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Monday, August 23, 2010

Arrest Gideon Moi immediately


Gideon Moi does not speak very good Kalenjin. His Kiswahili is not terribly good either.
During his campaign for re-election as MP, you could tell his chances were dim after television stations showed him repeatedly mispronouncing the name of his constituency as Beringo ya Keti (Baringo Central).
Since he lost his seat, the scion of one of the most significant political families has transformed himself into one of the most bellicose defenders of what he claims are the interests of the community of his birth. He hit a new low last week with his proclamation that the Kalenjin would never surrender Nakuru district, following the endorsement of the new law.
It would be absurd if any single community demanded exclusive control of any of the nation’s major urban centres. The Maasai, for example, have a very strong claim to make on Nairobi. Yet the worst thing about Gideon Moi’s recent utterances is the fact that he knows what he said makes absolutely no sense. Gideon benefited from a thoroughly upper class upbringing. He attended some of Nairobi’s most posh multi-racial, multi-ethnic preparatory schools. He mingles freely with an inner circle of friends of all races and ethnic extractions and plays polo, the game of “kings, idle aristocrats, playboys and the denizens of the upper reaches of (the British elite),” as one newspaper put it.
It is, therefore, mightily dishonest for Gideon to try and carve out a role for himself as an ethnic warlord.
He is no Kalenjin nationalist. He is merely a politician who has concluded that the one way he can advance his career is to appeal to the instincts of the masses by inciting them against “rival communities”. It is an easy thing to do because of the long and complicated history of land allocations in the immediate pre-and post-independence period in the Rift Valley. But Gideon must not get away with such transparently cheap politics. Not in a country that showed itself, in 2008, to be only a trigger away from descending into large-scale violence.
The police must at the very least call him in to explain his utterances and, if a crime is found to have been committed, he must have his day in court. That would be the one way Kenya can show it has any respect for the concept of equality under the law, which must surely lie at the heart of the system of governance in a country that has been congratulating itself for endorsing one of the world’s most modern constitutions.
The worst thing about Gideon’s efforts to cast himself as an ethnic king is the utter lack of subtlety with which he has gone about it. Trade minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere, for example, was probably guilty of hate speech during the recent by-election campaigns.
But he put it in such an oblique and cryptic way he could credibly replay the tape and challenge the viewer to pick him out for hate speech. That is because he was speaking in code. It is still wrong but at least that is a trick used by most politicians. Hillary Clinton, for one, reached out for this tactic when things were going badly in her effort to beat Barack Obama in the race for the Democratic nomination. She said she had the support of “working, hard working Americans”, a group Mr Obama was finding tough to win over. Mrs Clinton was effectively saying she had the support of white Americans while Mr Obama’s base was made up of (lazy) black Americans. Mrs Clinton did not get hauled before a court for hate speech. Americans do not need such mechanisms because they no longer tackle each other with machetes at election time. Instead, she was punished by voters who were appalled by her race-baiting efforts.
Kenyans cannot afford to rest easy and hope for the best. The likes of Gideon must be deterred by the knowledge that there is a legal mechanism that can hold them to account for hate speech.

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