I recall vividly the period ahead of the 2007 elections like it was yesterday. My assignment then was to do a weekly series of pre-election roundups across the then provinces for the Sunday Nation. For several months, I travelled the length and breadth of this country, from Rabai to Isebania, Malindi to Busia, Isiolo to Vanga.
I visited most of the big provincial towns where emotions were especially hot: Kakamega, Kisumu, Eldoret, Nyeri, Machakos and Mombasa. I listened and talked to all sorts: The ordinary folk; the opinionated kind; the lot who claim to be disinterested in such things; and even attended a political rally or two.
It didn’t take me long to sense this was going to be an election like no other. You could feel, almost touch, the polarisation, the rising hate. You could feel the build-up of something dark, something evil, a primitive urge to shed blood.
This was so when I attended one climactic rally somewhere. The speakers, whose faces still appear regularly on our media, were speaking in a lingo I don’t understand. But I had been accompanied by the area’s Nation Bureau Chief who, though not native to the area, understood the language perfectly well. He faithfully kept translating for me.
From the word go it was clear the speeches were pure incitement. Some fellow who now aspires to be governor was especially inflammatory, likening the opponents they were facing as hyenas and using dark allegories to that effect. He concluded his speech with the words wataona cha mtema kuni.
Like then, the political landscape today – across the board – is awash with the same dark language and threats. I don’t think I am alone to sense something sinister that could grow out of hand like in 2007. The signs are not good. We have seen violence break out in Kariobangi in Nairobi fed by assertions of imported voters.
There have been emotive – but unproven – claims that the National Youth Service is clandestinely registering voters. There are even allegations that Ugandans are being imported to register in Bungoma.
In matters such as these, it is not facts that drive the narrative. It is rumour and innuendo. Those who drive the rumours and threats have an agenda of wanting to create uncertainty and despondency, perhaps calculating it will ultimately work for them.
It is a short-sighted and ultimately futile calculation. Violence, when it comes, tends to be an equal-opportunity antagonist, if you know what I mean.
When we incite, we must assess where we sit and whether we stand to lose more. And do we have the capacity to recover faster?
The ICC was a lesson, but only up to a limited point. Those who got under its snare may be inclined henceforth to be more circumspect on what they say. But their supporters, facing no sanctions, can easily degenerate again to kind. In any case, the storyline we have developed that the ICC is a political and biased court has only created a mindset that we shouldn’t give a hoot about what it stands for. This is dangerous.
The National Cohesion and Integration Commission is one of those commissions we created with noble intentions but have turned out to be fake. Politicians know a harmless puppy when they see one. They look at the NCIC and see it for what it is – a harmless fraud. The spewing of hate speech has continued unabated despite its expensive existence. Until it ever successfully prosecutes known culprits, the perception will remain.
Matters are not helped by the fact other institutions like the Supreme Court, which will play a huge role in a contested election, have lately become clouded in heavy doubts about their integrity.
A lot of what is going at political party rallies in the name of mobilisation is, so far, chest-thumping and bravado. But it will get nasty, especially when things don’t go right and a certain desperation kicks in among the mobilisers and the mobilised. Politicians who feel no rules bind them and that they can say whatever they want must think twice before they throw the country – and themselves – over the precipice.
Even the worst of us has a redeeming quality. I admire Donald Trump for not being a fixed-mind ideologue, which is taken as holy writ by his two Cuban-born opponents. He says he is ready to negotiate with Vladimir Putin on the matter of Syria, and not just mindlessly invade like the extreme right-wingers chant. A flexibility of mind is much better than rigidity in one who aspires to rule the world.