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Media/Demonising leaders a recipe for fanning ethnic hatreds

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The Nation: Demonising leaders a recipe for fanning ethnic hatreds

Link
http://www.nationmedia.com/dailynation/nmgcontententry.asp?category_id=25&newsid=105989
Country
Kenya
Date
September 7, 2007
By
Salim Lone


THE ‘NATION’ WAS EXTREMELY courageous to splash on its front page last Saturday the bombshell Kroll Associates report.

The report indicted the regime of former President Moi with corruption on an unimaginable scale. President Kibaki received the report in 2004, but took no action on it.

So who do you think was demonised in the press the next day? Mr Moi or Mr Kibaki?

Neither. The guns, in larger numbers than usual, were turned instead on Mr Raila Odinga. Among those doing so was Prof Makau Mutua, who is a fighter for human rights but whose article on Raila contained a level of vituperation I have never seen published in Kenya.

To quote only one example: “Kenyans are suspicious of leaders with a mean and hungry look, which Mr Odinga often exhibits. [His] demeanour and style makes many Kenyans wonder to what use he would put State power.”

AS A COLUMNIST, I VALUE immensely the freedom we enjoy to express our opinions. But if you go beyond criticism and condemnation to personal demonisation, then you need to have very strong charges of terrible deeds already committed, not those which might be.

Even then, demonising a leader rather than his actions will sow ethnic hatred. In our society, leaders stand for their communities.

We have enough ethnic tensions as it is. Mr Chris Murangaru on the weekend charged that Opposition candidates were fanning such divisions in a bid to unite the country against Central Kenya in the coming election. Some in the Opposition are, for sure, guilty of this.

But let us make no mistake that ethnic tensions are primarily fanned by actions. In the 2002 elections, Kenyans had no problem with both presidential candidates being Kikuyu. But it was the subsequent perception of President Kibaki as directing national wealth disproportionately towards his own that created deep divisions.

That perception, and a draft constitution which gave up Bomas’ promise of devolution in favour of a presidency vested with enormous power, saw seven of our eight provinces unite against the Government in the 2005 referendum. President Kibaki and his team have not done nearly enough in the last two years to firmly dispel those suspicions.

But Mr Kibaki does recognise these suspicions, which is why, to this date, he has been unable to decide in which party he will run for the presidency. He is looking for a vehicle which will not be identified with Central Kenya, which both Narc-Kenya and the Democratic Party are.

President Kibaki stands for the “safe hands” of the status quo, as evinced by the dramatic pledge of support for him by Mr Moi and Mr Nicholas Biwott.

Mr Odinga, on the other hand, is the one leader with the charisma and the popular support to reform our system and put paid to that very status quo. He is therefore demonised by a system which has served the elite bountifully for 45 years.

As all the polls now show, Raila’s commitment to changing this has helped him develop a huge national following despite his demonisation. The popular perception among the elite and the foreign missions that Mr Kibaki has already sealed his re-election has been further eroded by ODM’s masterful handling last Saturday of what is Kenya’s first-ever open “primary” for a party presidential nomination.

In a television debate on Wednesday night, ODM leaders Musalia Mudavadi, William Ruto, Najib Balala and Joe Nyaga showed they were an articulate and very savvy lot with national impact.

THIS ELECTION IS ABOUT CHANGE and the status quo. More and more people are looking for policies like those espoused by Raila and ODM, policies designed to yield economic growth, inevitably benefiting the elite but uplifting the poor also.

A candidate’s position can be assessed by the company he keeps. President Kibaki’s fundraiser is planning a million shillings a plate from 1,000 supporters; Raila’s dinner cost Sh6,500 a plate.

None of this is to say that there are no bad guys or thieves in ODM. In fact, in a political critique delivered on Tuesday to the staff at the American Embassy’s lecture series, ODM Secretary-General Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o brilliantly spelled out how progressive coalitions had repeatedly been hijacked by the right under all three authoritarian presidents.

That certainly could happen to ODM.

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