The 2022 election campaigns, just like in 2002 and 2013, will be based on normalised spin-doctoring and horserace journalism. This time, I can predict that the nebulous ‘deep state’, ‘dynasties’, ‘hustler nation’ and ‘the system’ narratives, which I hereafter call political propaganda, will dominate these campaigns. Ethnopolitics and attendant narratives, which featured in 2007 and 2017, will take a break and resurface in 2027 when the then incumbent president will be contesting elections.
Since history is not human to lie nor a son of man to regret, I will use the historical case study of Najib Balala and Shariff Nassir to explain the power of political rhetoric. In 2002, Balala defeated Nassir as Mvita MP, a position Nassir had held for close to 24 years. Nassir, known for ‘Wapende wasipende’ (like it or not) slogan, had for long inebriated Mvita constituents with the tagline ‘Nina siri’ (I have the secret), or “Ni Naisiri” (It’s Nassir) when said in Kiswahili. The slogan was shrewdly rhymed with the name Nassir.
However, the political heavens were aware of his strength. They designed a perfect match in Najib Balala who would trounce this slogan in 2002 by crafting out of his name “Si Nasiri, ni Najibu” (Not Nassir, it’s Najib). Spoken, it also sounded “Sina siri, nina jibu” (I have no secret, I have the answer). This slogan had all that Balala needed to overthrow Nassir as Mvita MP and coastal region kingpin. Political slogans are still seated above all other influencers in political heavens!
Political propaganda anchors on opponent’s strongholds to pull them down. When well exploited, it can transform a political reality by purposefully persuading and influencing the emotions, attitudes, opinions and actions of voters.
Political propaganda may not be based on any meaningful reality, but is seemingly plausible and grotesquely fallacious. Nevertheless, if well used, it is useful in achieving the intended goals.
Note that the ‘Yote yawezekana’ and ‘I am unbwogable’ slogans were key in overthrowing Kanu in 2002. Fast-forward to 2013; the key slogans were ‘digital’ versus ‘analogue’. I tell you, whoever knows how to use and respond to these narratives will eat of their fruit; and whoever doesn’t, whatever remains of him will be taken away. Selah!
The 2017 Nasa ‘Mambo yabadilika’ and Jubilee’s ‘Tano tena’ did not ascend above ethnopolitics and methinks they had little impact. Whenever the incumbent is contesting elections, issues of ethnicity tend to win over political slogans.
Additionally, the 2022 campaigns will be dominated by scandalous propaganda akin to the 2013 ICC cases on UhuRuto. However, scandalous propaganda doesn’t work in politics—not in Kenya nor the envied US; it has proved to give the accused sympathy votes. This revelation is not for political communication novices. Neither is it sweet for baby boomer ‘out for hire’ spin doctors.
That said, I want to sell out my democratic thought by limiting my focus to Raila and Ruto, should both go for 2022 ballot. I’m aware that this kind of horserace journalism shrinks democratic spaces due to its methodic ghettoisation of other candidates in electoral races. But I’ve asked permission for now.
In this very column, I posited that Raila and Ruto might not be in 2022 ballot—at best, one of them must be out kinging someone else. Of course, a sensational opinion by David Murathe, backed by Francis Atwoli appears to reject this hypothesis. However, a Raila-versus-Ruto election will be the weakest contest ever in the history of this country because it’s outrightly predictable and lacklustre. After all, their political propaganda will be toned down.
Alternatives such as Governor Alfred Mutua, Senator Gideon Moi, and Governor Kivutha Kibwana and Musalia Mudavadi would be the best bets because it would mean Ruto and Raila battling proper on the ring. But I’m convinced all is not over anyway.
Meanwhile, putting Ruto and Raila against each other contains them in a political glass house where they lack latitude to throw stones. However, should the two battle it out in 2022, Raila’s communication team must pull up their socks. This is because these narratives favour Ruto—they should be smart to make it work for Raila.
Ruto’s ghosts could dominate Raila’s campaigns than Baba’s reality. Raila’s team should avoid the kind of wishy-washy political communication that we saw with Cord in 2013 and Nasa in 2017 where their political rallies concentrated more on Jubilee, Uhuru and Ruto than Cord and Nasa.
Similarly, if not thought out well, Raila’s 2022 political rallies might end up dwelling more on ‘deep state’, ‘hustler nation’, ‘system’ and ‘dynasties’; all which are weapons forged against him.
These narratives may also work against Raila if citizens think that the deep state is a ‘helping hand’ for Baba as Oburu Odinga implied. If his supporters bank their hopes on an aiding bot and fail to turn up to vote for him, they might be frustrated, again!
Dr Ndonye is a political economist of media and communication
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