‘On the warpath’ screams the front page headline in The Daily Nation. ‘Battle for Mt Kenya intensifies’ says The Standard. ‘DP Ruto trains his guns on Ralia’s point men’ reads a Star headline. ‘Mt Kenya is my stronghold’ Ruto was reported to have told a rally in the Central Region. Meanwhile ‘Ralia and Ruto battle for Coast’s 1.7 million votes’ reports The Standard.
Why do politicians and the press use the language of war to describe what should be a peaceful democratic election process? And does not the use of such militaristic language run the risk of stoking the metaphorical fires of political conflict and fanning them into the literal conflagration of inter-communal violence and destruction that has sadly been witnessed in Kenya before?
‘Fighting’ an Election ‘campaign’
With still nearly a year to go to polling day we read on a daily basis that Candidate A has ‘Stormed’ Candidate B’s home ‘territory’ to describe the simple legitimate election process of holding a rally. Or that Candidate C is ‘fighting’ a strong ‘campaign’ against Candidate D.
It’s a ‘campaign’ in which candidates ‘fight’ for votes, ‘allies’ are called upon for support, ‘alliances’ formed and candidate’s ‘invade’ an opponent’s ‘territory’ with an ‘army’ of supporters.
But the candidates are not Alexander the Great, Napoleon or Irwin Rommel. Their supporters are not ‘foot soldiers’. An election is not and should not be a war. Your neighbour who might vote differently to you, is not your enemy.
Talk of War
The great danger surely is that the language of war when used in an election campaign runs the risk of inciting young men with pangas and firebombs to take to the streets. We’ve been there before.
We know that the election process is not really a debate or a discussion, it’s more akin to a market place or a public offering, where the sellers (the candidates) offer their wares (policies and promises) to the buyers (the electorate).
The language of the market place may not be too edifying in the context of an election but it’s better than the language of war. Kenya’s democratic process could benefit from candidates putting forward policies rather than shouting war cries. And it behooves the media to ask candidates what they would do if elected, not what they threaten will happen if they are not.