Leaders shouldn’t abuse free speech to stoke animosity

Sunday, January 24th, 2021 18:03 |
ODM Secretary General Edwin Sifuna. Photo/PD/FILE

By Adhere Cavince

Kenya has made tremendous progress in democratic consolidation since independence. Some of the issues that many people may take for granted today, such as freedom of speech and expression; political pluralism; separation of powers among the three arms of government are products of long and painful struggles. The Constitution 2010 further expanded these gains through a devolved system of governance, aimed at localizing resources and services.

Today, Kenyans are free to express themselves on all aspects of social, economic, political and cultural organizing. The fundamental freedoms emblematic of Kenya’s democratic agility are not mere embellishment of the Constitution.  The provisions grant every Kenyan the space for to willingly participate in both local and national discourse without having to look over the shoulder. That is how our constitutional democracy has earned the envy of many foreign citizens on the continent and beyond.

Kenyans must however be alive to the dangers of misusing these constitutional safeguards to perpetuate objectives and ideologies that fly in the face of our national aspirations. Abusing the freedom of expression to stoke animosity, fear, violence and ethnic antagonism can be costly. Our country is replete with many past instances where the tongue became the chief instigator of strife and anarchy.

The tragic events following the 2007 general elections were partly premeditated on vials of ethnic hatred and uncivilized talk pitting political and ethnic groupings against each other. The pattern of exciting and finally inciting the masses is an old playbook that politicians turn to in their perilous search for clout and relevance.

Today, we see similar antics being employed by political figures ahead of the next general elections. Unsavory language and clear lack of decorum is manifesting in the ongoing political campaigns. Abusing the President might look cool for media optics but it undermines the spirit to weave together a country that is cohesive and united.

It is increasingly clear that the Deputy President is on an ideological collision path with the President. The government is structurally held captive by divisive camps that are unable to pull together in the same direction. If it is untenable for the Deputy to continue pursuing the goal of government, the honourable thing to do is to resign, instead of using a retinue of proxies to muddle the prospects of service delivery to Kenyans. It is great to fall back on the constitutional provisions that guarantee such freedoms but I bet Dr. William Ruto would be hard pressed to entertain a deputy who does not subscribe to his vision.

Leadership is a responsibility and leaders should not use their privileged positions to cause anxiety among the population. Setting positive precedence is one of the hallmarks of transformative and responsive leadership.

Even before the 2022 elections, Kenyans have the Building Bridges Initiative Draft Bill that has now been cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission upon successful verification of requisite signatures. As he political rhetoric is set to increase, leaders should sell their policies in a persuasive and pragmatic way rather than resorting to deceit vitriol.  

Twitter: @Cavinceworld

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