Politicians aren’t immune to decorum rules

Friday, December 18th, 2020 00:00 |
Communications Authority of Kenya (CA). Photo/Courtesy

Kenyans must love salacious content. And Kenyan politicians know how to serve it raw.

The just concluded by-elections in Msambweni provided an opportunity for politicians to be at their best.

First it was the young firebrand Secretary General of the Orange Democratic Party who dished it out raw to the member of parliament for Malindi  Aisha Jumwa. The language was as invasive as it could get. 

Jumwa, as a member of the nation’s august house, is certainly a person to be granted her due respect. But the Secretary General, Edwin Sifuna, cared little for modesty.

As he tore into the member of parliament, laying her bear before the public, in language as lascivious as it can get, his audience, compromising both men and women, young and old, did not seem to get enough of it.

They cheered him on as if to ask for more. And he obliged them. The language Sifuna used would not pass the test of moral language for airing on national media.

It did not matter, the audience, going by their cheers seemed to be having the best time of their lives.  

When it came to her turn, Jumwa gave just as much as she received. Her language was not couched in any civility either and left little to the imagination. It was as if the two, Jumwa and  Sifuna, deserved each other.

None of them may have heard the advice of former United States First Lady, Michelle Obama: “When they go low, we go high”, she had said. In the Kenyan case, when they go low, then you go lower.

Why did the crowd not object to such speech? If a media house had allowed such language on air, the journalist would have been summoned to appear before the Media Council of Kenya, the Communication Authority would have sent them a show cause letter, and the Kenya Film and Classification Board have shamed them in public. 

But the crowd alone cannot be faulted. This is the stuff Kenyan public is made of and the officialdom may be out of sync with the public.  The clips from those public gatherings have been shared widely. 

The recordings passed on from one electronic platform to the next, with many likes and approving emojis.

There is only one paper in the Kenyan media mainstream that is unapologetically tabloid. Its content is salacious, but even this tabloid has limits. The average Kenyan on social media operates in an alternative universe.

Such speeches in public are not limited to Jumwa and Sifuna. It seems a standard fare shared by politicians across the board and there will be more of it as we head towards the referendum and the next general elections. 

The country has tried to legislate against such speeches to no avail. There are whole sections of the constitution and legislation dedicated to taming language of this nature.

There are even institutions set out to safeguard language and conduct in public. 

The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission is supposed to hold politicians on a short leash. 

That the public enjoys this kind of language is no reason to throw out the baby and the bathwater.

The constitution, the legislations, and the preachings from our religious houses speak better of our aspirations. 

As a nation we have to hold ourselves to these higher standards. We have, even if with hiccups, done this in the media.

We should do it with the politicians as well: hold them to the standards set out in our aspirations. 

The institutions set to keep the standards should rise to the occasion, after all they are set up with public resources to do this assignment. Politicians should be made to be afraid of consequences.   —  The writer is dean, School of Communication, Daystar University

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