Increasing cases of political chaos and hate speech cause for alarm

The violence unleashed on Raila Odinga in Soy, came just three days after Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris’ convoy was attacked. [File, Standard]

The brazen attack on Raila Odinga is the latest in a series of political thuggery rearing its head as August polls fast approach.

The violence unleashed on Raila, came just three days after Nairobi Woman Representative Esther Passaris’ convoy was attacked while on the campaign trail near Deep Sea slum in Westlands constituency.

The attackers were allegedly demanding money from Passaris to allow her entry into the slums. The thugs broke the windscreen of the truck. Quick action from the police saved her from further humiliation.

“Our convoy is under attack. We are in Westlands near Deep Sea. Help. The thugs have taken our truck keys and are demanding money to give back our keys,” Passaris tweeted last Monday.

And on Friday, the ODM leader was a victim too when his itinerary was attacked at Kabenes village in Soy Sub-County of Uasin Gishu. Raila had gone to condole the family of the late Jackson Kibor when his entourage came under attack.

Rowdy youth stoned the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya coalition presidential candidate’s convoy shattering the windscreen of the helicopter he was using.

By yesterday, detectives were interrogating 17 people who they claim participated in the violence as they linked Kapseret MP Oscar Sudi and his Soy counterpart Caleb Kositany to the ugly incident that exposed security lapses besides highlighting dangers posed by political goons.

The attack on Raila and Passaris came not long after Kitutu Chache North aspirant Don Bosco Gichana was assaulted. He sustained injuries on his right hand while his Toyota V8 had its front and rear windshields smashed.

Vying on a United Democratic Alliance (UDA) ticket, Gichana accused one of his rivals of sponsoring the violence at Monyerero township of Kisii County.

“It is absurd that a politician can use outdated methods to threaten me to quit the race. Let him know that I am there to the end and I am ready to face him squarely at the ballot box,” he said of the March 19 incident in which his convoy was pelted with stones.

There is fear that with the heightened campaigns, such incidences might keep reoccurring as authorities grapple with the twin challenges of insecurity and hate speech that surfaces every electoral cycle.

Although police have assured of adequate security, they are not able to sufficiently manage political activities like campaigns, rallies, nominations and elections.

Police spokesman Bruno Shiosho is calling on politicians and political parties to prioritise security by first conducting risk assessments and sharing findings with officers. “Further, people have to be extremely cautious and on the lookout for indicators of crime and terrorism,” he added.

Police spokesman Bruno Shiosho. [File, Standard]

It is also emerging that criminals are taking advantage of campaigns and rallies to rob unsuspecting attendees.

For instance, when Raila held Azimio la Umoja rally at Jacaranda grounds on March 12 after sealing a deal with some of the political parties, several people complained of losing phones and wallets with few reporting at Soweto Police Station.

It is at the same venue on January 19 where rowdy youth temporarily disrupted Deputy President William Ruto’s rally. The youth engaged anti-riot police in running battles.

Many similar incidences go unreported or are given less publicity. Despite challenges facing police, it is anticipated that activation of the national security multi-agency command centre might help in stemming some of the violence being witnessed.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiangi, while announcing the creation of the command centre, said security teams have been reorganised and realigned ahead of nomination and election exercises.

“Aware of the challenges lying ahead, more security officers have been recruited and more equipment procured and deployed to beef up security while election-specific training is going-on,” Matiang’i told foreign development partners on March 21.

On hate speech, the unveiling of a compendium on electoral offences by the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP), which at the same time appointed 200 specialised prosecutors is a major boost in the fight against hate speech.

Several high profile individuals including Raila have in the recent past been accused of making hate speech. It is, however, proofing difficult to nail propagators due to ambiguity in law, the definition of hate speech and prosecution gaps.

"Historically, elections in Kenya often trigger an upsurge of hate speech, ethnic contempt, sexual and gender-based violence, incitement to violence and loss of property and voter bribery among other electoral malpractices," observed Haji.

Currently, there are 51 hate speech cases that are being investigated by National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC). The cases were reported from April 2021.

Since its establishment in 2009, the commission has been unable to prosecute hate speech due to a lack of adequate evidence and willing witnesses to testify.

According to the commission’s Act, 2008, a person who uses threatening, abusive or insulting words commits an offence.

“Any person who commits an offence under this section shall be liable to a fine not exceeding one million shillings or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both,” states sub-section 13 (2) of the Act.

NCIC chairman Dr Samuel Kobia. [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

"When it comes to court cases, the threshold required for evidence to bring the perpetrators to book is very high and that is why we are working with the judiciary and other agencies to arrive at reasonable evidence," said Sam Kona, a commissioner at NCIC.

The commission had sought an amendment of the NCIC Act to grant them powers to prosecute cases it investigates without forwarding the files to the DPP as is the case currently.

Eric Theuri, Law Society of Kenya (LSK) president however feels the law is adequate enough to deal with hate speech cases. What is lacking according to Theuri, is a proper collaboration between offices of NCIC, police and DPP.

“At the moment, the law under the National Cohesion and Integration Commission Act is very clear on the definition of hate speech; the problem lies in the implementation of the law,” stated Theuri.

While faulting NCIC and police for relying on mainstream media and social media, the LSK boss observed that most cases go unpunished because of lapses in the collection of evidence.

“The other salient challenge is whether NCIC is able to deal with aspects of hate speech because the best the commission can do is investigate incidences of hate speech and make recommendations to the DPP,” said Theuri

He said LSK is studying various legislation with a view to making improvements and amendments to hate speech. “The people who perpetrate hate speech are politicians, the high and mighty. Unless government demonstrates goodwill to deal with hate speech; the perpetrators will go unpunished,” added Theuri.

Meru Senator Mithika Linturi was set free by the court a few weeks ago after prosecutors failed to bring charges against him over his ‘madoa doa’ remarks he made on January 8 during a rally in Eldoret town.

This is after prosecutors requested to close and withdraw the case after police failed to gather enough evidence to support the charges. Nakuru Chief Magistrate Ednah Nyaloti granted the request.

Some of the other politicians accused in the recent past of making reckless utterances include Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati, Sylvanus Osoro (South Mugirago), Johanna Ng’eno (Emurua Dikirr) and former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko.

In the status update of peace and political decency, NCIC pledged to publish a list of Kiswahili, English and vernacular words that constitute coded hate speech.

The words, NCIC said, shall be banned for use in political rallies, television shows as well as social media platforms.