- How is one to distinguish between ‘analysts’ who do have some genuine knowledge of Kenyan politics; and those who do not?
- Well, here is one test: check and see if the writer uses the phrase ‘political fact’ or maybe ‘a fact of politics’. That is a dead giveaway that the writer is still an amateur.
Thanks to the democratising effects of social media, nowadays just about anyone can put themselves forward as a ‘political analyst’.
A decade or so ago, when it was only through the mainstream media that you could proclaim yourself as such to the public, you needed to first convince the mainstream media gatekeepers that you were worthy of this title. While today, whether in print or online, you find that every other contributor is described as a political analyst.
Given this context, a question arises: how is one to distinguish between ‘analysts’ who do have some genuine knowledge of Kenyan politics; and those who do not? Well, here is one test: check and see if the writer uses the phrase ‘political fact’ or maybe ‘a fact of politics’. That is a dead giveaway that the writer is still an amateur. For there are no ‘facts’ in politics. Just fluid perceptions and myths.
In 1992 we had Kenneth Matiba and Mwai Kibaki splitting the Kikuyu vote between them. And in 2002 we had Kibaki competing against Uhuru Kenyatta. These were very curious outcomes – leading Kikuyu political figures splitting their backyard votes in this way – given that the community had faced decades of well-orchestrated marginalisation from the government of our long-serving autocrat, President Moi.
At all events, there is really no “fact” in this generalisation about Kikuyu political unity. At best, we could refer to “a widely held assumption”.
Take for example the claim that “the Kikuyu community is always united during presidential elections”. At all events, there is really no “fact” in this generalisation about Kikuyu political unity. At best, we could refer to “a widely held assumption”.
Here is another example: over the past decade or so I was occasionally invited to deliver lectures on African politics, during my travels overseas. In the course of these, I developed what seemed like a very effective answer to a question which inevitably arose from the audience: “Why is it that African voters tend to – tragically – elect leaders who are guaranteed to betray their hopes for a better life?”
My “very effective answer” was that most African nations were just two or three generations out of colonial rule. And as no European colonial government ever concerned itself unduly with providing higher education for the locals, our general population in Africa essentially consisted of uneducated voters. Proof of this was in that ballots carried electoral symbols alongside the candidate’s names – many voters simply could not read.
Voter illiteracy thus being firmly established, I then went on to say that this illiteracy made African voters easily manipulated by political candidates with a gift for highly entertaining and vulgar buffoonery. Even those who came to power through military coups – eg the murderous ‘Field Marshals’ Idi Amin (Uganda) and Mobutu Sese-seko (DRC Congo) – were famous for their utterly hilarious speeches.
My conclusion was invariably that a few generations from now when the average African voter was as well-educated as the Europeans or Americans, we could look forward to more sober leadership on the continent. Back then, nobody ever disputed this ‘fact of African politics’.
But that was then.
If I were to give any such lecture today, I doubt if this argument would work. My doubts are predicated on the kind of commentary one routinely reads in the newspapers of the UK and the USA. These nations have long achieved those high levels of general education that I used to speak of with yearning. And yet in the views of the most eminent of their political pundits, their voters are not very different from our own.
When writing about Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, such pundits seem to be utterly exasperated that the voters in their countries too, can be easily manipulated by what we have long had in Africa – political candidates with a gift for highly entertaining and vulgar buffoonery.
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