NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan police detained a ruling party lawmaker and a former opposition senator on Monday for alleged hate speech, as political tensions simmered following the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the presidential election.
Both the candidates in that ballot, incumbent president Uhuru Kenyatta and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, also ratcheted up the temperature in public speeches on Monday and the opposition said it would boycott the opening of parliament.
Politics in Kenya often follows ethnic lines and has in the past erupted into deadly violence, making the authorities sensitive to perceived inflammatory statements.
Reported instances of hate speech have risen sharply since the surprise ruling on Sept. 1, the first of its kind in Africa, when the supreme court voided Kenyatta’s reelection citing irregularities in the tallying process.
“Moses Kuria, a member of parliament and Johnson Muthama, a former senator, have been arrested on hate speech allegations,” interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka told Reuters by phone.
Njoka did not give further details, and police did not respond to queries.
Last week, Kuria gave a public speech calling for a “manhunt” for Odinga’s supporters, who had greeted the court ruling with jubilation.
Two witnesses described a roadblock set up the next day near where Kuria gave his speech, where ruling party supporters checked the ethnicity of passengers in vehicles to see if they might be opposition supporters.
On Sunday, Muthama, a former senator for the opposition Wiper party, gave a speech peppered with insults aimed at Kenyatta.
In a televised speech on Monday, Kenyatta said the ruling party might use its majority in the legislature to impeach Odinga if the opposition leader won the new polls, scheduled for Oct. 17.
“Even if he is elected, we have the opportunity in parliament within two months, three months to kick him out,” Kenyatta said in a nationally televised speech.
Waikwa Wanyoike, a barrister specializing in constitutional law, said the government’s majority fell short of the majority needed in both houses to impeach a president.
“It’s just posturing. It requires a two-thirds majority in both houses ... there also has to be grounds to do it. They can manufacture grounds but it’s hard to manufacture the numbers,” he said.
Odinga, meanwhile, accused the government of a mass sterilization campaign under the guise of giving tetanus vaccinations.
“Hundreds of thousands of our girls and women between 14 and 49 will not have children because of state-sponsored sterilization sold to the country as tetanus vaccination,” Odinga said at a press conference.
Odinga cited Kenya’s Lancet laboratories as one of his sources. But Dr Ahmed Kelebi, managing director of Lancet, said such claims were based on debunked misinterpretations of their data.
After Odinga spoke, a founding member of his opposition alliance, Moses Wetangula, said the opposition would boycott the opening of parliament on Tuesday.
“(Opposition) members of parliament from both houses will not attend the intended opening of the house because the president is a lame duck president,” Wetangula said. “He is enjoying temporary incumbency and has got no moral authority whatsoever to officially open parliament.”
additional reporting by Katharine Houreld, John Ndiso and Duncan Miriri; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens