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Why readers want me ‘suspended’

CARTOONS
By | February 24th 2010

By Andrew Kipkemboi

Apparently, by asking whether Prime Minister Raila Odinga was a tactful or reckless populist, I put many of my readers’ noses out of joint.

And bucketfuls of bile have been poured on my head.

It is honestly thrilling at times to read what the readers think of what we write only that most of the comments like the one about last week’s piece shade into tribal chauvinism and the irrational dislike of other people’s opinion on the basis of tribe or name. Most of the writers rebuked me "for being sympathetic to my kin".

The distaste from members of the PM’s community especially was overwhelmingly critical and I thought too, unfair. You article was not only skewed, but also hollow, hypocritical and diversionary, wrote one reader.

Another one rubbed my nose in it; you are just an apologist of your community. Shame on you.

Personal

You would be doing yourself better justice if you stuck to foreign news and report about events in Somalia and Sudan, said yet another.

Such mindless bigotry regrettably informs our national debate where we have plumbed the depths of tribalism and nepotism. Kenyans filter into tribe, clan, family, brother and sister.

Invariably as journalists, we are short of admiration. And often, the media is accused of going berserk about revelations of sleaze and impropriety. Leaders and particularly politicians like to play the tragic victim of an evil media and wallow in self-pity despite the hanging ghosts of scandals. It is the failure to separate the issues and embrace principled opposition that has given rise to blind devotion. I may have been wrong, but dragging my supposed tribe (What is in a name? I could as well be a Luo with a Kalenjin name) into the discussion blurs the issues and at times glorifies the waywardness of the politicians that we want to barnish.

It is this refusal to see things for what they are that has bred the grievance culture that likes to put the blame on others rather than people taking personal responsibility. Naturally, if my brother is in trouble, so am I. But it depends on what got him into that trouble.

The embattled Agriculture minister William Ruto is no kin of mine, neither by blood nor by marriage nor do we share any political ideology. All we share is Kalenjin heritage.

The virulent strain of dislike of my heritage and me regrettably, cast a long shadow on corruption, the theme of my article. It underpins the negativity peddled as a sign of democracy so long as you do not go against the grain and sadly, where diverse opinion is often paid with the loss of one’s tooth or worse, life. It is a society in thrall of primitive basic traits of primitive man.

In truth, our society drips with utter ignorance and despicable prejudice. No one expects you to have an opinion, much less express it.

I have sometimes indulged with the thought that my comments would grate on my readers, much less because of my tribe.

In truth, most Kenyans speak of each other most in terms of anathema than of brotherhood.

As a journalist, I hold in my hand a power. The mighty power of the pen. A power so immense it can promote men from insignificance to national prominence; a power when used appropriately awakens society to assess critical issues and seek for solutions and alternatives to its problems. I shape opinion, I create personalities.

As a matter of fact, I subscribe to the Trinity of Journalistic virtues; factually correct; well thought-out and elegantly expressed.

Do we chase, create or set the news? That is the burden that we carry as journalists every day. My job as a journalist is to report the actions and statements of politicians with bold objectivity. The secret is never to go overboard or overstep the mark when representing the facts.

As I read the vitriolic comments I thought to myself; who could hold back the tide of tribalism that is threatening to submerge Kenya. Obviously, one of the main reasons for the crushing tribe-think is the bewildering levels of dispossession and hopelessness in the population, but it cannot be the excuse for the warped loathing of other communities. This has bred cynicism and political gangsterism where the enemy of your friend inevitably becomes your enemy.

Respect

We must learn to break bread with our foes without having to break their skulls. To bring an end to this and wear down the invidious ways that politics has encouraged and fed it, we need to first accept those with whom we disagree and to respect their viewpoints. We have to develop a sense of tolerance, which by the way, doesn’t mean the surrender of standards or disregarding what is wrong.

There is a feeling that the ruling elite has let this canker to ferment for far too long because it galvanizes their supporters and sowing discord. This must stop.

Not to sound too pessimistic, one reader said; Let’s do what is right for Kenya. I am sure most of us agree with him and do it for our beloved motherland, Kenya never minding tribe, colour or creed.

The writer is The Standard’s Foreign News Editor.

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