Violence, hate speech and misinformation

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ROB MACAIRE

We\’ve said throughout this Constitution process that we won\’t try to tell Kenyans how to vote, though we remain strong supporters of political reform and Agenda Four.
 
But when it comes to how people are conducting the campaign, we have some very strong views which I know are shared by all Kenyans I speak to.
 
First, that it is utterly unacceptable to resort to violence.  The attack on the \’No\’ rally in Uhuru Park was terrorism pure and simple, no matter who carried it out.The British Government spoke out to condemn it and to give condolences to the victims.  Such attacks threaten the very basic right of people to gather peacefully and to express their views.  I hope the police are able to find the perpetrators quickly and bring them to justice – we will help if we can.
 
Second, hate speech and intimidation.  There isn\’t a country in the world where it would be acceptable to threaten that if the new Constitution passes, there will be ethnic cleansing and violence – as some politicians seem to have done recently.  Nor to physically expel journalists from a public meeting on the Constitution. Nor to say that if people with other views come to an area they will be "met with stones".  

Nor to tell Muslims that they should vote in a certain way or they risk violence between them and Christians. None of these should be acceptable behaviour to anyone who cares about the country. I see that the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the Police are investigating some of these alleged incidents:  I hope they are able to punish those responsible, but even more I hope that all those speaking out about these issues are able to behave with restraint and responsibility.   Violence can sometimes take only a small spark to ignite it, as Kenyans know.  Those who are striking matches should think again – and not be so sure that they will get away with it.  
 
And then the misuse of information. I have blogged about this before, and it\’s not the place to get into specific details.   But anyone who has read the draft carefully, and talked to constitutional experts both Kenyan and international, as I have, will find it as strange as I do to hear some of the claims being made about it. All kudos to the media for helping to expose the misinformation in a calm and factual way. And for challenging everyone to speak out and have a voice in the debate.

(Rob Macaire is the British High Commissioner to Kenya. This article was first published on the UK in Kenya blog)

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