So I’m up in the air again, I’ve been traveling rather a lot lately, which gives ample time for thought and reflection. And today I am thinking about the elections in Kenya. I’m also thinking about my baby Sunday Live, a show I envisioned for a long time and finally got the chance to create with the amazing and dynamic team at Citizen TV four years ago.
I wanted to do something different. Sunday Live was different. We had just come out of the post election violence of 2008 and I, like many Kenyans, was traumatized. But perhaps my trauma was, well, different. As part of the media fraternity I felt a great sense of responsibility towards the country. We had urged people to take their vote seriously and exercise it.
Through civic education we taught them that our rights are important…
Well, the vote became as serious as life or death, and haki yetu became a clarion call for violating the rights of others.
I started a process of self analysis and asked myself a lot of questions about the role of the media. I asked myself about my role, my responsibility, my legacy. I embarked on my journey in studying leadership and society with the Africa Leadership Initiative, and was haunted by Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where an enlightened individual returns to his original condition to enlighten those who were left behind but as a result suffers a tragic fate at the hands of those he sought to ‘save’.
Indeed as one becomes enlightened they have a responsibility and an innate need to enlighten others, however if a society is not ready for knowledge, they will sacrifice the messenger. It has happened time and time again – the Mahatma, Martin Luther King Jr and the Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace Jesus Christ all met with this fate.
So what do you do? Do you communicate the message anyway? How do you communicate it? At this critical point in 2009 I had the opportunity to conceptualize Fist to Five for Change, a talk show focused on reconciliation, and this show taught me some serious lessons about being a change agent for the good society. The most powerful of those lessons was this…
I may believe my truth and my perspective is an absolute truth, however everyone has a truth they believe in - and to each of us that truth is absolute. In a multicultural society, that makes for many, many different ‘absolute truths’. It is only in a civil, respectful and dignified exchange of ideas that one can truly hear and understand the others’ truth and respond to it accordingly.
Sadly, in Kenya, what we have been doing is trying to see who can shout the loudest. We embrace the notion that he who shouts the loudest is the one who stands with the truth. What is the result of that? Extreme voices tend to speak out and get louder and more extreme while moderates who are calm and tempered keep silent, or are silenced. The media then picks up on extreme voices and creates the false impression that we are all extreme.
The wellbeing of the moderate majority is caught in the grips of the extreme minority – frightened and unsure of how to respond. All can be lost so easily.
Therefore even as the political mood and discourse in the country gets increasingly heated, we must strive to keep the waters calm as opposed to stoking the flame.
To illustrate this point just look at all the heat surrounding the issue of polls… And if you don’t believe in polls just gather a roomful of diverse Kenyans together and try to get them to agree on a candidate. In most instances individuals will have a varied opinions, and they are entitled to them. That is why we vote. We accept that we all have a view, as an adult citizen we are entitled to choose our leaders based on our views – the leader selected by the majority will win. So back to the roomful of Kenyans, when the debate starts on the candidates those with extreme positions will get loud, louder, and more obstinate, possibly even abusive.
The moderates will talk less and less, eventually their voices will not even be heard. If this happens to Kenya, we will all be up in the air…
And so, even as there is no doubt that Kenyans will have different views and opinions, millions in fact – that is fine. You are entitled to your truth and the ultimate decision you make based on your information and your value systems and will inform your vote at the poll. If you choose to vote at all… And that too is your prerogative.
If we seek a dignified society, we must embody that dignity and grant the same to others. Au sio?
God bless you and God bless Kenya.