Kenya’s police have summoned seven pro-government and opposition politicians for investigation over alleged “hate speech”, flagging growing tension more than a year before elections and after weeks of deadly protests.
Ethnic loyalties tend to trump policy matters in Kenyan politics. After a disputed election in December 2007, incitement by rival camps was blamed for stoking bloodletting between major ethnic groups that left 1,200 dead and hundred of thousands displaced.
The 2010 constitution that sought to reshape institutions and national politics guarantees free expression but expressly outlaws ethnic incitement or “hate speech”.
Incidents of politicians drumming up support or stoking fears based on ethnic allegiances continue to pop up in recordings or speeches on the Internet, however, worrying many who fear renewed violence in the August 2017 race.
Police said in a statement late on Monday they had been alerted to remarks by three pro-government politicians and four from the opposition “that are said to be laced with ethnic hatred, vilification and border on incitement.”
“All the said members of parliament are required to appear before the Director, Directorate of Criminal Investigations … immediately,” it said.
The 2017 vote for president, parliament, governors and county assemblies is expected to pit President Uhuru Kenyatta, a Kikuyu – the biggest of Kenya’s more than 40 ethnic groups, against Raila Odinga – a Luo, another major ethnic grouping.
Odinga disputed the 2007 and 2013 election results, losing the latter to Kenyatta. Since late April, he has led a series of almost weekly protests against an electoral oversight body his supporters accuse of pro-government bias. The oversight body denies this.
At least four people have been killed in the protests so far, in which demonstrators have often clashed with police.
On the opposition side, the politicians named included Aisha Jumwa from the coastal region and Timothy Bosire, a lawmaker from western Kenya, an opposition stronghold.
On the pro-government side, politicians included Ferdinand Waititu, a lawmaker now challenging for a county governorship near Nairobi, and Moses Kuria, a lawmaker who represents a constituency formerly held by Kenyatta.
Kuria has been embroiled in another “hate speech” case for almost a year. He denies the charges.
Kenyan newspapers reported that Waititu and Kuria recorded statements at the Directorate of Criminal Investigations on Monday. The men could not immediately be reached for comment.
Opposition lawmaker Junet Mohamed, who was also called for questioning, was detained by police when leaving a building in central Nairobi after giving a television interview, Kenyan media reported on Tuesday.
The report could not immediately be confirmed.