President Kibaki appeared to fire a warning salvo at mutinous politicians in his wing of the ruling coalition by suspending Roads Assistant Minister Wilfred Machage.
Though the President was emphatic he was sending him home, "pending determination of the hate speech case in court", a livid Machage thundered he should have sacked him altogether.
The Kuria legislator, who slept in the police cells on Tuesday night before being charged in court the next day alongside two other MPs, and a political activist, declared he was being "persecuted for his interpretation of the Proposed Constitution".
The medical doctor, who has represented Kuria from 2002, said he only has a "contract with the people of Kuria" and would remain steadfast in the ‘No’ camp. Machage, however, described his suspension as a half measure saying he wished Kibaki finished what he started. Asked whether he would resign, Machage told the President to "conclude what he has started".
But in a rare occurrence the Presidential Press Service, which announced his suspension, went up with the news the President was a respecter of the rule of law, adding if the President fired him, it would amount to prejudging him.
Machage’s sour response rekindled the fact that after Kibaki was sworn-in to begin his controversial second term in January 2008, he appointed Machage a minister, only to relegate him to an assistant minister when the Grand Coalition Cabinet was formed three months later.
Machage’s response then was he was being sacrificed because he was from a ‘minority tribe’. That has been his argument in opposing the Proposed Constitution, which he says should have recognised the disadvantaged position of ‘minority communities’ by setting out special counties for them.
Machage’s response was that Kibaki should have been decisive enough to sack him. The suspension came a day after Machage appeared in court to face charges for making inflammatory statements during the opening of the Red Card Centre, which is the official secretariat of the ‘No’ campaign team, last week. The Kuria MP will stay out of his ministerial office until the case is concluded.
Suspended Roads Assistant Minister Wilfred Machage (left) at the launch of ‘No’ secretariat at Red Card Centre in Upper Hill, Nairobi, last week, where he reportedly said communities will reclaim their ancestral land under the new laws. With him are MP Kiema Kilonzo (centre) and Cabinet minister Naomi Shaban. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]
In booting him on a day he reinstated four of five Permanent Secretaries sent home pending investigations by Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission four months ago, Kibaki also appeared keen to quell rebellion in the coalition against the collective Cabinet decision to support the Proposed Constitution.
He also seemed to be sending the message to his subordinates he was in charge and would not allow a repeat of pre-2007 General Election, when inflammatory statements clouded the campaigns, thus giving post-election a cruel and bloody bearing.
Machage said he was being intimidated for opposing the draft and would have preferred a sack. He, however, did not say if he were considering quitting.
Responding to Machage’s rejoinder, the Director of PPS, Isaiya Kabira, said sacking him would be "prejudicial and pre-judging him as guilty".
"The president believes in the rule of law," he added.
Coming on the eve of his tour of Ukambani and Nakuru, Kibaki was also sending signals he is in charge and that his tolerance for dissent was limited, and that his push for ‘Yes’ vote had entered a new threshold.
The former Minister of East Africa Co-operation said a sack would provide him with clear choices and vowed to intensify his campaign against the Proposed Constitution. "I did not apply to be a minister. I was elected a Member of Parliament to serve Kuria constituency. I wish the President was decisive enough to sack me," said Machage.
Machage, who spoke at Parliament Buildings, said he had not read his suspension letter but "it could have been better if they had said I was sacked so that I can swing into the backbench."
He, however, added he was grateful to Kibaki for acknowledging his abilities and allowing him to serve in senior positions since 2003.
Machage said the suspension has given him "enough time to go full throttle into the ‘No’ campaign", and described himself as one persecuted for "interpreting the Proposed Constitution."
The MP was released on cash bail on Wednesday, with Mt Elgon MP Fred Kapondi, and Cherangany’s Joshua Kutuny. He denied the charges and was released on a cash bail of Sh100,000.
He is accused of uttering inciting words likely to stir ethnic hatred during the launch of the ‘No’ secretariat on June 10.
Machage is alleged to have said, "Wa Maasai chenu hakiko Rift Valley, mashamba yenu yote yataenda kwa serikali." (The Government will repossess the Maasai, all your land in Rift Valley).
On the second count, Machage is accused of saying: "Wa Kikuyu wahame Rift Valley mahali kulimilikiwa na Wa Dorobo." (Kikuyus migrate from Rift Valley; the Dorobos initially inhabited the place).
He is also said to have uttered the words "Nairobi tokeni hii ni shamba la Maasai." (Nairobians, this land belongs to the Maasai, get out).
"Wajaluo wahame shamba la Wakuria, hata tutatumia nguvu." (Luos should move out of Kuria land; we shall even use force).
Fear for Kibaki
At the same rally Machage had said Kibaki would end up at The Hague if the draft passes.
"I fear for President Kibaki that the draft constitution he his pushing for adoption, might see him ending up at The Hague. I fear for him," warned Machage. But this is not part of the statements he is being prosecuted for.
If found guilty, Machage could be sentenced to three years in jail or Sh1million fine or both. If the court so decides, he could get three years for each of the four counts against him, or Sh1 million fine for each of them, but only if the evidence police give the court satisfies the presiding judge.
Machage and the other MPs belong to the ‘No’ side led by Higher Education Minister William Ruto.
The arrests on Tuesday led to uproar from those opposed to the Proposed Constitution. They claimed the National Cohesion and Integration Commission was biased.
Ruto accused NCIC of turning into a political tool being used to intimidate his allies. The Higher Education Minister was also summoned by NCIC over statements posted on a Facebook account, that Ruto maintains is not associated with him.
The MPs’ arrests were described by the ‘No’ team as harassment.
At a meeting at State House, Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere was reportedly questioned about what he was doing about politicians who were inciting Kenyans against each other.
The meeting had been called to brief the Head of State on the grenade attacks that killed six people at a Church rally at Uhuru Park on Saturday.
Immediately after the meeting, police officers were sent to search for politicians against whom the NCIC had made allegations.