Kenyan political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi appeared before the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) on September 1, 2015, after being accused of engaging in hate speech on Twitter.
Ngunyi is know for his “Tyranny of Numbers” hypothesis, which concluded that Raila Odinga lost the 2013 election to Uhuru Kenyatta at the moment the voter registration ended on December 18, 2012 — in other words, that the election was rigged.
The accusations focused on a series of tweets in which Ngunyi attacked the Kenyan Luo ethnic group, the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga (a Luo himself), and lawyer Mboya. Kenyans online immediately reacted to his tweets using the hashtag #ShutMutahiNgunyiUp.
Shortly after, Ngunyi was reported to the NCIC by the Law Society of Kenya CEO Apollo Mboya, who was one of the targets of his tweets.
Mboya's petition to the NCIC reads:
In particular, the posts target members of a specific community as lacking individuality and in a state of mental slavery, assertions that are not only false but may very well constitute hate speech directed at specific members of a community (of) which I am a member,” read the letter in part.
It is my view that the words uttered by Mutahi Ngunyi are intended to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence and/or discrimination against a community on the basis of ethnicity and, therefore, committed an offence under Section 62 of the NCIC Act.
In the tweets in question, Ngunyi suggested that the Luo community are kept in bondage by Odinga family, a leading Luo political family. Jaramogi Odinga was Kenya's first vice president, while his son, Raila Odinga, is the former prime minister and main opposition politician:
The Luo Nation MUST liberate itself from the BONDAGE and poverty-producing SPELL of Odingaism. PERIOD. Is there a MOSES amongst the Luo?
— Mutahi Ngunyi (@MutahiNgunyi) August 19, 2015
He suggested that Luos are “poverty stricken”:
Are LUOs poor? No idea.THEY SHOULD TELL US. Are there POVERTY STRICKEN LUOs. YES. Statistics: 82% of people in BONDO live below poverty line
— Mutahi Ngunyi (@MutahiNgunyi) August 21, 2015
He chose Kisumu, the third largest city in Kenya, which is predominantly Luo, as his city for retirement. But added:
My KENYAN DREAM is to RETIRE in Kisumu City. I want intellectual conversation in old age. But one cannot PONTIFICATE in POLITICAL BONDAGE.
— Mutahi Ngunyi (@MutahiNgunyi) August 19, 2015
Writing about Law Society of Kenya CEO Mboya, he said:
Apollo Mboya should be FIRED for abuse of office and demeaning the law profession. If he passed his law school, he should re-read my tweets.
— Mutahi Ngunyi (@MutahiNgunyi) August 24, 2015
Regulating hate speech in Kenya
The NCIC was formed in 2008 following the 2007 post-election violence that rocked the country for several months. The NCIC has establised the legal and institutional framework for handling hate speech cases. The commission's mandate is to promote national unity by facilitating processes and policies that encourage elimination of all forms of ethnic discrimination.
The Kenyan constitution guarantees fundamental rights including the freedom of expression. Freedom of expression is, however, not absolute, and can be limited when exercised in a manner that violates the rights of others. Hate speech is a crime in Kenya, covered under the Kenyan Penal Code, Media Act and the National Cohesion and Integration Act.
The National Cohesion and Integration Act 2008, for example, specifically states in Section 62 (1):
(1) Any person who utters words intended to incite feelings of contempt, hatred, hostility, violence or discrimination against any person, group or community on the basis of ethnicity or race, commits an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding one million shillings, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or both.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights defines hate speech as any form of speech that degrades others and promotes hatred and encourages violence against a group on the basis of a criteria including religion, race, colour or ethnicity.
Apologies with a goat and a beer
Ngunyi has since apologized and also offered a goat to Luos and a beer to Mboya. Luo elders have rejected his apology, saying offering a goat was belittling to the Luo community. Ngunyi tweeted:
I apologize to the LUO NATION unreservedly. No harm INTENDED. I am a product of Luo SCHOLARS whom I RESPECT immensely. I eat the HUMBLE PIE.
— Mutahi Ngunyi (@MutahiNgunyi) August 25, 2015
Mboy responded to Ngunyi's beer offer with the following tweet:
@MutahiNgunyi I noted that you honoured the summons but why do you make it CHEAP by offering me beer as a solution? pic.twitter.com/KUmgQDRciL
— Apollo Mboya, HSC (@MboyaApollo) September 1, 2015
‘Intelligence indeed can be bought’
Despite the mea culpa, Shitemi Khamadi, the Kenya Monitor managing editor, noted that most Kenyans felt that his apology was insufficient. He argued that Ngunyi's case will test NCIC's ability to stem the wave of hate speech in the country.
Reacting to the saga on Twitter, user Ory Okolloh said:
Mutahi Ngunyi's tweets were a successful distraction. That's why this will remain a strong PR govt.
— Ory Okolloh Mwangi (@kenyanpundit) August 29, 2015
It is alleged that Ngunyi’s tweets were meant to divert attention from “sugar revolution” in Kenya. He is rumoured be to President Uhuru Kenyatta's political advisor, which he denies.
The YouTube video below shows Ngunyi offering his apology:
Rhyz Mirindo MBS said Ngunyi, a public intellectual, has made himself irrelevant:
@MutahiNgunyi you amaze me. Intelligence indeed can be bought. You're no longer relevant to public opinions.
— Rhyz Mirindo MBS (@ryzller) September 1, 2015
@MutahiNgunyi Words can be disastrous,your words are wrecking kenya apart .
— Mose (@Moseuncolonised) September 1, 2015
Yussuf Haji asked Ngunyi:
@MutahiNgunyi when you say some politicians breed poverty, what has Kenya bore in 50 years? The Luo,Somali,have been marginalized for 50yrs
— Yussuf Haji (@Masalani) September 1, 2015
David Olusi remarked:
@makaumutua @YouTube @MutahiNgunyi Seeing pple from other ethnic group as none equals and less humam is not intellectual but IDIOCY
— David Olusi (@davidolusi) September 1, 2015
How can a Kenyan disrespect elders? wondered Washington Odhiambo:
I always thought @MutahiNgunyi grew up in Kenya/Africa, where we are taught to respect our elders. #fb
— Odhiambo WASHINGTON (@odhiambo0) September 1, 2015
Despite an overwhelming number of Kenyans condeming him, Mundia Mzalendo thought that Ngunyi is innocent:
Mutahi Ngunyi is innocent. Period. He is simply a victim of a toothless dog (NCIC) that counts on periodic barks… http://t.co/T4ls7meDuC
— Mundia Mzalendo (@MundiaMzalendo) September 1, 2015