By Immanuel Lokwei,
As a victim of ethnic violence, I harbor deep fears grounded in ethnic insecurity. Such fears not only shape what I see, but they also tend to reinforce and amplify any slight and perhaps even irrelevant features of the outside social world that seem to confirm these fears. For instance, if a group of Kenyans come together for, let’s say a political cause, their ethnic identities are among the first salient features that my eyes pick out. The irony of such perception, regardless of whether the group is comprised of individuals from one or different tribes, is that whatever way I perceive them, my fears are confirmed nonetheless.
I place anything, any union for instance the current union of presidential candidates Uhuru-Ruto-Mudavadi alliance and the Raila-Kalonzo pact, in an ethnic context and the obvious inferences are drawn: that these social and political stratagems are ethnically motivated.
So an arbitrary case, at least as far as ethnic identities are concerned, of a conglomeration of individuals is no different from any other ethnically inspired union. Whether this fixed mental condition of interpreting social phenomena is irrational or not is not the point. The point is that as victims of ethnic violence, we cannot see the world but as victims of violence.
To have media, such as newspapers and radio, transmit information especially while adhering to ethical codes of journalism does us no good. As much as these media hope and are morally appraised to be credible and lauded for taking no sides in the social and political landscape, the abundant and unfiltered information they provide us does us more harm than good, for we are picky observers and listeners, and we cannot avoid exciting our fears. This brings us to the big question: Shouldn’t the media at least be guardians of dreams we hope to realize as an emerging, young and overwrought nation, as recapitulating victims of violence? Shouldn’t the media, to elaborate the big question, guide our perceptions, and provide us with less harmful information than what reincarnates the ghost of our traumas? I mean, since we are recent victims of violence and since our wounds are yet to fully heal, shouldn’t the media responsibly (mark you I don’t mean credibly) and deliberately censor and shape the information that we get so that what gets to the majority of us heals rather than opens old wounds?
We need re-constructive journalism. And regardless of how you see it, re-constructive journalism is actually selective and paternal and leaning towards a particular ideology. It downplays social factors that threaten attainment of this goal. To be unbiased and to present situations as they truly are is not an option for us. We must take sides and only then can we know who our real enemies are.
I believe even the right to have the right information must occasionally be suspended for the greater good. If the healing of our nation is our dream omelet, there’s no shame in breaking a few eggs (or rights as you call them) until we are fully healed and have matured enough to interpret issues surrounding us from more than one point of view.
What’s the point of reporting every ethnically charged incident (or incidents that might be interpreted as ethnically caused) when this ends up, as our history bluntly shows, aggravating ethnic sentiments across the country? Though it is favorable, from an economic point of view, for Kenyan media channels to report sensitive incidences about ethnic disparity since the sensitivity and volatility of these issues attract huge commentary and following, this trend of reporting has to stop. Its long term effects clearly outweigh the short term effects enjoyed by this media. This kind of reporting fans the fires of ethnic mistrust. There is already an underlying need in every Kenyan to realize the bigger objective of national security and cohesion. So the issue of readership and economic progress of these media channels will be taken care of once this inherent want of Kenyan is realized. The media only needs to tap into this desire, cultivate it, and the rewards will be abundant.
A friend suggested in a different though relevant conversation about race and racial tensions that we must ignore our tendency to over-focus on race dynamics because this reinforces the tendency and we sometimes end up seeing isolated cases that had nothing to do with race privilege, but that followed an arbitrary protocol of conduct, as racial. Well that’s debatable. But I do see her point with respect to ethnic relations in Kenya.
The media should not just hype every happenstance. They should challenge and ridicule the tendency to read things as ethnically inspired. They should be at the forefront pushing forward the ideology of Kenyan nationalism and healing. And this means that they should be very concerned with the information they distribute to us especially at this time when the election bomb is ticking away. If they have to, why shouldn’t they deliberately shape our perceptions until we’ve starved our fears to death? We can temporarily deny ourselves this right to not be manipulated/guided at least within the scope of ethnicities for the sake of a stronger value. The love for a healthy, healed and wholesome Kenya must override everything.