We need mature debate via social media

Wednesday February 18 2015



PHOTO | KAREN BLEIER |

PHOTO | KAREN BLEIER | AFP

By NJERI THORNE
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Be it via Twitter, Facebook, or the commentary on articles and blogs, there is an emerging community that’s generating opinions and shaping attitudes that serve to affirm or challenge the state of affairs in Kenya.

Although at its infancy, this is in essence Kenya’s public sphere.

It is Kenya’s equivalent to the Parisian cafés from which the French Revolution sprang, a place where ideas are articulated, distributed and negotiated irrespective of our differences in birth and fortune.

The growth of this democratic polity depends on access, autonomy of the interlocutors, and the common commitment to the ways of logic from participants.

Access is growing as more Kenyans acquire smartphones and consume the Internet.

The autonomy of the citizens is, however, a moot point, as is their commitment to rational-critical discourse — the latter probably reinforced by the former.

LITMUS TEST

The autonomy is contaminated by the perpetual electioneering mode Kenya seems to be in.

As a result, citizens’ sentiments are informed and guided by affinity to their political party as opposed to their personal considerations on policies, governance and the state of affairs in the country.

A simple litmus test would be to ask the most vocal within this space to define debt ratio, let alone what Kenya’s debt ratio is! Furthermore, the political kinship itself is not ideologically based.

It is instead rooted in the persona at the head of the party, the leader’s wealth, history, and worse of all, the leader’s tribe.

This allegiance to the leaders replaces independent thinking and forms the identities of contributors, eradicating their autonomy.

As identity politics dominates the discourse superseding dialogue and debate on the needs of society, the third ingredient for a successful public sphere, logic, diminishes.

The subject of criticism becomes the participants of the space rather than substantial topics on governance.

Opposing and potentially sound arguments are ridiculed in a subconscious attempt to box people within the prescribed identities.

“Sycophancy” becomes the blanket label for those affirming positive initiatives by the government.

Any success from the government is inconsistent with the Opposition’s belief as they have been indoctrinated in identity politics and in order to restore the compatibility between the contradicting opinions, they reject the facts.

On the flip side, government supporters remain silent for fear of being labelled sycophants, a term that connotes an intellectual deficiency.

Ultimately, rationality is reduced to none.

TAKE GOVT TO TASK

It would be a shame to lose this public sphere. If harnessed correctly it would allow us to take the government to task, fine-tune initiatives that seem to be working and to celebrate those that are advancing our society.

We need discussion; more than ridicule. We need understanding. Let’s be sycophantic about the space itself.

Let’s be subservient to the conventions that the success of a public sphere depends on.

If we respect this space and exercise servile complaisance to it, there is a lot to gain.