By American and Kenyan standards, Canadian elections are dull. Unlike our politicians who thrive on incendiary rhetoric, propaganda, verbal missiles, obscene spending, outrageous accusations and counter-accusations during electioneering; their Canadian counterparts are considered too careful and restrained.
There are no music, dance and sikuti dancers during elections. Political campaigns consist of telephone and personal canvassing by candidates and their campaign agents, town-hall meetings, fund-raising events, door-to-door greeting of voters and a few public meetings where if a few hundred people attend at once, the meetings are deemed “successful.”
Very few Canadian politicians hurl epithets at their opponents. If that were to occur, like it did when former (interim) Prime Minister, Kim Campbell made fun of Jean Chretien’s physical disability during a televised leadership debate, the press and voters often ruthlessly flog and crucify the offender. In Kim Campbell’s case, her offence ruined both her and the Progressive Conservative party which she led in the 1994 election. It took the PCs about 20 years to fully recover.
More than 30 years ago, the mercurial Pierre Trudeau, then Prime Minister, unleashed the security forces on his own citizens during the FLQ sectarian rebellion. The FLQ had actually trained battalions of young men, armed themselves to the teeth, fortified their bases and declared Quebec independent of Canada.
(Comparing the FLQ with the Mombasa Republican Council is tempting but wouldn’t be quite apt because when they were disrupted, the MRC hadn’t reached the sophistication and reach of the FLQ. Also, while the FLQ was heavily armed, the MRC was largely an amorphous group of secessionist rhetoricians).
But not all Canadian politicians are cultured prudes. Few can match the spectacularly outrageous, pot-smoking and alcoholic Toronto mayor, Rob Ford. With the possible exception of former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, you can’t get them worse than Ford. He is feisty, vulgar, racist and chauvinistic.
But the embarrassing Ford is clearly an exception. Moreover, Canadian municipal politics isn’t clearly aligned with party politics. By law, mayors cannot be aligned to federal or provincial parties. (Maybe we should think of doing the same for County Governors. It might guarantee more national stability, less partisan political jockeying within parties and less external interference!)
Significantly, Canadian politicians would not dare publicly accuse his fellow leaders – even if a bitter rival – of treason, sabotage, or of being unpatriotic unless he or she had more than iron-clad evidence against the opponent. In which case, the Canadian politician would rarely comment, anyway.
Generally speaking, on-going police investigations, active prosecutions or sensitive intelligence briefs are considered no-go-zones for politicians because the independent law-enforcement agents routinely arrest, charge and prosecute the accused criminals without urging or pressure from politicians. In fact, politicians are frequently investigated and successful prosecuted, and if found guilty they are usually receive stiff sentences apart from public humiliation that follow such prosecutions.
Once charged, the accused is accorded due process of the law, including his or her right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond any reasonable doubt after a fair trial by an independent and impartial court of competent jurisdiction. It isn’t, therefore, surprising that Canada is one of the safest countries in the world. Its systems tend to work. Its politicians tend to stay moderate, modest and tempered in their utterances and behaviour. Its citizens are considered socially conscious.
In 2001 when President Bush declared that you were either with America or with the terrorists, the then Canadian Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, refused to support the Iraqi invasion. Chretien demanded a resolution by the United Nations before he could expose Canadians a senseless war that had no purpose and little chance of success.
That’s partly why the Ontario elections came and went barely a week ago without any media reports in Kenya. Apart from sharp policy differences and contests about their divergent visions, the Ontario leaders stayed within the realm of decorum. In the end, the Ontario Liberal Party leader, Kathleen Wynne trounced Tory leader Tim Hudak and NDP’s Andrea Horwath after gruelling one-month campaigns.
But despite the sharp differences and the fierce competition between the three Ontario leaders, none of them hurled abuse or threats against each other. Which is why I am extremely concerned with President Uhuru Kenyatta’s televised address to Kenyans on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 when he dismissed Al-Shabaab’s claim of responsibility for the twin terrorist attacks in Lamu that killed more than 60 innocent Kenyans and injured dozens more a few days earlier.
Not only has the President publicly exonerated the Al-Shabaab, he has gone further and alleged that “the attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community.” That’s dangerous slippery slope for the President. Politicizing terrorist attacks, stoking ethnic divisions and rivalries in an ethnically diverse country like Kenya isn’t healthy. It emboldens terrorists and further endangers the innocent.
Accusing Mr. Odinga of engaging in terrorist activities and implying that his fellow Luos have attacked members of the Kikuyu community excites and incites dangerous passions. Some of the President’s ‘advisers’ have even irresponsibly claimed that Cord and Mr. Odinga have ‘rented’ the MRC and are using them to carry out terrorist attacks in order to precipitate a regime change. You can’t get loonier than that!
The President certainly has access to intelligence briefs that most of us don’t. It’s also conceded that Cord and Mr. Odinga have acted irresponsibly by constantly and needlessly attacking and antagonising the President and his Jubilee alliance. But that’s the price we must pay for living in a democracy. If anyone has broken any law, they should be charged and prosecuted; not accused vaguely with members of his ethnic group. There is no guilt by association.
Mr. Kenyatta is the President of all Kenyans – Luos, Kikuyus, Mr. Odinga and his supporters included. More significantly, Mr. Kenyatta has a duty to protect and preserve the security of all citizens of Kenya – not just that of his community or supporters. Unfortunately, his statement implied otherwise.
The President’s speech wasn’t inadvertent. It was planned for, deliberately crafted and read live on TV. It was clearly intended to reach millions of people and send a chilling message to Mr. Odinga and Cord. But it was also irresponsibly targeted at Luos merely on account of being Luos. The unmistakable message was that Mr. Kenyatta will not sit by and watch members of his community butchered by Mr. Odinga’s bandits, which is what Luos are now being called by cyber terrorists.
And that is how the message was largely understood by both Kikuyus and Luos. That’s reprehensible. A message like that shouldn’t cross the minds of those writing the President’s speech. It certainly shouldn’t have been read by the President. It cannot be good for the stability and security of this country.
It is not wise for a president – any president – to publicly or privately utter such threats. The message was divisive. A president’s mandate and responsibility is to unite the country; not inflame jingoistic tendencies.
Regrettably, some of the President’s supporters might take the law into their own hands and attack innocent civilians perceived to be Mr. Odinga’s supporters. Similarly, some of Mr. Odinga’s supporters may attack members of the President’s community under the pretext of self-defence. It happened in 2008. It can happen again. Either way, the violence would be unjustified.
The President should know that because of his senseless and provocative speech, many Luos are now openly wondering whether the increase in terrorism in the country isn’t staged to portray the country as fragile and teetering on the brink of civil war so that those charged at the ICC can use the resulting conflagration as a defence ploy there.
Many are equally asking why the President hasn’t constituted a judicial inquiry as he had promised on the Westgate attack. Could that also have been staged; many wonder. Others believe – wrongly or rightly - that the President is desperately concocting diversionary excuses to ban Raila’s Saba Saba rallies. Is it political insecurity?
The senseless beating of war drums by both sides, the knee-jerk dismissal of terrorist attacks which Al Shabaab has openly claimed responsibility for, the antagonising of one ethnic group against the other, and the unacceptable scapegoating of Luos shouldn’t be tolerated by peace-loving Kenyans.
I supported Mr. Kenyatta during the 2013 elections. I believed that he would be better than Raila in managing the affairs of this country. However, when the President I have fully supported turns his guns against me for no justified reason other than on account of my ethnicity, I, like a self-respecting person, will stand up and oppose him. I will oppose him when he is wrong and misguided. I will only support him when he is right and performing his duties in good faith, constitutionally and for the wellbeing of all Kenyans.
We cannot allow anybody no matter how powerful he may be, to try and manipulate our emotions, our ethnic fears and perceived rivalries. Kenyan communities have lived with each other and accepted their cultural differences for decades.
Yes, Mr. Odinga’s current activities are irresponsible, provocative and counter-productive; however, he hasn’t done anything so far that is illegal. If the President is privy to information implicating him to acts of terrorism, then he should let the country’s relevant authorities deal with Mr. Odinga in accordance with the law.
I advise the President to emulate the Canadian leaders and govern. He must not fall into Mr. Odinga’s traps. The President must refrain from issuing irresponsible threats. It’s neither presidential nor statesmanlike. We aren’t able any more to distinguish from the rubble-rousing Mr. Odinga and the President.
But if Mr. Kenyatta continues on the route he has chosen, he will soon have to confront the reality that there are tens of millions of Kenyans like me ready to tell him off – publicly.