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Nairobi — The president calls the chief justice a cheat. A lawmaker denounces the head of the opposition as the devil and says he needs a whipping. The opposition leader accuses the president of making a public speech while drunk.
The gloves are off as Kenya’s ruling party and the opposition battle for votes ahead of new elections, tentatively scheduled for October 17 by the country’s supreme court after it voided last month’s presidential results.
Last Friday’s historic decision, the first of its kind in Africa, was welcomed by many as a rare sign of independence from Kenya’s judiciary. It means voters will again have to choose between President Uhuru Kenyatta and veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga. But others fear that after a relatively peaceful election campaign, it could open the door to political instability, reviving memories of the violence that followed a disputed 2007 election when more than 1,200 people died.
Despite being prone to occasional unrest, Kenya is viewed by the US and other allies as an anchor of stability in the region. East Africa’s richest country per capita and main trade route between the coast and the interior, it has avoided the civil wars that for decades plagued neighbours such as Somalia, South Sudan and Uganda.
“After the verdict by the supreme court … I’m worried about the upsurge of hate discussion among Kenyans,” said Francis Ole Kaparo, the chair of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, the government body in charge of preventing hate speech.
“As of yesterday morning we were investigating 273 cases of hate-mongering in the social media. I believe the number has probably doubled as we are sitting here,” he told a press conference. They had less than a third of that number for the whole 10-week campaign period leading up to August 8 elections, he said.
Lawmakers from both sides are under investigation.
Opposition lawmaker Paul Ongili Owino, whose Twitter account is suspended, is among them. Kaparo did not respond to a message seeking more details.
So is ruling party lawmaker Moses Kuria, who gave a fiery speech on Tuesday denouncing Odinga. Kuria is already facing hate speech charges brought by the commission more than a year ago.