Political leaders must weigh their words and stop inciting crowds

A foreigner visiting Kenya for the first time would find our politics quite peculiar. A visitor would no doubt be taken aback by our kind of politics. He or she would be at a loss as to why leaders rarely electrify us with moving speeches on what they would do if we elect them, but score more points when they cast invectives at the other side.

It’s always “Watu wengine... (Other people), yule jamaa... (That guy)” and endless funeral speeches pregnant with innuendo.

Never mind that we are a country with very serious issues that we should be carpeting those who want our votes to suggest answers to.

One would also be surprised at the utter lack of ideas. Now, if you go to Google and search names such as Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Thomas Sankara, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya, Jomo Kenyatta or John F Kennedy, you are flooded with witty, memorable gems of wisdom hard to forget.

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Now if you were to rank our current politicians and search brainyquotes.com, you would either hit a blank wall or be underwhelmed to eternal embarrassment. We are, as someone said, a generation whose youth is wasted on the young and wisdom is lost on the elderly.

So am I suggesting our leaders cannot come up with witty gems or cannot propose answers to the challenges we face as a country? No, the tragedy is that the people we like voting for are those who do not have to say anything thoughtful.

They just need to electrify crowds and once the elections are done, they go back to their flashy lifestyles, until they return five years later with more chants and incantations in exchange for our votes. Or you if think your tribal tin-god belongs to your tribe, try to walk into their compound uninvited!

The tragedy is that when they insult each other at funerals, we do not see that for them it is just a power game. So someone on the Jubilee side, keen to retain votes from friendly areas, gets carried away at a rally. In that moment of madness and desperation, he makes the ludicrous claim that the Opposition is plotting to use rallies to overthrow the government. Now, no one should ideally be so foolish as to believe that a few thousand people, armed with only whistles and probably a few pebbles, can overrun the State. Or where was the chaos we were told would break out at Uhuru Park?

But such is the enigmatic nature of our politics that such a ridiculous conspiracy theory galvanises whole communities into siege. It is not only the ruling side that is prone to this ignorance. On Tuesday, I spent 45 minutes explaining to a friend that my community did not sit somewhere to plot how to “rule forever”, as speeches by the Opposition had been interpreted in his neck of the woods to mean. I had to remind my friend that he and I go back a long way and despite our different backgrounds, perhaps we are more of tribesmen than I am with leaders from my own community.

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My point is that at the middle-class and ruling class levels, political speeches are a harmless contest of ideas that can even be looked at from an academic perspective.

What we must be honest enough to tell the world is that these seemingly harmless and democratic speeches morph into something sinister at the grassroots. In case you didn’t know, in the villages where Jubilee and CORD draws their support, there is nothing like a democratic debate going on in Kenya.

Emotions are slowly rising as propaganda from the top seeps down to the grassroots; a veritable tinderbox that all people of goodwill must help defuse. And while propaganda is an integral part of political battle, leaders on both sides of the political divide must weigh their words carefully. They must realise that those on the lower rungs of the social ladder may be taking their word too seriously. To some, it’s a matter of life and death.

Kenyan politiciansCORDJubilee