to promote peace and tranquillity among all Kenyan people.

The National Cohesion and integration Commission (NCIC) is the statutory body charged with the responsibility of ensuring that no one engages in hate speech and talk that may divide Kenyans along ethnic and other sectarian fractures.

In 2010, I presented a complaint to NCIC when Prime Minister Raila Odinga warned the people of Rift Valley not to be seduced with ‘peremende’ by ‘those we were fighting with in the last general elections’.

Although NCIC dismissed my complaint, it was the first case ever to be presented to NCIC. Two and a half years since then, one would hope that NCIC has learnt the lesson that it is not only the direct and literal meaning of speeches that should be taken into consideration.

Subsequent cases that have been reported to NCIC involve much more subtle and mundane talk than the ‘peremende’ comments. There is almost consensus that the nuance and tonality of speeches, the implied and general import of leaders’ talk is much more important than the express meaning.

In the recent weeks, the Prime Minister has been consistently using language that is frightening. During the last weekend rallies, Raila’s speeches made three references which, in my view, should attract more than cursory interest from Mzalendo Kibunjia and his team at NCIC.

Addressing women leaders in Narok County, he asked ODM supporters to vote in a uniform ‘six-piece’ fashion and get rid of ‘madoadoa’. There is nothing wrong in voting in a uniform fashion.

The usage of the term ‘madoadoa’ is another matter altogether. Even as unreliable and discredited as they are, the two Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) conflicting reports of July and August, 2010 were unanimous that the usage of the term ‘madoadoa’ contributed to a significant extent to the post-election violence of 2007-2008.

Any leader with the interests of the country at heart would think twice before using the term ‘madoadoa’. The risk of misinterpretation by overzealous supporters far much outweighs the communication value that one might argue was the intention.

Later the same day, while addressing a public rally in Narok stadium, Raila Odinga asked his supporters to arm themselves with IDs and voters cards which will be the ‘guns and bullets’ in the coming elections. ”When I say ‘Fire!’ you fire”, Raila said.

Again, he may claim that his was a benign call to encourage voters to acquire IDs and register as voters. But why use such kind of extreme and violent language?

In normal circumstances this would pass as ordinary talk. This is not a ‘kawaida’ general election. This is the first general election after Kenya went dangerously close to the precipice of an abyss in the last general election.

The analogy of violence, of guns, of bullets, of ‘madoadoas’ is such a stark reminder that whilst as a nation we have made strides in reforming this country, the more Kenya has changed, the more Raila Odinga has remained the same.

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