The ongoing purge in political parties in Kenya is precipitating bad talk both in social media and in normal circles.
We have become judgmental of others. We have forgotten the virtue of diversity and tolerance even in the face of adversity.
I heard two politicians shamelessly discussing their displeasure against one ethnic group in Kenya, with all manner of hate speech directed at the entire community. Although their discussion was private, it was animated and loud enough for those around them to hear. This is bad politics.
If their intention was to demonstrate bravery, then they failed. On my part, I couldn’t let such display of arrogance go without challenge. I let them know that what they were saying was distasteful.
It is too soon for us to use the bad language that will take us back to violence once again.
If there is anything that we learnt from violence that followed the 2007 elections, it is the fact that we all need justice, dignity, freedom, equality and prosperity.
All these are the fundamentals we sought to accommodate in the 2010 constitution. Unfortunately, there are those who find hate speech appropriate in their quest for leadership.
Although the Constitution did not provide for empathy, understanding and compromise, these are attributes that should come out of our schooling and upbringing. If that schooling is lacking then we need to quickly change the system.
Our politicians have failed to always argue their way out of a challenge. In logical arguments, we get to know the other side’s point of view. For it is not always true that your position is always right.
Such intolerant behaviour tends to seep through to the general public and that is perhaps what explains all the hate we see on the social media today.
The political class continues to direct their animus towards innocent people, which in my view is cowardice when they fail to confront issues.
In targeting the general communities, we fail and at most make generalisations that could hurt people, many of whom are clueless as to what exactly is happening.
As in 2008, they are the ones who will take the brunt of political differences. I am hoping that at some point, someone will ask questions and hopefully there will be answers.
In asking the right questions we enrich the discussions and enable the wider society to see points of views and make their own judgements. It also makes us open-minded, wiser and eventually happier because many of our concerns get addressed.
It is defeatist to speak to like-minded people on issues of national importance. It is like dancing to your own drumbeat. There is no joy in it, and you don’t get enlightened. If anything, you indulge in an incestuous activity.
That applies to all leaders since in leadership, communication of critical decisions is an imperative. There are too many uncertainties that it is always better for leaders to constantly engage the electorate to understand the prevailing dynamics.
The tendency to assume that everyone is rational and hence their decisions are rational is often counterproductive.
Assumptions in leadership often fuel hate in social media as many commentators cheer on their leaders without thought of the consequences of dividing citizens along personalities. In a country where people are divided along ethnicity every message becomes a seed for discord.
How I wish more educated people could objectively use social media to influence people along ideological lines? That way, people can make political choices based on ideas rather than tribal sentiments.
The sad thing is that even intellectuals now lead in fragmenting the country along ethnic divisions that will not in any way bring us closer to our aspirations.
Hate speech online is increasingly becoming normalised under the guise of free speech.
It is not all doom and gloom. There are things that people of good will can do to combat hate speech online.
For a start, we need to educate as many young people as possible that they have responsibility over what they say in social media. We must also begin to harness the tools that we need to analyse social media content and confront hate speech head on.
Most importantly, it is imperative to name some of the big names sponsoring misinformation online.
Further, there is also need to encourage victims of hate to come forwards and report incidents of hate and incitement to violence.
Politicians must be held accountable for hate speech and incitement. Given the fact that many of politicians are never held accountable even when they are caught on camera, there is need to revise the current law.
Unless we act tough on hate speech, it is highly possible that it will take us back to where we were in early 2008.
Careless talk without informed debate is a poisoned chalice. It is in our interest to foster empathy, understanding and compromise where we differ for this is what will bring us greater dignity, freedom and prosperity.
The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.