What you need to know:
- Words can bring discord, cruelty, discrimination and even death.
Debate entails calmness, reason and logical argument. When an interlocutor resorts to insults against a real or imagined opponent, then this is a leader not worth listening to.
When leaders speak, their words carry heavy implications. Through their rhetoric, leaders can bring hope to the people. Words can bring unity and promote healing.
Similarly, words can bring discord, cruelty, discrimination and even death. This is why recent utterances by some politicians have jolted the country into a debate about the limits of freedom of speech and how leaders should conduct themselves in public. Kenya is no stranger to the dangers of inflammatory rhetoric.
To stop this appetite for unsavoury language and conduct, the country in 2008 passed the National Cohesion and Integration Act that spawned the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.
Yet political leaders continue to prop their careers on labels, derogatory, demeaning and divisive language.
Hate speech has been a key ingredient in political mobilisation; executed on the undying faith in the gullibility of the Kenyan public. When some leaders engage in unpatriotic acts, they cleverly tie their ill feelings to tribal plights.
Personal challenges, including wide ranging illegalities, are twisted to portray a community being hunted down by amorphous forces.
The Kenyan Constitution guarantees the freedom of speech and political pluralism. Opinions are many and ideas on how to move the nation forward are divergent.
However, such diversity can be expressed in ways that protects and consolidates national unity and wellness. There are enough words in any language that can facilitate expression of disagreement without resorting to name-calling and ethnic balkanisation.
As the renowned American linguist and political scientist Noam Chomsky opines, words are the currency of power. Leaders can use words to appeal to our sense of reason; and through persuasion, win the hearts and minds of the electorate.
Similarly, words can stir the animus in all of us, to catastrophic ends. Kenyans should, therefore, consistently and overtly shun the few leaders who resort to fear mongering, anxiety and division as a way of getting back at perceived political enemies.
Those entrusted with public office should at all times reflect on the infallibility of the oaths they take to serve the people. As someone aptly remarked, there is no good war, just like there is no bad peace.
Kenyans deserve and badly crave a unifying force, a voice of reason, and development conscious leader. That is why they cast their ballot, in the hope that their vote eventually counts.
The responsible agencies should proactively play their role in cutting the value chain of national denigration at the altar of politics. The country should not risk going into another electioneering period where abuse, stigmatisation and victimisation of opponents is the norm rather than an exception.