BY MACHEL WAIKENDA
The 35th US President John F. Kennedy once said, “Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one’s own beliefs. Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others.”
In the recent past, we witnessed three angry incidents of political intolerance that must be condemned and consequently discouraged. More, these incidents came a week after we all condemned the Migori heckling of the President.
In Wote, five people were shot and injured as political rivals in Makueni threw decorum to the wind and instead resorted to violence. In Kapsabet, the Nandi County Governor’s chief of staff who was in a pro-referendum group at an anti-referendum rally sustained serious head injuries.
In Nakuru, goons allegedly sent by one of the County leaders stormed a pro-referendum function and chased away registration clerks and seized their stationery. The previous week, Majority Leader in the National Assembly Aden Duale and Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto almost got into a fist-fight in front of the Deputy President.
The Makueni incident also points to a very disturbing situation given that it was bodyguards of the MCAs – some not policemen – that were involved in the shooting. This begs the question of guns in the wrong hands and responsibility that comes with arming civilians.
It is not surprising that Kenyans online went ahead to corrupt the governors’ ‘Pesa Mashinani’ referendum call to ‘Fujo Mashinani’ based on these incidents. This is not what Kenyans wanted when they entrenched devolution in the Constitution.
Other than bringing resources closer to the people, devolution was designed to also enhance cohesion among Kenyans at the lowest level. It is therefore disturbing that we are entrenching the culture of violence and intolerance at the county level.
This level of intolerance that we are experiencing is primitive and barbaric and must stop. We are making mockery of our civilization and democracy if we continue exhibiting the kind of intolerance we are seeing.
We all seem not ready to listen to each other even when we are involved in debates of national importance. We are either seeing governors go head to head with MCAs or Senators vs. Governors, or MPs vs. Governors.
This actually beats logic behind expanded democratic space and healthy debate to better serve wananchi under devolved governance system. Differences over tender awards, county taxation, and referendum push mingled with party politics, personality clashes and of course devolved corruption make for a lethal concoction Kenya does not need now.
Regardless of Inspector General of Police’s call for arrests on matters that have taken a decidedly criminal slant, there is need for political and social introspection at all levels of our society. As leaders, we need to remember we are role models, opinion makers and opinion shapers.
We must step back from the brink. The lessons of 2008 are all-too-real to ignore. We know that the country lost not only its citizens but also its image internationally. We lost a lot of business and the economy got a huge hit which slowed development in the country.
But more critical is that all Kenyans and especially politicians must desist from making statements that only result in incitement and divisions. While, the constitution guarantees freedom of expression, this must be exercised with responsibility to ensure that we do not stir up emotions.
Politicians have a duty to keep the promise of respecting the Constitution and we ask all Kenyans to embrace one another because we all have a right to live together devoid of discrimination.
We have to be responsible with our utterances whether in public or in other forums and those making such utterances must be warned and if they do not stop, should be dealt with in line with the law.
A confrontational political environment will impact the entire country, visitors, development partners and our neighbours. It will also paint the country in a bad light and affect our standing as we try to woo investors and tourists.
But when we appreciate the importance of bipartisanship, statesmanship, patriotism, toning down rhetoric and putting Kenya first, we safeguard our country and its heritage. We must remember that we all have one Kenya to be in and we cannot replace it. It therefore needs us and we need it.
We must rekindle the national spirit and recommit ourselves to our country. Let us not misuse our rich diversity to incite Kenyans along, religious, tribal or political lines for we are one people.
We must call upon all leaders to promote tolerance, peaceful coexistence, diversity and divergent opinions whether we preparing for a referendum or the 2017 elections.
To conclude, this country needs me and you. All of us are important to its development and we all have a role to play. Let us keep peace and ensure that we create a good environment for all of us to prosper.
(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)