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Enough! Time media tamed violent tongues of political leaders

What happened on Saturday, May 13, in Nyandarua County during the burial of freedom fighter Mukami Kimathi was a typical case of gloom at noon.

More than 3,000 mourners poured into the home of the widow of independence hero Dedan Kimathi – who was executed by the British colonisers on February 18, 1957 and buried on an unmarked site at Kamiti Prison in Nairobi.

Among the attendants were tens of those claiming to be the surviving Mau Mau veterans, villagers, and local and national leaders led by President William Ruto and Azimio leader Raila Odinga.

Choirs were at hand to belt out dirges about life, about death, and about the hereafter.

However, some of the senior politicians present – on their own callous motion – decided to turn the solemn event into a circus. They forgot about the reason they went to Njabini, and that there was the casket containing the remains of the great grandma right in front of them.

No, the politicians created a battlefield on which they sought to square out their long and drawn differences, thereby visiting shame of local and international proportions on the mourning event. And that the function was being beamed live on our TV screens only helped add fodder to bad manners on date 13, a number some people believe is synonymous with jinxes.

And when Kenyans thought the indiscipline of the politicians went with the wind – the way of the live broadcasts – the sequel coverage by small and big media were united, literally, in celebrating the ignominy of the previous day.

For example, this is how the Sunday Nation newspaper went to town with the story: “Ruto and Raila clash at Mukami’s final farewell.”  Its online sister had headlined the story as “Ruto, Raila big clash at Mukami Kimathi funeral.”

Oh! They clashed? Didn’t they just express different views on a number of issues?  The noun “clash”, good people, conjures up images of violent confrontation. Is that what we witnessed between the two leaders in Njabini?

Anyway, let the newspaper tell the story: “President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga yesterday clashed openly during the burial of freedom fighter Mukami Kimathi at her Njabini home in Kinangop, Nyandarua County.

“The two traded barbs over the high cost of living, opposition-led demonstration[s], Kenya’s debt burden and proposed taxes in the Finance Bill 2023 in a no-holds barred slug out, with the Head of State asking to be given time to right the Jubilee administration’s wrongs.”

“I agree with Raila that the cost of living is high, the truth is you (Uhuru and Raila) made things worse … Raila, you can beat me on history, but on the economy, I understand this one. You cannot beat me,” President Ruto said.

Odinga is reported to have said of the Head of State: “I know Ruto very well. I have worked with him for a long time. So when he makes all these noises, I know he will calm down.” Ouch!

On its part, the Sunday Standard digital headlined the story as “Ruto and Raila tear into each [sic] on demos, cost of living and taxes,” and dedicated the first two paragraphs to public service announcement.

Para 1: “The state funeral of the late Field Marshal Mukami Kimathi in Njabini, Nyandarua County, on Saturday, saw President William Ruto and Raila Odinga share the podium.”

Para 2: “The two leaders who have been at loggerheads since the outcome of the August 9, 2022 presidential election results, shook hands at the event also attended by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.”

The newspaper, in the third paragraph of the story, pulled up the ante of violence among the two leaders. Here: “When the opportunity to address the mourners came, the leaders tore into each other.” What did they do, again?

Citizen Digital ran the story with the title: “Punda Amechoka! Raila Slams President Ruto at Mukami Kimathi’s burial over tax hike.” We’re told that the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition party leader “hit out at the government over the continued increase of taxes and the high cost of living in the country … The opposition leader directly took a swipe at President Ruto who was also present, calling to question the proposal to hike taxes through the Finance Bill 2023.”

These days, in a way that betrays conflict-insensitivity, there are so many phrases in the media that don’t help in cooling political temperatures in the country: Face-off, told off, blasted, fingered, rounded up, lambasted. The list goes on, and on.

Media must identify and be sensitive to reckless utterances by politicians. Expressions that spawn demagoguery and divide the public must be handled with care. We are living in times when the majority is buffeted by socio-econo-political difficulties. And that demands that journalists remind – nay, tame – leaders to sobriety through professional tinkering, sometimes editing out obnoxious and toxic-laced statements altogether.

There’s no covenant between the media and politicians that whatever the latter say must be carried verbatim.

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