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Kenyan Rights Commissioner Will Not Resign for Criticizing President

President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, 26 Jul 2010.
President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya, 26 Jul 2010.

Hassan Omar Hassan says his criticism that President Kibaki's government promotes ethnicity is backed by empirical evidence

A member of Kenya’s National Human Rights Commission says he will not resign from the commission for criticizing President Mwai Kibaki’s government.

Hassan Omar Hassan reportedly wrote a newspaper article last month in which he criticized President Kibaki’s rule as an “unacceptable institutionalization of ethnicity”.

Government spokesman Alfred Mutua said this week that Hassan should resign because his comments violate the Kenyan constitution.

But Hassan says his criticism is supported by empirical evidence.

“My assertions are empirical; they are supported by a report of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission which shows a much skewed hiring in the public service, and therefore it only lends credence to one thing, that the practice of ethnicity in Kenya might be real,” he said.

Hassan quotes the same National Cohesion and Integration Commission report as saying that 52 percent of the staff at state house, the official residence of the president, was from President Kibaki's Kikuyu ethnic group.

“I think the president cannot turn a blind eye to this fact. And then when we look at the key sectors of government -- be it finance, be it energy, be it internal security or security generally, you see literally the entire leadership comes from President Kibaki’s community,” Hassan said.

Government spokesman Mutua reportedly said Hassan’s criticism promoted tribal differences similar to those witnessed before and during Kenya’s 2007 election in which 1,500 people died.

Hassan dismissed Mutua’s assertion that his criticism violated Kenya’s constitution. He said he believes it was more therapeutic to discuss the issues in the open rather than for Kenyans to hide their feelings.

He said only the Kenyan Constitutional Court can say if someone has violated the constitution or not.

“I do not give any credibility to what he (Mutua) says. I think it’s not his place to say how to interpret the constitution. If they have a real feeling about the constitution being violated, the Constitutional Court should make that determination and interpretation,” Hassan said.

He brushed aside criticism that as a member of a government-backed commission, it would be hypocritical for him to criticize the government.

“I’m paid by the people’s taxes; I am a public officer. I’m not ideally an employee of the government. These are independent institutions, and like every other Kenyan we also can hold independent positions and opinions about issues that we feel more passionate about,” he said.

Hassan said if the Kibaki government has any issue with his criticism of the president, it should go to the courts.