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Loose-tongued politicians, mind your language

Tuesday January 18 2022
Mithika Linturi

Meru Senator Mithika Linturi arrives at Gigiri Police Station on January 9, 2022 following his arrest in Eldoret over inflammatory remarks he made at a political rally. The word “madoadoa” (spots) lost its neutral meaning and became associated with ethnic murder. Thus the nationwide uproar when Meru Senator Mithika Linturi used it at a rally in the Rift Valley. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By TEE NGUGI

Kenyan politicians should visit the Rwanda Genocide Memorial Museum. The museum’s grounds are a burial site for 250, 000 victims of the 1994 genocide in which a million Tutsis were murdered. Officially known as Genocide Against the Tutsi, the ethically fueled killings are acknowledged as the second worst genocide of the 20th century after the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis during the Second World War. Inside the museum, the politicians will learn that genocide is not committed by people from Mars, and that neighbours who had lived together, and who had shared meals, and whose children played together could be incited to turn murderously against one another.

The museum archives the genesis of genocide. First, people are told that their problems are caused by an ethnic group. Economic difficulties caused by failure of government are reduced to simplistic propagandist formulas. Second, the targeted group is dehumanized by being labelled animals or inanimate objects.

Let’s take the murder of Jews by Nazis as an illustrations of the above points. First, the Nazis told the populace that Jews were the reason Germany lost the First World War. Then people were told that Jews were the cause of the depressed economy. In official propaganda, Jews were depicted as greedy and callous. They were caricatured in drawings as elf-like creatures with deformed features and fiendish eyes. Adolf Hitler called them the “ untermensch” – subhuman. So in the eyes of people, killing Jews was akin to getting rid of parasitic subhumans who stood in the way of progress. This propaganda was so internalised that German soldiers would take pictures with Jewish women and children before spraying them with bullets or hurling them into the gas chambers, much like trophy hunters pose with animals they have killed.

In 2008 in Kenya, the word “madoadoa” was used to refer to minority ethnic Kikuyu living in the Rift Valley, a region which is historically and predominantly inhabited by the Kalenjin people. The propaganda urged people to get rid of “madoadoa”. As a result, hundreds of people were killed by their neighbours and erstwhile friends. This carnage is captured in the most gruesome way imaginable by the burning to death of women and children who had sought refuge in a church.

The word “madoadoa” (spots) lost its neutral meaning and became associated with ethnic murder. Thus the nationwide uproar when Meru Senator Mithika Linturi used it at a rally in the Rift Valley.

In his defence, the senator says he meant that people should vote out politicians who do not support Deputy President William Ruto. That does not make it any better because the audience could very easily turn murderously on those nonconforming politicians. Also, the audience could take the word in the sense it was used in the 2008 killings.

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Lastly, no matter the senator’s intentions, the word must have invoked memories of those massacres among survivors, especially those who still live in the Rift Valley.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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