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Catholic Bishop in Kenya Faults Politicians’ Recent "retrogressive" Hate Speech Remarks

Bishop John Oballa Owaa of Kenya's Ngong Diocese. Credit: Courtesy

The recent cases of hate speech from politicians in Kenya is an issue of concern for a Kenyan Catholic Bishop who has described the talks as “retrogressive” and called for an end to utterances that threaten the peace of the East African nation. 

In an interview with ACI Africa, Bishop John Oballa Owaa who heads the Commission for Promotion of Integral Human Development of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) also urged politicians vying for elective seats at the August 8 general elections to embrace human dignity in their respective political campaigns. 

“Hate speech goes against the relationship we ought to have as a country and anything that goes against that is retrogressive,” Bishop Oballa told ACI Africa Wednesday, January 12. 

The Local Ordinary of the Catholic Diocese of Ngong added, “Making statements that undermine the dignity of people, that threatens human fraternity and solidarity threatens the peace of a country.”

“Elections have always been here with us and in every society, there is always competition,” he said, and explained, “By competition it does it mean that we pull one another down or create tension. When you are in a competition it does not mean mudslinging about their opponents or those in the opposing team.”

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Bishop Oballa also bemoaned the fact that some Kenyans laud the leaders who utter hateful speeches in public saying, “It is amazing that sometimes when these comments are being made people are clapping.”

He urged the people of God in the East African country to call out those who utter hateful speeches regardless of their status. 

“We need to grow and embrace a culture that does not justify wrongdoing, whether it is your relative, friend or someone you owe a favor to; anything that does not contribute to a harmonious system should not be supported,” the Kenyan Bishop said. 

He added that “Kenyans should be clear and be able to speak openly against such behavior from leaders rather than contributing to their existence.”

“Kenyans should not be tolerant to such messages even as they listen to the politicians. We need not be tolerant of this,” the Catholic Bishop who has been at the helm of Ngong Diocese since his Episcopal Ordination in April 2012 reiterated. 

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While speaking at different rallies over the weekend, two lawmakers, Senator Mthika Linturi and Richard Onyonka, made comments that have been viewed as hateful and inciteful. 

Senator Linturi has already been charged at a Magistrate Court while the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) has opened an investigation against Mr. Onyonka, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kitutu Chache Constituency. 

In the January 12 interview with ACI Africa, Bishop Oballa called on Kenyan authorities to take action against those found uttering hateful speeches. 

“Anyone who is found speaking comments that amount to hate speech should serve due penalty for unapologetically moving towards the path of hate speech,” Bishop Oballa said.  

If left unchecked, the Catholic Bishop cautioned, “we will be creating an environment of tension. We do not want to go back to the previous experiences of violence.”

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While holding the alleged inciters accountable, Bishop Oballa advised relevant authorities in Kenya to ensure equity, fairness and justice.  

The Kenyan Bishop also expressed concern about the ongoing campaigns that go against the legally stipulated campaign period. 

Campaigns are expected to officially start on May 30, he said, and posed, "What is the hurry for campaigns? What are we rushing to?" 

"In this country, we lack the adherence to the rule of law. While the law clearly stipulates when the campaigns start and end, this is not being done," he lamented.  

Bishop Oballa called upon relevant authorities in Kenya to put in place mechanisms that regulate the politicians' practices. 

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He said Kenyans can also help curb the early campaign trend by boycotting political rallies before the official campaign period.