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Avert Rising Threat of Ethnic Conflict

Editorial, The Nation (Nairobi), 13 May 2001

The climate of political intolerance, intransigence and violence that threatened the country's peace and stability in the early to mid-1990s is fast clouding the environment.

Already, parts of Rift Valley, North Eastern, Nyanza, Eastern and Coast provinces are embroiled in some form of ethnic skirmish that has left a number of people dead, families displaced and property destroyed.

Rather than respond to these incidents in a sober and mature manner, leaders of the affected ethnic communities have resorted to sabre-rattling. They behave as if they are unaware of the blood-letting that was visited on thousands of innocent Kenyans as a result of incitement by self-seeking leaders.

For its part, the Government's security machinery has, as was the case in the days of ethnic clashes, failed to respond to these incidents with alacrity. Policemen have visisted the scene only days after the attacks, giving the impression of partiality. Rarely are those arrested and prosecuted.

As if that is not bad enough, the political hierarchy is again warning of draconian measures to curtail free speech - moves reminiscent of the single-party dictatorship of the pre-1991 era.

True, stakes are high, especially given the confluence of the Constitution reform process, the 2002 General Election and President Moi's departure from State House. And, as usually happens, leaders, including MPs, tend to heighten their level of campaigning to fever pitch. Some will so push the boundaries of the law as to risk prosecution.

Nothing strange about all this. It has happened in the run-up to previous general elections. What disturb are the extra-legal measures the Government taking to curtail what it deems offensive utterances. We see no need for such panic measures. Rather than throw a blanket of fear onto whole communities and groups, the Government would be well advised to apply the law in a manner in keeping with with a multi-party system.

The sobriety and maturity demanded of political leaders must transcend all levels -right from village elders to the cabinet. Kenyans must never again allow the country to backslide to the deadly cocktail of dictatorial practices and ethnic strife of yesteryear.

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).