Church must hold political leaders accountable
Does truth matter anymore in Kenya? In the country’s political conversation, it appears as if, cheered on by the church, politicians can say anything, anywhere, anytime. Too often, churchmen provide the setting from which politicians will make false claims and attack their enemies, all punctuated with “amens” and “bwana asifiwe”.
Last week, Government departments took the cue. Pictures circulated by a State department, for which it later apologised even if the apology was not convincing, did not reflect the Kenyan reality. Images of bloody and violent scenes framed to be of recent violence in Kenya turned out to be either file pictures or even pictures from outside the country.
There should have been consequences for such a Government body to lie to the public. The government should have held its officers to account. Instead, they simply moved on, and nobody bore responsibility for lying to the public. Most countries have set boundaries that politicians may not cross, and if they do, it would mark the end of their political career. Acts must have consequences. Not so in Kenya. In most countries, you cannot lie about your qualifications; you may not make false claims or even make promises you know you will not fulfil or are invalid.
Everything you say, you have to ensure it checks out. The media and other fact-checkers would go through a public official’s records with a tooth comb to ensure the politician can be trusted. That has restrained some politicians; many have tried to walk the edge of the permissible. In its watchdog role, the media documents politicians’ claims during their campaigns and checks whether they fulfil them once in office.
But in our case, there is no relationship between what politicians promise and what they implement when in office. It is not hard to find out why this is so. Politicians lie and demonstrate a lack of etiquette but are cheered on by an adoring crowd that puts the demagogue in office so long as s/he can pay or comes from the right community. The result is that politicians have come to conclude that there is no consequence for lying. Holding office does not come with any moral responsibility. It is all about who can manipulate a gullible crowd. If the church can aid the process, all the more, the better.
The religious order has long been the custodian of morality. These spiritual leaders subscribe to a higher order of authority. God, the supreme being, demands more of His creation and has standards to which creation is supposed to measure.
It has been said that in a democracy, people get the leaders they deserve. People vote for those who look like them and hold their values. How did all our collective values so degenerate that it is hard to find a critical mass to hold leaders to account?
Politicians seem to believe in the public’s gullibility, that the public would believe anything as long as a politician utters it. It has bred the class of spin doctors, specialists in recreating reality. The worst in this category are the young politicians gracing TV screens daily with the simple assignment of creating a new reality. If anybody needs to be called to order, then these young politicians fit the bill because they are set to redefine our values for a long time.
The general bad behaviour of politicians aside, there is no shortage of how this conduct is rewarded. The first is the titles ascribed to these positions, the second is the veneration directed at these leaders, and the third is that there is no mechanism for holding the leaders to account. If there is an area where it should be easy to hold politicians to account, it should be based on what they say. The religious community may lead in demanding that a truth standard be a minimum requirement.
—The writer is the Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University