Guard against rising intolerance in Kenya

Kenyans are in a very active political mood, if the debates currently going on in the media, the internet, social places, centres of worship and even in our homes are anything to go by.

The war against corruption led by the indefatigable P.L.O Lumumba, the cases against 6 Kenyans at the International Criminal Court, the now-on, now-off implementation of the new constitution, the referendum in Southern Sudan, the volatile situation in the Ivory Coast, the war against drugs and the implementation of the historic Mututho laws are topics that continues to generate a lot of heat among Kenyans.

Whilst the level of debate being witnessed around these topics is the fruit of our democratic liberation, there is a rising trend of intolerance among some Kenyans in this discourse. In other democracies, the democratic culture is nurtured by holding of divergent views. In our situation, and thanks mostly to a juvenile civil society, the rule of the thumb is "It is my way or the highway".
The creeping intolerance is taking various forms. I will only point out the most notorious of these.

The most ridiculous form of intolerance is found in the civil society. It takes the form of "Where were you?" To them, only those who have been in the streets in the form of the so-called mass action have a licence to comment on matters of democracy or governance. This self-conceited, self-righteous, holier-than-thou sense of misplaced entitlement has cost us the likes of my friend Koigi wa Wamwere whose contributions in parliament were sobering and very useful.

Ethnicity is the other most frequently used tool of intolerance. The easiest way to win an argument with another Kenyan is to brand him a tribalist. Pitifully, the ones who accuse others of being tribalists tend to be the real dyed-in-the-wool bigots and xenophobes.

If you do not agree with another Kenyan\’s divergent view and you are short of valid arguments, just accuse them of protecting vested interests. This is one of the most fashionable tools of intolerance. If one is advocating for law and order, they are accused of protecting vested interests. It is such a stinking sticker when placed on someone that they will coil out of an argument and give in to your point of view.

The vested interests tag has its first cousin. He is called "the filthy rich". If your fellow Kenyan does not buy your view point, it is because they are filthy rich, ugly capitalists using their "ill-gotten wealth" which they continue to enjoy within the "leafy suburbs". In a country that is aspiring to grow at a rate of 10% in order to achieve the objectives of Vision 2030 and Millennium Development Goals (MDG\’s), it is preposterous that we continue demonizing wealth creation. But if you are in an argument that you have to win, in Kenya it appears fair game to do so.

In this country of intolerant, if you are not a "Johnnie-come-lately" in the reform and democratic change arena, if you are not a  tribalist or a filthy rich fellow trying to protect your vested interests, then you are too young or too old to hold an opinion. Never mind that some old people who accuse others of being too young have nothing to show in terms of a development record. Equally, whilst the youth make up around 70% of our population, they account for a disproportionate 95% market share in the drugs and crime industry.

The latest tool in the Kenyan intolerance scene is Impunity. If you insist on due process taking its course, you are met with choruses of "Resign, Resign! Then you are accused of perpetuating impunity. This is intolerance of the highest degree towards divergent opinion. The case of Kenya withdrawing from the ICC as approved by parliament is one such example. I have witnessed various discussion groups where members of parliament are vilified with the most uncouth language for taking a stand on this matter.

I pity Assistant Minister Lewis Nguyai, a regular contributor to the highly intolerant Kikuyus-for-Change internet discussion forum. Recently he was harangued by contributors to this forum that I am sure he must be regretting his continued membership to such a group.
A good number of Kenyans support the ICC process. An even bigger number of Kenyans is opposed to the ICC process and Kenya\’s continued membership to the Rome Statute. Both the ICC enthusiasts and ICC-phobics have a view point. What is required is for the country to create a dialogue forum to be seized of both viewpoints.

It is imperative for Kenyans to realize that not every other Kenyan who disagrees with you is wrong, or indeed your enemy. Divergent view does not make one a tribalist, corrupt, rich, defender of status quo or supporter of impunity. Tolerance and accommodation of divergent views is the oil that will fuel our democratic engine.

The author is the spokesman of the Party for National Unity. The views expressed here do not represent the position of PNU

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