Attack on Raila Odinga’s chopper shows political intolerance among Kenyans

The damaged windshield of Raila Odinga’s helicopter. [Standard]

The attack on Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya presidential candidate Raila Odinga’s helicopter in Uasin Gishu County last Friday is a despicable act that must be condemned in the strongest terms possible. Though neither Mr Odinga nor any member of his entourage was hurt in the mayhem, the helicopter’s windshield was shattered and rocks were hurled at cars in the ODM leader’s convoy, badly damaging them.

It is commendable that Deputy President and Kenya Kwanza alliance presidential hopeful William Ruto, in whose political backyard the mayhem occurred, strongly condemned it. Dr Ruto, describing the reprehensible incident as regrettable, has called on Inspector General of Police Hilary Mutyambai to arrest the culprits for questioning. The DP, who is expected to face the Azimio leader in the presidential poll, called for an election free of violence.

This is a political season, with eyes on the August elections when intolerance among various groups tends to rear its ugly head. It is imperative that all politicians from both sides of the divide strongly denounce such barbaric actions by their opponents’ supporters and also their own. There is a need for political tolerance amid the high-octane competition for leadership positions that are bound to be witnessed in the coming polls.

Everything possible must be done from now onwards to avoid potentially deadly confrontations between the supporters of rival political groups. For peace to prevail during the campaigns, supporters of the various groups should choose to stay away or, if they must go to their opponents’ rallies, maintain peace. And security personnel should be deployed in reasonable numbers to maintain law and order.

What politicians must never forget at any time is the fact that the Constitution guarantees the freedom of movement, speech and association. All parties have every right to field candidates anywhere in the country and the politicians are free to go around and solicit votes. They have a right to sell their manifestos and ideas so that the people can choose their favourites when they freely cast their ballot.

The elections are nearly three months away and Kenyans deserve peace and quiet to be able to listen to and evaluate the candidates when proper campaigns begin. It is laudable that most politicians have vowed to resist any attempts to plunge the country into the kind of mayhem witnessed during the 2007 post-election violence.

Mature campaigns and fair competition should be the hallmarks of the coming elections. Politicians should thus engage in honest campaigns, commit to conceding defeat and in the same spirit, congratulate the winners in the August elections. 

Kenya’s electoral history is replete with offensive and painful scars. Past elections have been characterised by tension and, in extreme cases, deadly clashes.

This explains why Kenyans are angry whenever an elected leader takes to the podium to make reckless remarks. For five years, Kenyans co-exist happily without any worries as to the ethnic identity of their neighbour. Instead, the struggle is always against poverty, disease and generally for survival. 

But, a few months before a consequential election, politicians bare their talons, ready to scatter their perceived enemies and remind the people who belong where and who don't. Politicians have stoked ethnic fire before and deployed ordinary Kenyans to the battlefields for the price of a morsel of bread.

We must uphold unity in diversity and acknowledge that we do not hail from one ethnic group, in the same way, we cannot all be of the same political persuasion.

This calls for political tolerance and healthy competition of ideas. We need each other now and even after the elections. That’s why we must condemn attempts to divide us.