Senator Mithika Linturi’s loose tongue ignites political storm

Meru Senator Mithika Linturi at Kaptembwo Police Station in Nakuru after he was arrested in Eldoret over remarks he made at a rally led by DP William Ruto. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Meru Senator Mithika Linturi’s controversial ‘madoadoa’ remarks during Deputy President William Ruto’s rally in Eldoret have sparked a political firestorm, attracting mixed reactions from politicians.

Ruto’s allies described Linturi’s remarks as figurative language aimed at urging Uasin Gishu voters to embrace a ‘six-piece’ voting pattern.

However, pro-government leaders termed the senator’s utterances as ethnic profiling and a threat to peaceful coexistence of communities in the Rift Valley.

Yesterday, ODM leader Raila Odinga criticised Linturi, saying all Kenyans have a right to be in any part of the country without being blackmailed into backing certain political formations.

Raila said State agencies will not entertain reckless remarks by politicians ahead of the next elections.

“All Kenyans have a right to live in any parts of the country. All Kenyans will be protected by the government. We will protect rights of every Kenyan. We can’t allow people to be told that you have to do this or you leave this particular place,” said Raila. “We want all Kenyans to remain united irrespective of their ethnicity. We don’t want internally displaced persons in our country again.”

He was referring to the post-election violence that rocked the country following the disputed 2007 presidential elections. As a result of the fighting, over 650,000 people were displaced from their homes while over 1,100 were killed. Various political and government leaders - among them President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto were later charged over the violence at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The charges against them were later dropped.

“In Rift Valley, people were killed. Others were called Kwekwe, others madoadoa. We cannot accept that language again like we heard it in Eldoret,” Raila said yesterday.

He spoke after attending a church service at ACK St John’s Mwimuto, Kiambu County. He also pledged that those who were evicted from Rift Valley will be assisted to get back their land.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka also took exception with Linturi’s comment.

“Madoadoa talk reminds me of Kiambaa church...that is not the country we want to lead,” he said, referring to the killing of 28 people at a church in Eldoret at the height of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

Kiambu Governor James Nyoro also said Linturi’s remarks had set a dangerous tone in a region that has experienced the ugly side of political intolerance.

“We still have residents originally from Kiambu who have lived in Rift Valley, and who are yet to fully heal the scars of political intolerance. We condemn these reckless utterances in the strongest terms possible,” he said.

Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui was also critical of the Senator.

He said: “Utterances attributed to the senator is a serious assault to the peace and harmony to communities in Rift Valley. To profile persons on the basis of political or ethnic orientation is regrettable.”

Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia termed the Senator’s remarks as inciting and derogatory and regretted that they had been used before for ethnic cleansing. He claimed that UDA did not mean well for the country and faulted Ruto for failing to immediately rebuke Linturi for the reckless remarks.

“It is time for Ruto to call his lieutenants to order, lest they plunge the country into chaos through such deliberate actions,” he said.

Nyandarua County Governor Francis Kimemia. [File, Standard]

Former Gatanga MP Peter Kenneth said the senator’s remarks were meant to intimidate voters from making “their free choice by rekindling the very painful memories of post-election violence the country experience after 2007 General Election.”

He urged leaders not to revisit the dark past in Kenya’s history, which saw some communities targeted in various parts of the country, including the Rift Valley.

“Leaders must refrain from such utterances and they must also be held to account for their words. No one should get away with attempts to make Kenyans have sleepless nights worrying whether they will be safe,” Kenneth said in a statement.

Cotu Secretary General Francis Atwoli also condemned Linturi’s utterances saying they were a threat to peaceful coexistence.

In a statement sent to the newsroom, he urged Ruto to rein in his allies to avoid further spread of incitement and ethnic utterances.

However, Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua accused the government of allegedly using the criminal system to harass and intimidate leaders allied to Ruto. His remarks came after the arrest of the Senator yesterday over alleged inflammatory remarks he made during the UDA rally on Saturday.

Addressing journalists in Eldoret town, the MP claimed that there were deliberate efforts to twist the senator’s remarks to paint him in bad light.

“The arrest of Meru senator early this morning by officers from the DCI is just a continuation of that harassment and prosecution of leaders in UDA. The senator’s utterances are on record where he just like the rest of us appealed to the people of Uasin Gishu to get rid of leaders through the ballot who were opposed to William Ruto and the UDA bottom-up approach,” said Gachagua.

He said other leaders who addressed the rally raised various issues and wondered why only Linturi was picked over his remarks.

“Some of us were very specific about those leaders opposed to the UDA party, but Senator Linturi spoke generally about those leaders and asked the voters to clean up the area politically by voting them out and embracing the six-piece voting system and that is what it was. There is a deliberate effort to twist his words to imply that he was talking about ethnic incitement,” said the MP.

“What is going on is harassment of the senator who was taken to Nakuru and then later we heard that they are taking him to Nairobi. They want to lock him in the cells, yet they know that he is innocent and has said nothing amounting to public incitement against any community or person,” said Gachagua.

Political commentator James Mithika said complicated matters because they were made during a rally to give Ruto blessings to vie for the presidency.

“Many will assume that the senator spoke under instruction and that the intentions were suspect and meant to balkanise the country to acquire political power,” said Mithika.

Ruto’s allies have, however, claimed that the senator was only urging voters to rally behind UDA candidates ahead of the elections.

Senator Mithika Linturi was arrested in Eldoret over remarks he made at a rally led by DP William Ruto. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Linturi himself climbed down before the day was over saying: “On further reflection, and upon the advice of my colleagues, I regretfully concede that my choice of words was unfortunate. I, therefore, apologise, unreservedly, for the discomfort they may have created.”

A Ruto ally, Law Society of Kenya President Nelson Havi, claimed that it was actually Linturi who was being profiled following his remarks.

“Removing madoadoa means voting six-piece for all UDA candidates, ODM sympathisers should stop profiling Linturi for their failure of comprehension or intentional misrepresentation of what the Senator said,” Havi said.

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata also found no offense with Linturi’s remarks, claiming other leaders had used figurative language before and were never harassed or arrested.

“Raila Odinga used the language while he urged the youth to arm themselves with guns in reference to votes, that was not an issue but it becomes an issue now in the case of Linturi,” he said.

He, however, urged leaders from across the political divide to avoid using metaphorical language since this was prone to misinterpretation.

Nakuru leaders led by Senator Susan Kihika, Woman Rep Liza Chelule, MPs Jayne Kihara (Naivasha), Kimani Ngunjiri (Bahati) and Charity Kathambi (Njoro) also defended Linturi and termed his arrest political witch hunt.

“What Linturi meant was that the people of Uasin Gishu county elect a President, governor, senator, MP, Woman Representative and ward representative who will vie on UDA ticket,” said Kihika.

Linturi’s lawyer, Elias Mutuma, also defended the utterances saying that they were taken out of context.

“The remarks were very innocent and he did not mean to incite. He was urging the people of Uasin Gishu is to vote as a bloc,” said Mutuma.

“Again, the use of the word ‘madoadoa’ has not been criminalised or outlawed in the country. It is, therefore, wrong for anyone to use that as a criminal offense,” he said.

[Moses Nyamori, Jacinta Mutura, Josphat Kinyanjui, Ndungu Gachane, Kennedy Gachuhi and Lynn Kolongei]