Friday, March 22, 2013

Put them out of business.

Much has been said about the violence on social media over the CORD petition and the Jubilee's response. Many cite the use of tribal stereotypes to attack in the most gruesome language those who have a different opinion. Leading members of Kenya's civil society, such as the Archbishop of Nairobi, John Cardinal Njue, and the moderator of the NCCK, Canon Peter Karanja, have asked the authorities, especially the NCIC, to take stern action against those spewing messages of hate on social media sites, such as this author's facebook page.

It does not escape our minds that in 2007 and 2008 the decision of the Electoral Commission of Kenya was but the spark need to light the conflagration that had been primed for months. When Raila Odinga and his ODM cohort called for "mass action", they may not have meant rioting, looting and general mayhem, but that is what occurred. But the call for mass action, on its own, would not have had the effect that it did if the people loyal to the ODM banner had not been primed with unconfirmed rumours that Mwai Kibaki was determined to use all means, legitimate and underhanded, to steal the election from Raila Odinga or those that claimed that if Raila Odinga was elected, he would set about arresting every single prominent Kikuyu politician on trumped-up charges in retaliation for some unspecified slight from the Kikuyu community against his family's honour.

In 2007 we did not have armies of civil society types preaching peace; indeed, many of them seem to have closed shop in anticipation of a smooth transition as had happened in 2002. In 2013, we were determined to learn the proper lessons of the past. It seems we did not; how else can one explain the existence of such virulent messengers of hate on the internet as are being tracked by the NCIC and the National Police Service?

One reason why the last crisis was so devastating is because a large cohort of the youth were out of work and without viable prospects. Things have improved somewhat, but not by much. Added to the fact that many unemployed youth have access to even cheaper internet bandwidth and the problem of what to do with their idle hands remains as crucial as possible. Of course, not all the purveyors of hate online are unemployed; it is now evident that many are employed, some in very senior positions, and they all have an axe to grind in the anonymous world of the blogger or social netizen.

Whoever succeeds Mwai Kibaki has a nettle he must grapple with if he is to have a successful five years. What to do with the idle hands of an educated but unemployed, and perhaps unemployable, youth population should occupy his every waking moment. Many have scoffed at the Jubilee promise of a billion shillings in loans and grants for every county for the youth and other special interest groups. But given the modest success of youth-oriented funds and programmes in the past, this is an idea worth pursuing. It is evident that the expansion of employment and income-generating activities for the youth will not be achieved only through private sector initiatives or public sector one; it is a combined effort by all major players in Kenya that will ensure that the idle hands of our educated youth do not become the devil's workshop of this nation's enemies, whether internal or external.

To defeat the committed hatemongers online, what we require is not more prosecutions or arrests, but better ideas and stronger arguments. Clearly, the NCIC and its fellow-travellers are incapable of engaging with our nation's enemies at this level so it falls down to the likes of you and me, whether we agree with each other or not, to take on the poison keyboards with better arguments of our own. We all agree that Kenya comes first. So while you peddle your side's argument, and I peddle mine, we should at least put out of business those incapable of putting our nation first. Show them to be the liars and charlatans they are. Perhaps they will cut and run. I am a Kenyan thus I am an optimist!

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