MWANGI: When abuses flow like a river, there is trouble ahead

A fierce critic of the Uhuru Kenyatta-led government, Governor Hassan Ali Joho has not run ...

As we get closer to the August general election in Kenya, the contest is moving to unexpected areas, not least of which is the ability to pour vitriol upon opponents.

And quite unexpectedly given his high office, President Uhuru Kenyatta is leading the contest. Within a short span of time, he has displayed great talent in uttering profanities against those who dare cross his path or criticize his leadership – from doctors to Turkana and Mombasa Governors Josphat Nanok and Hassan Joho, respectively.

To be fair, badmouthing of opponents is a culture that has developed rapidly in Kenya on both sides of the political divide over the past few years. And while the opposition can be excused for shouting from the rooftops about government excesses, even hitting below the belt at times, government officials such as the president are not expected to go down to the same level in their responses. When they do, they fall into the trap carefully prepared for them.

But it’s not just in Kenya where foul language has gained currency. And abuses aren’t only directed at fellow politicians. Indeed, gays and lesbians have perhaps endured tirades from the rest of society more than any other group. At one time, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni was reported as saying regarding gays: “They’re disgusting. What sort of people are they?” The Ugandan leader then went on to say that there was no evidence that gays were born “abnormal.” The country went on to enact stringent laws against homosexuality.

In Kenya, the war of words between the government and opposition is eerily reminiscent of the events preceding the 2007-2008 post-election violence. In the run-up to the December 2007 polls, the rhetoric was ratcheted up to crescendo, with both the government and opposition political formations sparing no effort in going for each other’s jugular. Television and radio stations were full of the vitriol from both sides, both in news and adverts. This, to a great extent, put in place the hostile and confrontational environment that later degenerated into post-election chaos.

With this background, why would Kenyans want to walk down that dark path again? Worst of all, why would the current leadership, led by the president himself, be so blind about such recent history? The ability of power to corrupt is easy to see, such that all concerned end up throwing all caution to the winds in the quest to retain or acquire power.

Given these recent events in Kenya’s politics, the countdown to the elections will no doubt provide some interesting times for the region. It is certain that more money will be poured into this election than in any other in the country’s and East Africa’s history. The president has now set the stage for the verbal diarrhoea to expect. Needless to say, such strong emotions will evoke ethnic allegiances – with possibly violent consequences.

The stakes are particularly high on both sides of the political divide. Given the high level of industrial unrest in recent months, as well as runaway inflation driven largely by rampant corruption, the president’s popularity is at an all-time low. He is now faced with the dubious distinction of becoming Kenya’s first one-term president since the reintroduction of multiparty politics in 1992.

In particular, the National Super Alliance (NASA) is giving the ruling Jubilee coalition sleepless nights. The alliance brings together various opposition politicians with the singular aim of unseating Kenyatta. If it holds until the time of the elections, NASA could easily turn the tables on the Jubilee administration.

There is equally anxiety on the side of the opposition, with veteran politician Raila Odinga having his last shot at the top seat, after which he will essentially have to give way to younger politicians. Odinga claims that victory has been snatched from him twice – first by former president Mwai Kibaki in 2007 and again in 2013. For him, therefore, this will be a do-or-die duel.

Be that as it may, the country’s largest economy is setting the trend in combative politics for the rest of the region. We can only cross our fingers and hope that – unlike in 2007 – this time the rhetoric will not translate into anarchy. The consequences for the whole of East Africa are too dire to contemplate.

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Story By Isaac Mwangi
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