Some time in December 2008, the then American president George W.Bush dodged a flying shoe at a news conference in the U.S. Embassy, while on a tour in Baghdad Iraq. Journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi hurled the stinking missile at Bush because he wanted to “humiliate the tyrant,” his brother told CNN. This was in the wake of the American invasion of Iraq that had left many locals dead.
Yesterday, some irate youths hurled missiles, which included shoes and stones, at the presidential dais, while the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, was on a tour of Migori County. This is a barbaric act that can only be expected to come from stone-age Neanderthals who are still living several centuries behind. But what led them to behave this way?
Surprisingly, bigger stones and even more stinky shoes continue being hurled across the political divide, on social media, since yesterday. The tribal angle the missiles on Facebook and Twitter have taken is worrying.
So what is the difference between yesterday’s Neanderthals, who hurled shoes at the president, and those who are spewing tribal vitriol on Facebook and Twitter? The slight difference is that, today’s Neanderthals are hurling their stinky shoes from their comfortable hideouts behind sophisticated phones, tablets or computers, probably using pseudonyms, while those of yesterday had the balls to do it openly, before the full glare of cameras.
This brings us to the big question: WHEN DID THE RAIN START BEATING US? The media, politicians and the pack mentality of Kenyans share the blame equally.
Starting with the media, it must be held responsible for creating perceptions that some areas of the country solely belong to some political kingpins. Just a day before the Migori incident, the Sunday Nation had a screaming headline: “UHURU TAKES POWER BATTLE TO RAILA TURF”. Yet the organizers of the president’s tour have repeatedly clarified that the tour had nothing to do with politics. Sometimes the papers use warlike headlines like “Politician A RAIDS politician B’s BACKYARD” This creates a siege mentality in the ignorant citizens on the ground. All of us know that human instincts naturally get on high alert whenever the word “RAID” or “BATTLE” are mentioned.
Secondly, politicians are openly disrespectful to each other always seizing the slightest opportunities to demean each other in public, freely hurling verbal missiles at each other. I know of a politician who has never referred to Raila Odinga by name, for the last one year, instead preferring to call him “YULE JAMAA WA VITENDAWILI” or “YULE JAMAA TULISHINDA JUZI”! Obviously, the supporters also feel demeaned whenever this happens. Ironically, while the rivalry between the political class is temporary, that of their supporters easily becomes deep rooted. Why are we then acting surprised by incidents such as the one that happened in Migori?
Finally, Kenyans have developed a very worrying pack mentality that runs along tribal lines. This trend has reached dangerous proportions in social media where the so called learned middle class is openly tribal; jealously defending their tribal kingpins even when they are obviously on the wrong. The shoe throwers of twitter and Facebook, just like most of our politicians, are quick witted ruthless and aggressive; preferring to attack personalities rather than their opinions.
The pack mentality creates a feeling of “US vs THEM” which has not spared even the best of our political commentators. The political class knowingly promote this culture since it plays to their advantage whenever they want to play the tribal card. In the social media, there is a group that feels they are in power and another that feels vanquished and closed out and not represented at the top. If I may ask again: What is the difference between the shoe hurling Neanderthals of yesterday, those hurling obscene stones on Twitter and Facebook today, and the political neanderthals who throw stinking political shoes at each other on national TV every day?