The stoning of a helicopter carrying former Prime Minister Raila Odinga during his visit to Uasin Gishu County is indicative of pervasive political intolerance. Over the years, there has been emphasis on the need to allow people with divergent political views to freely express them. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission is mandated to, among others, “enhance tolerance, understanding and acceptance of diversity in all aspects of national life”. After the 2007 post-election violence, a lot of programmes were launched aimed at creating public awareness on the need for harmonious co-existence.
Unfortunately, our political leaders rarely come out to denounce acts of political intolerance, especially those perpetrated by people in their camps. You just need to look at social media messages of rival camps to see the amount of mudslinging and character assassination that politicians are engaged in.
Expectedly, the same animosity is witnessed when they meet in physical settings. Sadly, while the youth, who are often hired to fight people with opposing views, are pursued for prosecution, their masters engage in blame games, most times blaming their opponents for the violence.
The Kalenjin elders’ apology to Mr Raila Odinga over the stoning of his entourage in Uasin Gishu is, therefore, a welcome move that should be emulated by other political and cultural leaders. Most youths who engage in acts of violence during political campaigns do not do so on their own. In many cases, they are paid to act for political leaders or those who represent their interests.
Rather than get defensive and justify such acts by recounting incidents when they may have been victims of similar hostility, political leaders should come out and strongly condemn any acts of violence, regardless of who was involved. When youths are aware that they will be solely responsible for their intolerant behaviour, they will most likely think twice before getting involved in political violence.
Political leaders play a critical role in determining their followers’ attitudes and behaviour towards those with divergent views. When leaders adhere to a clear zero-tolerance-for-violence policy at party levels, their soldiers will follow suit.
As we inch closer to this year’s general election, I urge those vying for political offices, both at county and national levels, to commit to peace during campaigns and after the announcement of poll results. I also urge them to ensure that their followers do the same.
In cases where candidates dispute election results, I dare them to commit, publicly, to pursue justice through established legal institutions. We want to hear political leaders publicly disowning perpetrators of violence in their strongholds and apologising to those on the receiving end of hostility. I dare every politician to take the first few minutes of every political meeting to call for peace and encourage their followers to welcome divergent views. Like the Kalenjin elders, we must all shun intolerance.
Dr Kalangi is a communications trainer and consultant, Kenyatta University.