Politicians must now end the hate crusades

The General Election on Tuesday next week is not a matter of life and death. Elections come and elections go, but life, and the country, must go on.

At the end of the day, neither the election of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the current favourite in the opinion polls, nor that of Deputy President William Ruto, would be a disaster for the Republic of Kenya. Whichever of the two is elected, he will conduct himself in accordance with the law and discharge the duties of the office to the best of their ability.

Either of them can do the job reasonably well, so Kenya will not be a laughing stock in Africa; it will prosper. There can be an argument as to which of the two gentlemen will do a better job than the other, but at the end of the day, it is just a matter of degree.

The great enemy is the excess of ethnic emotion and the flood of incitement which is pouring out of campaign rallies. The nation is in the grip of an election fever.

The rhetoric in the campaigns is becoming shrill, angry and inciting. For a small group of people who have invested millions of shillings, years of hard work and all their hope in politics and the outcome of the election, their stake in August 9 is personal and fraught.

They are frightened at the prospect of electoral loss. For the rest of us, the interest in the election is communal; there is no direct personal interest. We will all benefit if we elect a good government, and we will all suffer if we elect a bad one. There is therefore no need for desperation or an excess of violent emotion.

Malevolent armies of keyboard warriors

A leader who takes to the podium to announce that someone else is out to kill him or her but has not reported to the authorities is not in any danger; he is looking for cheap sympathy votes. A person at real risk must first take the appropriate steps — report to the authorities, provide some of level of evidence for their fears and then go public if they so wish. A political rally is not a police station.

Tribes do not vote, individuals do and they do so in exercise of protected rights.

Threats to uproot communities from their homes because people have exercised their democratic rights freely are unfair and retrogressive; the right to settle anywhere in this country is predicated on election choices.

The National Peace and Mediation Team, which has been following the theatre of Kenyan politics in recent days, warns that the rhetoric has now gone overboard and politicians are now formenting hatred and aversion to those opposed to them and their followers.

Under the guise of the democratic right to associate and express the motivations of those associations, politicians are bending the law to favour their last-gasp campaigns.

A lot of these campaigns are happening on social media platforms, where spiteful and outrightly malevolent armies of keyboard warriors are unleashed every day to spread fear, misinformation, disinformation, ridicule and spite. Of course there is nothing democratic about their actions and words, which border on criminality because of their inciteful bile.

Democracy in its most basic contours

Five days to the General Election, it appears the political class has not yet understood the folly of its zero-sum game. The mobilisation of communities around political groupings and ideologies does not supersede the rights of those communities to peace, harmony and honour.

The millions of voters who will turn out to vote on Tuesday will do so in the hope that their votes matter, and that in exercising their democratic rights to elect the leaders they want, they will not be given any labels.

This is democracy in its most basic contours. It isn’t personal and never has been. The country has gone through various iterations of this experiment, even when the learning curves have been steep, noble men and women have put the nation first before themselves.

They have done so knowing too well that there will not be a country to run in the first place if the dark desires of their hearts overrun the gates of good authority and control.

It isn’t sacrifice. It is wisdom, and that’s what we expect of our leaders.

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