NDERITU: Like good leaders, good politicians are rare but possible

Friday November 22 2019

To change politics for the better, directly challenge ethnicist, extremist, and xenophobic narratives in your campaigns. Build a narrative on sound principles that are translatable into political commitment and action. FOTOSEARCH


What are the qualities of a good politician? What would a politician who wanted to change politics for the better do?

The world has a fairly large share of populists, xenophobes, ethnicists, and extremists, many born of or feeding from hateful political rhetoric from bad politicians.

To change politics for the better, directly challenge ethnicist, extremist, and xenophobic narratives in your campaigns. Build a narrative on sound principles that are translatable into political commitment and action.

Many divided societies lack alternative voices of leadership that are not tied to a particular narrow group, but are rather focused on promoting and valuing diversity.

Make your objective - changing politics for the better - a part of everyday practice, not just a segment of work you do for two hours in a week.

If you do this well, you will see results in people relating to each other better in public transport, in markets and, in fact, as part of their day-to-day lives.


Maybe the ethnic or religious communities you wish to serve have developed separately as identities without any contact.

In Africa, when this separation is based on skin colour, it is mostly as a consequence of colonial policies, which result in both spatial and social segregation.

However, this separation is usually not complete because in every Caucasian and Asian home, the African is always present in the ubiquitous role of an apron or uniform-clad domestic servant.

Separation of people on the basis of skin colour, ethnicity, or religion creates preferential treatment and fear, real or imagined, of each other.

Many black Africans are divided by class. Sometimes the divisions are an aftermath of violence, with people segregating themselves into separate spheres. This segregation becomes dangerous when supported by separate education, social, cultural, and employment patterns.

There can be no shared experiences or knowledge of each other’s values so long as people are in contact with only those who look like them.

Build the resilience of divided communities by promoting meaningful interaction, breaking down myths and stereotypes.

Segregation in local communities creates potentially dangerous extremist ethnic and religious identities. Local context is always significant in informing national and international narratives.

Bad politicians thriving on hate allow prejudices and stereotypes, baptised as “threats to cultural identity”, to fester. They refuse to promote mutual understanding, allowing and sometimes even encouraging extremism. They situate themselves as the protectors of the community’s identity from “others”. They ensure people live in fear of the “other” in order to maintain the conditions under which discrimination and inequities bloom.

A good politician appreciates people’s different backgrounds and circumstances, and draws up plans to create economic and educational opportunities plus equal access to resources.

He or she tackles inequalities and develops positive relationships between people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds by involving them in joint community activities.

If elected, a good politician will build or improve trust in institutions, open them up to public scrutiny, and ensure they act fairly in their treatment of people regardless of their skin colour and/or ethnic background.

He or she will address structural inequalities, ensuring that children of all ethnicities and religions mix together in schools. A good politician should harmonise or create anti-discrimination legislation in all areas that encourage differences.

When people spend time with each other they focus more on what they have in common rather than their differences. So, speak consistently about a common vision of belonging for all communities. Let people know what their shared sense of contribution to this vision is.

Consistently counter their negative views. Most research focuses on polarised societies. Unfortunately, there are not many corresponding studies on points of interaction between divided communities.

Do the opposite, providing reports on social interaction based on different parameters between groups of people such as gender, religion, ethnicity, and age. That would be a positive contribution to good politics!

Wairimu Nderitu is the author of Beyond Ethnicism. Mukami Kimathi, Mau Mau Freedom Fighter and Kenya: Bridging Ethnic Divides, [email protected]