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Time to slay the dragon of hate speech

OPINION
By David Oginde | January 29th 2017

 

 

We could easily get used to it, especially at election time – politicians stoking flames of ethnic hatred. We have heard some serious name calling, insults, and ethnic zoning declared by various political leaders.

In particular, strong allegations have been levelled against Majority Leader Aden Duale for declaring Garissa out of bounds to “outsider” residents – a fact he has denied.

The consequence is that there is already strategic ethnic groupings in the county.

We also recently witnessed the Deputy President heckled out of Bungoma. All these and more do not bode well for peaceful co-existence among the communities. The sad reality, though, is that in many cases, the negative rhetoric by politicians in public fora are not always born out of conviction. Though they call one another names in public, in private they are lions in the same pride. Back in 2012, I had the honour of being invited to Mombasa to attend a parliamentary consultation on peaceful elections.

The consultation brought together all MPs and other selected key stakeholders. The forum was primarily to take stock of the post-election violence of 2007/8, its possible causes, and what could be done to prevent any such occurrence in the then anticipated elections of 2013.

Considering the significance of the three day consultation, the deliberations were broadcast live on national television stations. This, for me, was the first time to interact with the honourable members so closely and for such an extended period.

Because the procedure of the consultation was designed in a parliamentary format, it was also a unique opportunity to see the honorable members debate issues on the floor of the house and then interact informally outside the house.

As would be expected, the debate was intense, with members from across the political divide at times accusing one another for being responsible for fanning the flames of 2007/8. For those of us who were there mainly as observers, the situation was at times embarrassingly uncomfortable as we saw our leaders engage in heated exchanges.

In some instances, the emotions appeared so high that one feared that there could be fist fights on the floor, especially as individual members or specific parties were singled out as the real culprits of stirring up emotions in the run up to the 2007 elections.

What was surprising though was that, as we broke off for tea, lunch or dinner, the same men and women who we had thought were sworn enemies, could be found jovially taking tea or lunch together.

Many times, they would pat one another on the back as they happily reviewed the heated exchanges they had had during the debates. This was totally confusing to us outsiders, especially because as they called each other names on camera, one could clearly sense tension rising among the populace across the nation.

This was exacerbated by the fact that the post-election violence wounds were still raw in many hearts, minds and bodies. And yet, our honorable members seemed totally oblivious of this reality, and continued with their game, session after session.

At one point, some of us were forced to raise up this concern on the floor and caution them that they could be undermining the very purpose for which we had gathered at the coastal town. Sadly, only Yusuf Haji seemed to concur with our observations and concerns.

Kenya right now is a politically dry grassland. Any little spark could light an uncontrollable flame that could consume our nation way beyond the fires of 2007/8. Yet politicians are doing what they know best – playing politics with our lives. We must therefore warn them all that, though they may be merely playing politics, many of their followers take them seriously. They must therefore weigh their words and conduct themselves with decorum. Keep in mind that if Kenya goes up in flames, there will be no nation, county, or ward to lead.

Our neighbour, Somalia, stands as testament to what can happen to a people who cannot find common ground for building their nation. Therefore, in the words of the late George Saitoti, there comes a time when the interest of the nation must supersede those of the individual. That time has come and it is now.

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