Ferdinand Waititu, a Kenyan junior Member of Parliament (MP) for the Embakasi region was arrested Thursday for a speech he made on Monday condemning members of the Maasai ethnic group. His comments were included in a video posted to YouTube.
The speech addressed rumors that a street child had been allegedly killed by a Maasai security guard for stealing a chicken in the Nairobi neighborhood of Kayole, which Waititu represents. After telling his constituents to chase the Masaai away, several more people in the neighborhood wound up dead.
The constitution approved in the 2010 legislative elections makes it illegal, given the violence of the last general election, to incite racial violence. Ministers charged are required to resign from their positions and, if found guilty, are forbidden to run for office again. Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki suspended Waititu from duties as water and irrigation minister.
The violent 2007 Kenyan presidential elections scarred the country. Over 1,300 people were murdered and as many as 600,000 lost their lives in the wake of violence and riots as different groups fought for different presidential candidates. The violence gave rise to the Kenyan-made Ushahidi crisis-mapping software.
The 2010 elections were widely hailed as a real milestone on the return to normalcy for the country and as an indication of the importance of mobile technology to the country that has since become globally known for it. The Web and online users were instrumental in keeping an eye on possible violence, which largely failed to materialize, and in reporting on results in real-time via mobile technology.
In the last several months, however, ethnic violence has broken out again, with over 100 people killed in back-and-forth violence between farmers of the Pokomo ethnic group and Orma herdsmen in the Tana River District in Kenya’s southeast region. Another minister and several musicians are also facing indictment.
Kenya’s next general election, which includes the presidential race, is scheduled for this coming March.
“Given that elections are a few months away, there is certainly some ethnic tensions since Kenyan politics is very ethnic based,” Samuel Ochanji, a project assistant at the Kenya Independent Schools Association and a Nairobi resident, told the Daily Dot. “But as far as hate speech is concerned, at least this time it is contained, unlike in 2005 and 2007, when a politician would just step to the podium and say the most stupid things against an entire ethnic community.
“Also, am not seeing as much ethnic hatred on social media and airwaves as I saw and heard before the 2007 elections. I think fear of prosecution has reigned in much of the loose talk. As to whether the courts will take care of (Waitutu), that's anyone's guess, but at least he has already been suspended from the cabinet. We will see how this progresses but a jail term would send a very clear message.”
"While addressing members of the public you attached words that were calculated to stir ethnic hatred," prosecutor Lillian Obuo told Waitutu in court in Nairobi, according to a report by the BBC. She also warned that she might charge the MP with murder for the deaths that came in the wake of his speech.
Waititu is a supporter of one of the four Kenyan politicians under indictment by the International Criminal Court for incitement of ethnic violence during the 2007 elections, Deputy Kenyan Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. He has been arrested for incitement before.
The YouTube comments on Waititu’s rant reflect the good and the bad of Kenya’s enthusiastic political culture and its engaged people. They run from statements contemptuous of the Masaai to the much more frequent cries of disgust with the race-baiting of ambitious politicians, evidenced by YouTube user Hochwada.
“Perhaps this is the reason most MPs are against the section that deals with integrity! Until Mutunga's court stops them they will continue with this kind of language. And brother Karuitha remember Waititu is a copy image of us Kenyans -- that is how we see things. If we did not see things this way we would not be having the leaders we have today! Look at the them and then shift your eye to every village in Kenya and you will see that mentality!”
Waititu will remain in jail overnight until his bail hearing on Friday.
Photo via YouTube