A hazard of this trade/profession/craft/labour of love (take your pick) is that many expect we are in a prime position to dispense knowledge and wisdom on our murky politics, likely electoral outcomes and the state and fate of the nation.
Over the weekend, a relative living abroad desirous of bringing his young family on their first visit had a query: Would it be better to come ‘home’ before the elections or wait until things calmed down after the polls?
I did not give it a second thought: You can come now, in the middle of the poll or even immediately after the voting. It doesn’t matter when because Kenya is and will always be safe to visit.
Call that the incurable optimist in me but it flies in the face of conventional wisdom that Kenyan political competition is always Armageddon waiting to happen.
Fears of a likely descent into widespread violence are, of course, well grounded.
The post-election violence of 2007-2008, and the previous bouts of ethno-political wars, remain fresh in the memory. Kenya was just an inch away from descent into the hell of a full-scale civil war, mass murder, genocide, total anarchy and dismemberment of the nation. We only just managed to step back from the brink.
Battle for State House
With the do-or-die approach now so evident in the battle for State House pitting Deputy President William Ruto against perennial contender Raila Odinga, it is clear that no lessons were learnt from history.
The DP and the former prime minister were both central to the sorry events of 15 years ago. They are today at the centre of a vicious political contest where their respective campaigns are clearly guilty of promoting and inciting hatred, ethnic balkanisation and political violence.
They both know the consequences of bile and vitriol spewed from political rallies from where they cannot claim to be innocent bystanders.
In pursuit of personal power and glory, in other words, they are prepared to see Kenya burn.
In the absence of any more edifying narrative from our primitive politicking, how, then, can Yours Truly encourage a dear one to leave a safe haven and come visiting? This is, after all, the time when many who actually live here—particularly the expatriate and immigrant lot—are concocting every conceivable excuse to embark on extended working excursions to India, Britain, the United States, Tanzania or anywhere else they can ride out of the electoral storms.
Like I said, it’s the incurable optimist in me. I have faith that, despite the best effort of our politicians, Kenyans have learnt their lessons well and will not be incited to take up weapons against one another again.
It is a worry, however, that many of our younger voters, or political rally mobs, have no personal recollections of the horrors of 2002-2008. They are putty in the hands of politicians. They don’t know how close Kenya came to joining the likes of Somalia, Cambodia, Liberia, the former Yugoslavia, Sierra Leone, Myanmar (then Burma), Rwanda, Burundi and other nations where millions have perished in civil strife.
What pains one is that the likes of MPs Moses Kuria and Babu Owino, and all the other despicables spewing dangerous utterances on behalf of either DP Ruto or Orange leader, Odinga, know full well the consequences of their words.
Vile insults on the political platform, in our context, target not just an individual presidential candidate but also an entire community. Some of the reckless and irresponsible words assaulting our ears are calculated to not just injure the feelings of an individual but incite hatred and loathing for entire population groups, the ‘us’ versus ’them’ scenario.
When an insulted and maligned group retaliates, it will not just be with words but could very well be with stones, pangas, spears or even firearms.
Restrain their cheerleaders
As the two principal presidential contenders and fulcrums around their respective support bases, DP Ruto and Mr Odinga must each take personal charge and restrain their cheerleaders. They must publicly disown verbal violence from their mouthpieces and take the lead in promoting peaceful and civil campaigns.
Outgoing President Kenyatta, who is deeply involved in campaigning for Mr Odinga against his estranged deputy, must do the same.
If they don’t, the Kenyan voter must see beyond the foolishness and realise that the country is more important than an individual’s quest for power.
That is the faith which gives me the confidence to welcome my people home even in the midst of noisy electioneering. I can also state that I much prefer our noisy democracy and freedoms to the ‘orderly’ police state across much of Africa.
[email protected]. www.gaitho.co.ke @MachariaGaitho