NATIONAL UNITY

President’s vernacular interviews could stoke ethnic nationalism

The President is the symbol of national unity and anything that marginally raises questions about that unity must be carefully evaluated.

In Summary

• If Uhuru continues addressing national issues on vernacular radios, then he will be setting an unacceptable precedent while violating his duty to promote unity

The president should leave behind a united country and should not exert himself too hard to influence his succession at the expense of national unity.

President Uhuru Kenyatta.
President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Image: FILE

President Uhuru Kenyatta’s decision to address national issues through Kikuyu-language radio stations is in bad taste and a desperate attempt to rally his community as his ethnic

In the interview broadcast, the head of state addressed issues ranging from the Building Bridges Initiative, corruption, his succession among other issues.

This was in the same broadcast that the country’s executive said “these people” are stealing about Sh2 billion the government every day. This shocking admission seemed to be aimed at portraying opponents of the BBI as corrupt, yet, it has always been apparent that Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration - as a whole - has struggled to fight sleaze in government.

Anti-corruption campaigners have long said about $6 billion was being lost to graft every year – a sickening amount that this nation must stop.

While everyone has the right to express themselves using all legitimate platforms, that freedom must be weighed against one’s position in society and the issues at hand. It is fine for the head of state to address some issues in his local language media, but not at a time there is growing political tensions over the BBI and his succession.

The President is the symbol of national unity and anything that marginally raises questions about that unity must be carefully evaluated.

What is it that the President needed to tell his Kikuyu community that the rest of the nation needed not understand? Why not address regional broadcasters in Kiswahili instead?

The expectation is that Kenyatta’s interview would be picked up by the national media – as we saw – but national coverage would not be able to pick up nuances and some ethnic expressions.

Vernacular radio stations that former President Daniel Moi opposed as tools of ethnic nationalism and division have emerged as powerful mass media tools, enlightening communities on local and national issues.

There are now many local language radio and television stations broadcasting to specific demographics. They are guided by the same media ethnics that the rest of the mass media adhere to.

They provide forums for political debates, entrepreneurship and cultural discourse. They have also been under pressure to reign in negative ethnic nationalism and mobilisation and challenge or hold to account callers and guests in their shows.

If Kenyatta chooses to continue addressing national issues through vernacular radios, then he will be setting an unacceptable precedent while also violating his duty to promote ethnic unity and cohesion.

The President should leave behind a united country and should not exert himself too hard to influence his succession at the expense of national unity.

Karamai is a public affairs commentator: [email protected]

President Uhuru Kenyatta.
President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Image: FILE