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True leaders cherish peace, have a consistent record of embodying it

January 16th 2022

ODM leader Raila Odinga during the Azimio rally in Thika. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Peace is a big deal. All economic formulas are nothing if a country has no peace formula. Peace should not be assumed to exist – it is created. Anyone who aspires to be a leader and is a threat to peace is no leader at all. The tongue is a big driver of peace. Words can light a fire where there was none and put it out where there was one. Tongue management is critical in keeping a country – even homes - together.

In this year of leadership transition, aspirants are and will speak a lot. They will speak passionately and sometimes desperately. Many in their shallowness will focus on the quantity of words with little regard.

A good political speech should be liberating. People elect leadership with their oppressions in mind. A speech should demonstrate knowledge of the oppression of the people. Without articulating the oppressions of the people the speaker lives the people in their chains.  Words spoken by a leader are a force of liberation – causing chains to fall off. People should be better off at the end of the speech than they were at the beginning.  – a speech should quench the quest for freedom. A speech should be hope-giving. Hope is about casting a new elevating vision for the people. Describing present problems and not taking people beyond the description is not good use of podium time. A speech is a canvas where a future of a people is painted.

A Speech should be people-centred. It is common to witness a politician take a microphone and all we hear is their personal ambitions. But a good speech should capture the stories of the people. Wanjiku should hear her circumstance mentioned accurately. The successful speaker comes across a man of the people. A speech with no people in it is not worth speaking to the people. A speech should breathe life. People do not just listen with their ears. They listen with their entire selves. They hope to be built up. A careless and thoughtless choice of words invokes ruin. The tongue should bring life not strife. 

A speech should come from the heart. The heart spills convictions. Parties have positions and policies but they need to jump from the pages of manifestos to become an aspirant’s doctrine. Moving from party to party makes one clueless and their speeches are a heap of radarless words. Without conviction, speakers end up being actors and actresses on a stage. A speech should have a spiritual core. Kenyans are a religious people. No wonder the roar in the crowd when even an irreligious aspirant shouts “Bwana asifiwe!” (Praise the Lord!).

Spirituality serves as a mark that a leader is open to be God’s agent of good to the people. People want to hear the speaker pointing away from themselves at some point and referencing God. Yes we know we need human leaders but we feel most safe under God. A leader who is openly detached from God is therefore perceived to be hazardous. A political speech connects with the people better when the speaker includes an aspect of their connection with God.

To speak carelessly to a crowd is to abuse the decision people have made to listen to you. Listeners need to know that they are not chained to sit under distasteful rhetoric. Evangelists of hate should be written off. Peace vendors are what this country needs. Kenya is highly inflammable and cannot afford even the slightest tilt towards hate. Kenya’s peace has a very low boiling point and it does not take much to have it vaporize.

Every sensible leader should know of this potential volatility and aspirants who ignore this reality should themselves be ignored as not worthy of any position. Toying with peace is a sign of unfitness. To sponsor disintegration is to dismiss the place of love in the community. A community that does not love will die. Kenya has suffered greatly under the win-no-matter-what mentality. When violence becomes the ticket to ambition demons jubilantly find their way into the campaign payroll. Wisdom guides that we should not experiment with a dance with demons again. 

Before the cogs of the law turn to arrive at a conviction, people can already act by staying away from rallies where hate mongers throng. To cheer careless speakers is a bad experiment. People should assume the “we the people” position and jeer anyone who pits people against each other. We must reject those who want us to downgrade to their folly by normalising hate. Our competition must graduate from the lowliness of abuses to the realm of ideas.

Given the present heat on hate speech, there are those who will speak peace without meaning it. But their history will betray them. Peacebuilders must be authentic. They have a record of distaste for chaos and have evidence as champions of integration. We do not need peace talkers. What we need are peace disciples. As we sift through the lineup of those presenting themselves for various positions, let us lookout for people who not only speak peace but have a consistent record of embodying it. You are more likely to get a good leader from a peace-believing pack.

The stereotype that we have only a pack of rotten potatoes from which to pick Kenya’s leaders is a falsehood we must reject. To believe that we only have versions of rot for choice is to curse the prospects of this nation. We must do the hard countercultural work of seeking, fronting and supporting women and men of integrity – peacemakers. Look and look again - you will find Kenya has sincere peace champions and when you vote for the peace you will have won.

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