Tongue control: Election 2022 unguarded remarks and their toll on politicians

Nairobi governor aspirant Polycarp Igathe joins water vendors on a donkey. [Courtesy]

When Jubilee’s Nairobi governor aspirant Polycarp Igathe blamed the rot in the Nairobi County Assembly on what he said was "control" by three MCAS from the Somali community, he did not expect to be making an apology days later.

“We have 45 Kikuyu MCAs in Nairobi County Assembly but they are controlled by just three Somalis… there is a cabal, the capture is too serious,” said Igathe, blaming the Somali for the debt problem and poor service delivery.

In standard political fashion, Igathe’s remarks were taken as political mileage by his Kenya Kwanza competitors led by Garissa Township MP Aden Duale who called on Igathe to apologise to the Muslim and Somali communities. Duale threatened that should Igathe fail to apoligise he would personally make his way to Eastleigh- a predominantly Somali area- and ask the locals not to vote for him.

“Igathe must apologise to the Somali Community. He appears on TV saying that Kenya’s problem is the Somali community. I want to tell him he is tribal,” said Duale.

Similarly, Igathe’s words put him at a crossroads with the Muslim leadership caucus which through its leadership requested the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) to probe him for ethnic profiling.

The Muslim leader further argued that they would rally the Somali and Muslim communities against Igathe’s candidature in the capital city.

“We don’t think this man should be elected to be the next Nairobi governor. In all ways we can, we shall stand firm so that he won't get the Muslim and Somali votes,” said Sheikh Abdullahi Abdi, Chairman of the National Muslim leaders Forum.

As it stands, 41 days to the election, a slip of the tongue, or poorly thought utterances have the potential to make a huge dent in a politician’s campaign efforts and support base.

But Igathe is not the first to be given the cold shoulder from different groups over utterances that are deemed politically incorrect or are twisted for political advantage.

While launching the Azimio la Umoja manifesto on July 6, the coalition presidential candidate Raila Odinga came under attack over remarks that many interpreted to be a planned ban on mitumba industry if he wins the elections.

“Mitumba killed our textile industry. Our people are only wearing clothes from outside the country which have been won by people who are dead,” said Raila.

Kenya Kwanza presidential candidate Deputy President William Ruto weighed in on the matter criticising Raila for what he said was proposing a ban on mitumba to allow the local textile industry to grow.

"Trickle-down is dangerous. They branded business people's merchandise counterfeit and destroyed them. Now clothing enterprises are dealers in dead people's wares to be banned. Bottom-up, using TVET will assist these enterprises to grow from sewing, cottage to textile and leather industry," tweeted Ruto.

Raila’s remarks were the top trending topic on June 7, forcing the former prime minister to issue a statement to explain his previous remarks and deny any claims about banning mitumba.

"We are going to primary production so that our people who are importing mitumba can have good products to sell here. I am saying we are not moving anybody out of business, we will ensure that those who are importing mitumba get the first-hand to-market goods that are going to be manufactured here in this country,” clarified Raila.

Ruto’s running mate Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua is also a victim of gaffes after he made utterances that left a bad taste in the mouth of Nyeri residents. The people felt he downplayed their plight and instead requested for food.

Speaking during his elder brother’s burial, Gachagua uttered ambiguous statements which could be interpreted to mean that with a plate of rice and meat his people's problems would be solved.

“There is one thing President Moi used to do and we request you to do it, any time you (Ruto) come to the State Lodge, open the door, prepare rice and meat for our people to eat, just that. Is there anything more you want?” Gachagua asked the locals.

Politicians who have found themselves in tight spots over their utterances include Kiambu governor aspirant William Kabogo who had to apologise to women after he stated that unmarried women should not contest for elective positions.

"If you are 35 and don't have a husband, there is something wrong… We will start demanding that you are married before you are elected," said Kabogo in a rally in 2014.

Even though it is difficult to establish how severe such remarks are on a politician's drive to win over the electorate and eventually scoop votes, the level of uproar from the public is evident that such utterances touch live wires with a potential to alter election outcomes.