CORD Presidential candidate Raila Odinga yesterday said he would ignore a directive by the police boss David Kimaiyo that politicians should not discuss the issue of land.
Inspector General Kimaiyo was speaking yesterday morning at the opening of a national training workshop for election security for Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission officials and police officers.
"Land should not be one of the issues on the campaign trail because it is so emotive and can trigger violence. All politicians should be self-respecting and should, forthwith stop dwelling on issues that will cause tensions and animosities," Kimaiyo said.
"We ask the leaders not to outdo each other on issues that are emotive, including land. They can find other issues to campaign on," Kimaiyo said.
"The 2007 elections were characterized by the worst violence since independence and we have noticed our shortcomings. In order to change, we must move away from the past way of doing things," said Kimaiyo.
But the Prime Minister insisted that land reform was an important issue that needed to be addressed in the campaigns for the March 4 elections.
"Police cannot prescribe what we should or should not discuss. The directive also negates free speech which is guaranteed in the constitution," said Raila in Migori on a campaign tour.
Raila said land reform was one of the Agenda Four issues that needed to be addressed before elections and accused a clique of frustrating the gazettement of the Land Commission.
"Uhuru and Ruto are part of the land problem in Kenya, an not the solution," said Raila. Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are the presidential ticket for the Jubilee coalition while Raila is on the Cord ticket with Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka.
Uhuru's spokesman Munyori Buku welcomed the police directive. He said politicians should state how they will tackle the land issue instead of using it to propagate hate against the Jubilee presidential candidate.
"Mr Kenyatta has never politicized land. Those who have done so are known and are Raila Odinga and Moses Wetang'ula. The Inspector General has done the right thing to demand that only politicians with sober minds discuss land issues," Buku told The Star.
"There are institutions formulated expressly to handle cases of injustice concerning land," National Cohesion and Integration Commission chairman Mzalendo Kibunjia said on Monday.
"We must not accept leaders who make careless comments on the basis of issues touching on historical injustice such as land." The Raila Odinga Presidential Campaign chief Eliud Owalo accused the Jubilee coalition of trying to stifle debate.
"The resolution of historical injustices and land issues are central to bringing lasting peace and national cohesion in Kenya and every presidential aspirant must explain to Kenyans their ability to resolve these issues. These warnings are a clear intention by a section of government to censor debate in the presidential campaign and protect some presidential aspirants from public scrutiny," Owalo said in a statement.
"It would therefore appear that the purpose of these warnings is to ensure that the Jubilee coalition and its presidential candidate are not called to account on issues of historical injustices and land," Owalo said.
According to Justin Muturi of the Centre for Multiparty Democracy, an ally of Uhuru, land should be dealt with from a policy perspective rather than politicians seeking to make capital out of it.
"The Inspector General's directive is a welcome move because Kenyans will remember that all the clashes in this country have revolved around land. At this time when it's so close to elections, it is possible to inflame passions," said Muturi.
Law Society of Kenya CEO Apollo Mboya asked Kimaiyo to be specific on what could not be discussed. "The topic of land is an emotive one but, remember, who owns what land is an everyday court litigation. Any directive by the police has to be clear on the context and the aspect of land the politicians should not talk about instead of a blanket ban," Mboya said.
Last week Uhuru called on security agencies to investigate Raila for propagating hate speech. TNA national chairman Johnson Sakaja also petitioned NCIC to take action against CORD principal Moses Wetang'ula over his claims that the Kenyatta family was selling illegally acquired land to fund the Jubilee presidential campaign.
Lawyer Pheroze Nowrojee also disagreed with Kimaiyo, saying that police cannot decide what can be discussed. "The police do not decide the public interest debates and have no powers to gag any debate. If parties or individuals break the law, Kimaiyo must act promptly and impartially. Many issues are emotive such as IDPs, the ICC, extra-judicial killings and nominations. Neither the police nor any other authority can censor or exclude these subjects from debate during the elections or at any other time," said Nowrojee.
A the launch of the Jubilee manifesto on Sunday, Uhuru spent about ten out of 37 minutes of his speech tracing land ownership patterns from colonial times until after independence.
Uhuru said he wanted every Kenyan to have a land title including the residents of Kibera. "On Sunday Kenyatta candidly addressed the land reforms and perhaps that is what we should be hearing from politicians instead of targeting particular people," Buku stated yesterday.
The chairperson of Elections Observation Group Kennedy Masime said it was preposterous to bar campaign teams from discussing the land issue.
"There is no way you can proscribe discussions on land because there is a whole Chapter on Land in the constitution. In selling their bids, the politicians have to get out there and explain to the electorate how they are going to deal with this perennial problem of land," said Masime.
The ELOG chairperson said land was important given that Kenya's economy is still reliant on agriculture. "Apart from agriculture, the incoming administration must address the issues of real property and the resettlement of IDPs who are still living in camps. So there is no way you can ignore land," Masime said.