Politics is a game of ideas, not might. As such, politicians seeking office have a right to campaign in every part of the country without any fear or inhibition. However, a catalogue of events in the past week has been quite upsetting.
The main presidential candidates – Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga – have had to face political thuggery in a series of their campaigns in different parts of the country. President Kenyatta faced a hostile crowd in Kisumu, which openly rejected his deputy, William Ruto. Mr Odinga, the Opposition presidential candidate, was similarly rejected in Baringo, Murang’a and Thika by hostile youths. Such acts are uncouth and have no place in a modern democracy.
Predictably, the youths disrupting political rallies are organised and paid by politicians who seek to depict their opponents as rejects unwanted in certain regions of the country. But this is naiveté. First, political differences should not create enmity. Neither should they be personalised. Second, choices are made at the ballot box. If one is opposed to ideas and view of any political contestant or coalition, this should be expressed through voting, not through violence or confrontation.
Worse, violence engenders more violence. When any politician is heckled or attacked in one region, this is likely to spark similar attacks in other parts of the country. This, in turn, creates a vicious cycle with potentially grave consequences. Left unchecked, these incidents are likely to snowball into turmoil. They set the mood for electoral violence. This must not be allowed to happen.
The experience of 2007-2008 election violence taught us harsh lessons. We cannot take peace for granted. This country is sitting on a time bomb and is likely to explode at the slightest of provocation.
Political leaders must dissuade their followers against such crude and primitive actions. They must encourage civil competition and preach against violence. The police must also be vigilant and rein in those violent youths and their paymasters hell-bent on causing chaos.
We abhor the practice of balkanising the country and declaring some regions as exclusive zones of any political formation. Candidates have a right to sell their policies anywhere in Kenya and be heard without being intimidated. We must end this culture of intolerance.