Insolent tongues in these dire times a sure recipe for chaos

Emurua Dikirr MP Johana Ng'eno returns to his home at Mogondo village upn being released from the Nakuru Police Station cells on September 11, 2020.

Photo credit: Vitalis Kimutai | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • The Deputy President and the former Prime Minister have a discordant relationship.
  • The Building Bridges Initiative, which was meant to midwife constitutional reforms, is already contested.
  • County executives and county assemblies often exhibit sibling rivalry.

Kenya could be at a crossroads. Between 2005 and 2008 – and even earlier in the 1990s – the political class precipitated inter-ethnic clashes and near genocide. The political momentum for the 2022 elections seems to mirror this earlier epoch.

Mr Gregory H. Stanton of Genocide Watch identifies eight stages of genocide as follows: “Classification, symbolisation, dehumanisation, organisation, polarisation, preparation, extermination and denial.”

People in a polity begin to characterise one another as “us and them”.

They, for example, symbolically talk of “46 against 1” or “hustlers versus dynasties”.

The humanity of a group is denied when they are dubbed inyenze, cockroaches.

Mass killing

Mass killing is systematically organised and deliberate preparation executed. Those identified as non-human are then exterminated.

Finally, as Stanton observes: “The perpetrators… deny that they committed any crimes and often blame what happened on the victims.”

As leader of Kenya’s 2006 African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), Ms Graca Machel likened the hate speech she had heard in Kenya to that of pre-genocide Rwanda.

The nexus of coded hate speech through vernacular radio stations and Kenya’s post-election mayhem is chronicled in Back from the Brink: The 2008 Mediation Process and Reforms in Kenya.

Both the collapse of the National Rainbow Coalition and the Liberal Democratic Party MOU and the failed 2005 referendum seriously divided the country. The 2007 General Election debacle became the final straw that broke the camel’s back.

And yet, as Ms Machel prophetically told us, it was the tongue which was to set the country on fire.

An African proverb dispenses wisdom thus: “An insolent tongue is a bad weapon.”

In James 3:6,8 the Bible says: “And the tongue is a fire…it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”

Currently in public barazas, social media, radio, TV and other platforms, vitriolic language has begun to be spewed. Verbal counter-attacks and demonstrations are now common. Are we re-enacting 2007-2008?

Divided house

What warning signs must we be wary of? Deep schisms are evident in political parties. The ruling Jubilee Party is a house divided. The President and his former running mate don’t seem to read from the same page.

The Deputy President and the former Prime Minister have a discordant relationship. When prominent leaders differ, their followers tend to follow suit.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which was meant to midwife constitutional reforms, is already contested.

A section of politicians, clergy and civil society have signalled opposition to it. There exists a love-hate relationship between the national government and county governments.

The latter feel that their functions and resources have been largely usurped by the former, culminating in the recent revenue starvation.

County executives and county assemblies often exhibit sibling rivalry. Further, senators and members of Parliament from a given county do constantly clash with their county governments.

The majority – the youth – and the older generation are disconnected. The youth believe their seniors do little to help them secure employment and other opportunities.

They count themselves as an orphaned generation. They view the police as foes, not Utumishi kwa Wote.

Ethnic and regional differences have been re-ignited by the protracted third generation revenue formula debate and the proposed executive structure in the initial BBI report.

Already, those who oppose BBI argue that the top executive positions are reserved for the five numerically populous ethnic groups.

Political cleavages

The above socioeconomic and political cleavages are exacerbated by the coronavirus impact, public debt, depressed economy, unemployment, electoral injustice, divisive succession politics, and so on.  Currently, there is no opposition to protect our democracy.

Both Jubilee A and the Orange Democratic Movement are in an informal coalition, with both the Kenya Africa National Union (Kanu) and Wiper acting as supporting cast.

Amani National Congress and FORD-Kenya are struggling to mount an opposition.  Jubilee B or Asili alternates between being government and opposition!

Clearly the divisions within our body politic can, if unchecked, lead us to the brink and even beyond.

We might reach a place where as Yeats wrote “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed…”

 When countries fall apart, it usually takes considerable time and mammoth effort to restore them. Most African countries that experienced constitutional breakdowns continue to wobble.

 Each Kenyan has, therefore, a sacred duty to guarantee the stability of our nation. We must collectively repair the inimical fractures that plague our country.

 The political class is elected by the citizens so as to promote the common good. It must therefore defer to the citizenry, the constitution and the practice of servant leadership.

We must as a people adhere to consultation, negotiation and consensus-building in our pursuit of democratic governance.

We should be guided by Article 10(2) of the Constitution, which provides: “The national values and principles of governance include (a) Patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people; (b) human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalised; (c) good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability; and (d) sustainable development.”

 The constitution does guarantee freedom of expression. But hate speech is not a protected right.

 A saying goes: “Your rights end where the rights of others begin.”

Whenever any person expresses constitutionally guaranteed speech, they deserve maximum protection.

That is why Voltaire wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

 In the coming days, we shall, just as was the case in the 80s and 90s, count on the faith sector, civil society, diaspora, private sector, professional associations, academia, the international community, eminent citizens, the youth, and others to stand guard over our country.

 We cannot countenance a genocide which rips our country apart. Our yet-to-be-borne nation-state will be the ultimate legacy and inheritance that we hope for.