Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Strong-arm tactics simply won’t work

By JOHN B. OSORO

The social media is awash with hateful dialogue among groups already branded as “tribalists” by some critics.

They appear to delight in extreme, offensive, and unprintable language on social media, although some hits are just harmless humour.

So far, a local television station and a high-ranking government official have expressed concerns about this hate speech. Some critics suggest that culprits be shamed while hardliners recommend prosecution.

This social media war of words seems to draw its fault lines along tribal roots. There is concern that unless this behaviour stops, the Internet insults may spill over into our social lives. Can we solve this problem by shaming and prosecuting the individuals concerned?

Prosecutions may not work since the line of separation between freedom of expression and hate speech is far too thin to allow for effective court action. How then will government and society in general contain this flood of hateful online discourse?

Coming out too forcefully may drive the problem underground only for it to explode later. The events preceding the Arab Spring come to mind.

What is the way forward? The solution lies in either leaving the social media war to burn out on its own, or addressing the serious shortcomings ailing our political system that spawn tribal animosities.

The government should commission a study to unearth the malady and propose probable solutions. Unleashing security agents to police how Kenyans enjoy fundamental rights will only negate the advances made so far.

Putting it bluntly, Kenya should now embark on a journey of self-examination to find out why negative ethnicity appears to pervade all aspects of its political, social, and economic life.

Reading the war of words on social media objectively, one is bound to accept the fact that the crude dialogue captures precisely the sick political culture that has pervaded this country’s social fabric since Independence.

Attempts to gag this disgusting dialogue without addressing the causes will be tackling the symptoms instead of dealing with political mischief, which is the real culprit.

Let us not bury our heads in the sand. In Kenya today, almost every tribe has its own political party under some kingpin. This has happened despite legal requirements dictating that parties organise and mobilise nationally.

Furthermore, political parties remain the single most abused aspect of this country’s political make-up — undemocratic, arbitrary, tribal, and extremely disorganised.

Perhaps, lack of administrative direction from the office of the Registrar of Political Parties explains why tribalism persists.

Unless we take immediate corrective action to counter the tribal nature of this country’s politics, Kenyan nationals at home and abroad will continue to find new channels to trade tribal insults.

In addition to realigning our politics for a better tomorrow, government should begin to initiate activities such as inter-county sporting competitions to foster inter-ethnic social interaction and goodwill.

The use of coercive methods such as tracing social media offenders, arrests, and court prosecutions as a control mechanism to cure this problem should be discouraged.

The solution lies in inculcating a keen sense of patriotism and a readiness to address one another affectionately and with utmost courtesy, no matter the issue or forum.

Mr Osoro works with the Centre for Policy Analysis (osorojb@yahoo.co.nz).

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