Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Drums of hate: You reap what you sow

 Gatundu MP Moses Kuria was on Tuesday apprehended after the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Keriako Tobiko, ordered for his immediate prosecution over incitement remarks that he allegedly made in July, this year.
The Gatundu South MP was caught on camera ordering his constituents to “cut those opposing National Youth Service programs with pangas.” The MP who was speaking in his native language, however, claimed that he was misquoted and that the video had been edited to victimise him. Hate speech is on the rise in Kenya, reflecting deepening animosity based on ethnic identities. A number of politicians and other public figures have either been charged with or are being investigated for propagating hate. Social media is awash with virulent commentary. Clearly, the country has not learnt any lessons from the post-election violence of 2007/8.

In Kenya, the recent and past utterances termed by many - including Chief Justice Willy Mutunga - as hate speech, have raised worrying questions. Hate speech triggers, as it should, anxiety and uneasiness in the mind of a peace loving person. Concern springs from the awareness of the destructive potential of such irresponsible and reckless speech. 

In the Kenyan context, it is worrying to see the frequency with which such ‘speeches’ have been used in recent political rallies. Even more worrying is that those involved in making inflammatory speeches are people in positions of leadership – lawmakers - those expected to lead in respecting the rule of law. Like any citizen of Kenya, lawmakers also have a duty to respect the rule of law and promote only that which serves the common good. 

Any expression that promotes enmity and hatred among people violates the duty accompanying the right to freedom of expression enshrined in the Kenyan constitution. According to the constitution, Article 33, (1) “Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes; (a) freedom to seek, receive or impart information or ideas; (b) freedom of artistic creativity; and (c) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.” While those alleged to have made statements bordering on hate speech have the right to enjoy freedom of expression, they also need to recognize that the right to freedom of expression does not encourage any expressions likely to promote hatred, hate, violence, conflict, and disunity, including: (a) propaganda for war; (b) incitement to violence; (c) hate speech; or (d) advocacy of hatred that (i) constitutes ethnic incitement, vilification of others or incitement to cause harm; or (ii) is based on any ground of discrimination specified or contemplated in Article 27 (4)”. 

The rights and reputations of others should be respected by all persons in their exercise of the right to freedom of expression. In fact, these expectations are enshrined in the Leadership and Integrity Act 19 of 2012, which states that all state officers shall respect the values, principles and requirements of the constitution; including national values and principles, rights and fundamental freedoms, the responsibilities of leadership, the principles governing the conduct of State officers, ethical requirements in accordance with the constitution, and, in the case of county governments, the objectives of devolution. 


One way to understand the logic behind the need for all people, at least in the context of Kenya, to respect the limits of the right to freedom of expression is the principle of ‘sowing and reaping’, as recorded in in the bible in 2 Cor 9: 6-7. The metaphorical idea is that whatever you sow in life is what you will eventually reap. If you plant a bean-seed, it is not apples or cassava you are going to reap; you will harvest beans. And so it is in social matters; if you sow love in life, you are going to receive love from those around you. If you sow hatred in life, you are most likely going to receive or experience tension or conflict in society. That is what the law of the harvest has taught humanity throughout human history. 

History has taught us over and over again that sowing hatred ultimately breeds hatred and violence. We don’t need to go beyond the East African region to see evidence of this reality. Prior to the 1994 genocide in which some 800,000 people were slaughtered within 100 days, Rwandan politicians, other leaders, official radio and print media spread propaganda and rumors that served to fuel the direct and public incitement of Hutus against Tutsis. In our own country Kenya, the Kriegler and Waki Reports of 2009 document how hate speech and ethnic sentiments were disseminated at political rallies prior to the 2007/8 post election violence, through short messages and internet blogs. This incitement by politicians and other leaders fuelled violence that claimed the lives of over 1300 people. Thus, hate speech has the potential to incite ethnic violence. 


The worry shared by many Kenyans originates from their sense of fire in the ‘speeches’. This is what Dr. Mutunga referred to when he said that “the drums of possible violence are being beaten.” The beating of such drums seems to be gaining momentum in political forums taking place across the country. This situation calls for all peace-and justice-loving Kenyans to stand for what is right. The sign of the times in Kenya seem to call for men and women of integrity to do what’s right. This is the moment for men and women of character to stand up, especially now when the enemies of peace are beginning to lead the parade to beat drums of violence; when the enemies of peace are beginning to collect logs and sticks for fire. Nowhere more than in Kenya can this fire explode like a bombshell, given that country’s ethnically polarized situation. Inflammatory and irresponsible speeches such as those witnessed so far have the potential to catalyze violence. What hate speech does is stoke ethnic animosity and divisions, by placing a particular ethnic group or cultural practice or belief over other ethnic groups. 


Both those persons making inflammatory speeches, and the thousands of Kenyans standing in front of these irresponsible individuals, reflect not only a misuse of public power but moral decay in Kenyan society. Such is the message transmitted by the image of Kenyans standing before and clapping at hate mongers, as they happily plant in their minds seeds of violence. Even more saddening is the silence of many prominent personalities who are supposed to defend what is right. This status quo leaves one to wonder which part of the political structure of our society is still sound, from the top of our heads to the toes of our feet? Methinks that what we are witnessing is a red flag. Moments of this nature must prick the moral conscience of the Kenyan community. Moments of this kind should foster a collective search for guidance by nothing else but the moral principles enshrined in the constitution. Cheering the ‘messengers’ of hatred, and the almost non-existent application of the rule of law, demonstrates the extent to which the nation has suffered from a lack of social and political morality. Respecting the rule of law really means applying those ethical principles enshrined in the constitution to the practical affairs of the life of the nation. The current challenge of tribal enmity in Kenya calls for collective commitment to a new vision, that requires the whole nation to go beyond tribal identities that seek to divide the nation. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” These dark moments in Kenya’s history call for men and women who understand that hate cannot drive out hate - only love can do that. It is sad to see that power held in political and ethnic affiliations seems to triumph over what is right. Our freedom from the current bondage lies in a collective search for a genuine revolution of values. This means our loyalty must be founded on what matters to mankind as a whole. We need a true nationwide revolution of values aimed at liberating the country from hatred. Liberating utterances are those ‘seasoned’ with the ‘salt’ of love and charity. The future of Kenya depends on the number of men and women willing to stand up, having put on the breastplate of truth, love and righteousness. 

But who should stand up? There is no doubt that for many people it is the political class. And what happens when political leaders are themselves complicit, or cited as being at the forefront of spreading inflammatory speeches, who then should stand up? Here comes the role of civil society and religious leaders. Theirs is the task of forming moral consciences receptive to the demands of justice. Only then can the revolution of values generate a peace and justice loving citizenry, able and willing to build a just Kenya by their responsible conduct. That is the medicine for our societal moral decay. I conclude by saying that these moments of darkness call for men and women of character who will not compromise the truth; who will not compromise the common good with selfish ambitions. 

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