KIRUKU: Elections, stones and hate speech: Kenya’s potent brew

KIRUKU: Elections, stones and hate speech: Kenya’s potent brew

The heckling, booing and hurling of stones being witnessed in Kenya when politicians visit their opponents’ strongholds is a sure recipe for violence as political duels take their toll on the nation.

President Uhuru Kenyatta, the Jubilee party presidential candidate, and Deputy President William Ruto were booed and heckled in Kisumu, an opposition stronghold. On the same day, the opposition party presidential candidate Raila Odinga and his entourage were met with violence in Baringo, a Jubilee stronghold. The following day, opposition party leaders were pelted with stones when they visited central Kenya, yet another Jubilee stronghold.

This trend is a sure recipe for election violence and must be nipped in the bud. The rumours that some politicians are involved in funding and instigating the violence need to be investigated and those found guilty made to face the full force of the law.

Kenyans must not forget the devastating effects of the 2007/2008 post-election violence, in which thousands of people were internally displaced, others forced to flee to neighbouring countries, and property worth millions of dollars destroyed. Women were raped, children defiled and the economy brought to a standstill.

Women leaders must be in the forefront in raising their voices to condemn the sad trend, especially because they and their children – as well as the elderly and the physically challenged – would bear the brunt of any breakdown in law and order.

It is particularly sad when we consider that the East African Community witnessed one of the worst genocides in living memory less than two and a half decades ago. The Rwandan genocide, which left an estimated 1 million people dead in just three months, should be a constant reminder of the danger of violence in the region.

The over 1,000 Tutsi children burnt in a polish Catholic church, the over 250,000 Tutsi men bombed to death while hiding in a tiny crowded church, the over 400,000 Tutsi men who lost their manhood after it was cut off by Hutu ethnic extremists, and the over 2,000 women who were thrown in a pit of fire should be enough lesson of how ethnically-inspired political divisions can bring down a country.

In Burundi, too, political violence has left hundreds dead and thousands displaced, a situation that East Africa cannot afford to replicate in Kenya or anywhere else in the region. All the presidential candidates, in particular, must therefore abide by electoral laws and avoid reckless statements that can lead to violence.

President Uhuru Kenyatta must be in the forefront in condemning divisive political statements during the ongoing campaigns to avoid raising political temperatures. He should lead his Jubilee party in shunning hate speech and promoting a culture of issue-based politics.

Likewise, the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, must advise his supporters accordingly on the importance of abiding by electoral laws and the constitution. He too should preach peace during his campaigns.

Although elections form a key plank of many democratic cultures, they must not be used as a pretext for violence. Like in every competition, there are bound to be winners and losers; accepting election results and embracing the winning team is part of the democratic process.

The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has a duty of ensuring that the laid-down code of conduct for all aspirants is followed to the letter and any defiance dealt with in accordance with the law.

International and regional observers would do well to pile pressure on the presidential candidates to tone down their antagonistic rhetoric. Politicians cannot be allowed to instigate violence in whatever forms.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission also needs to be more vigilant than ever before in ensuring that peace and harmony are not compromised in campaign rallies. Those Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media groups being used to spread rumours and hate speech will need to be thoroughly investigated and brought before the law.

To prevent rejection of the electoral results, IEBC must adhere to electoral laws without having to wait for the courts to force it to toe the line. The ongoing tug of war on the printing of presidential ballot papers will in this regard require a quick resolution. The voter register should also be made public to avoid suspicion and mistrust across the political divide.

For Kenya to remain a united nation even after the elections, IEBC must deliver a credible election. The elections must be democratic, transparent and fair. Law enforcement agencies and the judiciary must also work hand-in-hand with the IEBC; only in this manner will Kenya remain united after the polls are gone.

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Story By Anne Kiruku
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