Leaders must end political intolerance, violent campaigns

Koki Muli

Democracy, tolerance and leadership integrity are very bitter pills to swallow. Under the new Constitution, these pills must be dispensed and taken by all of us, especially by political leaders. If this is not done we risk serious consequences.

What happened in Kenya after the 2007 General Election must never be repeated. Yet, the political intolerance we are witnessing today and the charged political atmosphere; where leaders appear to be stoking political and ethnic intolerance because people are not towing the political line or have the audacity to hold different political opinions; is becoming very risky business. It must stop or it will imperil our country.

Democracy means government of the people (elected) by the people for the (representation of) people. "Demo" means people; "cracy" means "to rule" or government. This denotes free and fair elections of Government; active participation of the people in politics and civic life; protection of human rights and guarantee of justice to all citizens and the rule of law that applies equally to all. This means every Kenyan has an equal stake in this country. It means that Kenya is a company where Kenyans are shareholders; each owning one share capital in equal measure and no one is above the law.

It also means that every Kenyan is equally protected by our new Constitution. That Constitution provides for a very progressive Bill of Rights which is an "integral part of Kenya’s democratic state and is the framework for social, economic and cultural policies." It provides that the purpose of recognising and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms is to preserve the dignity of individuals and communities and to promote social justice and the realisation of the potential of all human beings. These rights belong to each individual and are not granted by the State.

Every person shall enjoy the rights and fundamental freedoms in the Bill of Rights. Every one has the freedom to hold manifest and share opinions and to freely express themselves so long as they don’t violate others people’s rights. This is why it is disheartening to see people getting victimised because of holding differing opinions and see so few people willing to be counted. Gagging others, especially those with different opinions, is plain wrong.

Political competition need not be violent; it needs to be a healthy competition – the rule by the majority without undermining the minority. That is democracy. We must end vindictiveness and hate; we need to embrace each other or we perish together. According to Eric Digest "Political tolerance is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and groups whose viewpoints differ from one’s own.

Without safeguards for the free expression of divergent opinions, we risk a tyranny of the majority. In a free and open society, public deliberation exposes "bad" ideas instead of suppressing them." Wikipendia defines toleration as "the practice of deliberately allowing or permitting a thing of which one disapproves." This means the ability to defend and protect someone else’s right to hold an opinion even if it differs from yours.

According to Margaret Thorsborne, integrity means "steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code. Moral soundness. Honesty. Freedom from corrupt influences or motives. Uprightness. Rectitude. Integrity denotes strength of character; walking the talk, doing what was promised; open, honest and direct in their dealings with others; clear and uncompromised values, and clarity about what’s right and wrong and committed, with the courage of their convictions. It means ones behaviour is congruent with values/principles. If as a leader you assess yourself and fall short of these then you have no integrity.

The writer is an elections and constitutional law expert and lecturer, South Eastern University College

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