Is Kenya set to replay the post-electoral ethnic violence of 2007?

By Jeff Otieno
Posted on Monday, 24 January 2022 15:56, updated on Monday, 20 June 2022 11:15

Opposition supporters protest on a main road in Bamburi area of the coastal city of Mombasa, 2007
Opposition supporters protest on a main road in Bamburi area of the coastal city of Mombasa, December 31, 2007. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga

Even before the official campaign period begins, loose-tongued politicians have begun hyping ethnic emotions through reckless statements that border on incitement. Will the country weather the political storm or plunge into chaos akin to the one witnessed in 2007/08 that exposed its soft underbelly?

On 8 January 2022, when Senator Mithika Linturi spoke at a rally in Deputy President William Ruto’s backyard, he said: “We want to be in power, hence people of Uasin Gishu don’t play around. You must remove all madoadoa (spots) that you have here. We cannot be supporting William [Ruto] in Mount Kenya and Meru yet there are people here who are not joining his team. Are you ready to remove them?”

The remarks drew backlash with calls for his arrest and prosecution. “Utterance attributed to Senator Mithika Linturi in Eldoret 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. The right to live, work or invest in any part of the country is not a favour from politicians, but a constitutional right,” said Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui.

It is unfortunate that the word madoadoa has re-emerged in Uasin Gishu. I went through a traumatic experience that I wouldn’t wish any Kenyan to undergo.

The incident, which clouded the campaign rally, saw Ruto apologise and urge his team to desist from making inciting statements. “Every member of UDA must be careful about what they say because we are a national party that unites the entire nation,” Ruto said.

Makau Mutua, a law professor based in the US, warns that Kenya’s electoral season has entered a dangerous phase. “Law enforcement agencies and the court must – without exception – hold fully accountable those who spew hate in violation of the constitution and the law.”

However, former Law Society of Kenya chairman Nelson Havi, an ally of Ruto, said: “Removing madoadoa simply means voting ‘six-piece’ for all United Democratic Alliance (UDA) party candidates. Those nimble-footed Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) Twitter minions should stop profiling Mithika Linturi for their failure of comprehension or intentional misrepresentation of what the senator said.”

Linturi has since been charged in court and is out on bail, but he is not the only one who got in trouble. Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Nordin Haji has ordered police to investigate Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot. He is accused of profiling Kesses MP Swarup Mishra, who is of Indian descent, for not supporting Ruto yet they are both from Rift Valley.

Kitutu Chache MP Richard Onyonka has also been directed to record a statement over remarks considered to be inflammatory against Ruto.

Law on hate speech

The law states that a person commits an offence if he or she uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour or displays any written material which is threatening and/or abusive thereby stirring up ethnic hatred. Those found guilty are liable to a fine not exceeding Ksh1m ($8,810) or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or both.

The word madoadoa is associated with the country’s darkest history, when communities that had co-existed peacefully turned on each other following the 2007 election.

Linturi’s recent remarks were uttered in Uasin Gishu County in the Rift Valley region, which bore the brunt of the 2007/08 post-election violence. At the time, madoadoa was a coded word used by some politicians to refer to small tribes in the region (Kikuyu and Kisii), accusing them of land grabbing and disregarding wishes of the ‘host community’ (Kalenjin) during elections.

The tribal clashes began in the Rift Valley and spread to other parts of the country, leading to killings of over 1000 people and displacement of 600,000 families. Though the violence erupted after Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, an outcome that was fiercely contested by Raila Odinga, many believe that politicians had fanned the flames long before the poll.

Currently, there is growing concern that politicians may be repeating the same mistake.

“Traumatic experience”

James Kinyua was forcefully evicted from his home during the 2007/08 tribal clashes. Armed raiders invaded his farm, burned his house and grain stores before killing his livestock.

“It is unfortunate that the word madoadoa has re-emerged in Uasin Gishu. I went through a traumatic experience that I wouldn’t wish any Kenyan to undergo,” says Kinyua, who is also the National Coordinator of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Network.

My life is in danger and I think this is political because this area is predominantly a UDA zone so people are against those supporting other political parties…

Though he went back home – after living as an IDP at Eldoret Stadium – he is yet to fully recover economically.

About 52 kilometres away, Richard Kibet, an ODM aspirant for Kosirai ward in Nandi county, is counting his losses. On the night of 7 January 2022, his house was torched by arsonists. Kibet was not in the house at the time.

“My life is in danger and I think this is political because this area is predominantly a UDA zone so people are against those supporting other political parties. We are a democratic country and everybody should have a right to vie for any seat in any party,” he says. Security officers are still investigating the incident.

‘NCIC is a toothless bulldog’

Since the implementation of the new constitution over 10 years ago, many politicians have been hauled to court to face hate speech charges, but none has been jailed. Most cases are either withdrawn or thrown out for lack of evidence.

Consequently, Kenyans are sceptical as to whether the action taken against Linturi and his colleagues will be any different. They accuse the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) – the body charged with fighting discrimination and intolerance –  of being a toothless bulldog.

However, the commission says things will be different this time. “We are currently working very closely with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and the judiciary, hence cases involving hate speech will be expedited,” says Wambui Nyutu, vice chairperson of the NCIC.

Nyutu says a raft of changes to the NCIC Act have been proposed to strengthen the commission and make punishments more severe. However, the proposals are yet to be debated in parliament because  some politicians fear that the changes, if passed, might come back to haunt them.

NCIC and DCI accused of bias

On the other hand, Ruto’s supporters accuse the NCIC and the DCI of bias, citing instances where politicians, including Raila (the ODM party leader) and Nyandarua Governor Francis Kimemia, have used the word madoadoa with no consequences.

Parliamentarians ensured the Leadership and Integrity Act was watered down to the extent that it could not nab a political leader on any critical issue…

Nonetheless, NCIC chairman Samuel Kobia maintains that the commission is impartial. “We have taken Linturi’s madoadoa remark seriously, based on the context it was used in Uasin Gishu. It is one of those words that have the potential of causing a massacre if not handled carefully.”

He says Kenya has a lot to learn from Rwanda where the term cockroaches was used to label and dehumanise Tutsis, leading to one of the worst genocides in the continent’s history.

Political Analyst Javas Bigambo argues that politicians know what is wrong, but do not care because none of them has ever been jailed or slapped with a hefty fine. “Parliamentarians ensured the Leadership and Integrity Act was watered down to the extent that it could not nab a political leader on any critical issue. Our independent commissions are also toothless and seem to be playing catchup to politicians’ dirty games.”

It is partly the reason why former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo is worried that the current emotive politics may lead to worse outcomes than in 2007/08. “It is scary to think where this country will go with this leadership. We are still bound on ethnic inclinations in politics.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options