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Post-truth politics a threat to Kenya’s democracy: Part I

by kenya-tribune

Since Raila Odinga jetted in from South Africa on January 23, 2022, Kenya’s politics has become dangerously radicalised.

Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja has courted ‘post-truth politics’ to shape the future of power in Kenya. The end-state of Azimio’s post-truth populism — Odinga’s eight-point agenda and a slew of rallies — is to force the government out of power or to share power. 

As a concept, ‘post-truth politics’ refers to a political culture in which public debate is framed largely by falsity and appeals to emotions and personal briefs as opposed to the policy and real facts.

It connotes the use of social media as a mouthpiece for ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ and the intentional misrepresentation of facts in the digital media with the aim to incite fear, and hatred and disparage ‘the other’. 

The year 2016 marked the actual birth of the ‘post-truth’ era. 

Word of the year 

Oxford Dictionaries declared “post-truth” as the word of the year. 

On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump — a quintessential populist, protectionist, isolationist and ultra-nationalist —was elected the 45th President of the United States, thrusting populism to the pinnacle of power. 

Arguably, the patron saint of post-truth politics is the German Philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche — infamous for his blasphemous declaration that: ‘God is dead’. “There are no facts, only interpretations”, he averred. 

Post-truth politics is not new. It is as old as the hills. 

Deceit, half-truths, misleading propaganda and brainwashing have always been the sharpest arrows in the quiver of politicians and war strategists. 

From Sun Tzu to Alexander the Great to Carl von Clausewitz to Norman Schwarzkopf, military deception has been a venerable art. 

Deceit in Greek mythologies bequeathed us the term ‘Trojan Horse’ — a hollow wooden statue of a horse in which Greek soldiers are said to have concealed themselves in order to enter and destroy the rival city of Troy—which now refers to a deceptive person or thing that is intended to undermine or overthrow an enemy or opponent.

For the first time in history, speaking falsely or uttering untruth knowingly with intent to deceive has become widespread—and even rewarding. 

George Bush Jr. justified invading Iraq by describing fictitious stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. 

Trump claimed, without proof, that President Obama was not American! And Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage admitted to using false statistics and slanderous accusations against the EU to win the Brexit vote.

In Kenya, the whistleblower—much praised for courage and tenacity—has become the bellwether of post-truth politics. An anonymous whistleblower at the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) alleged that the chairperson of the electoral agency provided fabricated results of the presidential vote to the public, with 59 per cent of results from across the country not verified. 

Based on the whistleblower’s evidence, Azimio wonks assert that Ruto was not legitimately elected in the August 9, 2022, presidential poll. 

Odinga has called for an independent agency to carry out a forensic audit of the presidential results. 

This is despite the evidence by the IEBC, observers, pundits and the Supreme Court. 

Further, Azimio claims that Odinga won the presidential vote, but his victory was stolen. 

To buttress this, Jeremiah Kioni sensationally claimed that Odinga won the poll by 8,170,353 (57.3 per cent) votes while Ruto garnered 5,915,973 (41.66 per cent). 

At a political rally held on January 23, Odinga declared that the opposition does not recognise William Ruto as President or his officials. 

Odinga called on the Ruto-led government to resign, calling it illegitimate. 

Manifestly, Azimio has courted post-truth politics to counter the Justice Aggrey Muchelule-led tribunal, which was established to probe the conduct of the four rebel electoral commissioners— Ms Juliana Cherera, Mr Francis Wanderi, Ms Irene Cherop, and Mr Justus Nyang’aya Abonyo. 

Again, Odinga is opposed to the IEBC (Amendment) Act 2022 which outlines the process guiding the formation of a selection panel that will recruit new IEBC commissioners to replace the outgoing commission. 

Dr Ruto has already signed the Bill into law, but Odinga has called on his supporters to resist what he alleges is an attempt to constitute an electoral commission that will favour Ruto’s re-election bid in 2027. 

Grip on the opposition 

As such, the new wave of post-truth politics seeks to consolidate Odinga’s grip on the opposition ahead of 2027. 

In radicalising politics, Odinga seeks to halt the trooping of his allies in Azimio to Ruto’s camp. 

Moreover, he is determined to stem the challenge from Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka, who supported Odinga during the 2013, 2017, and 2022 general elections but now readying himself to run for the presidency in 2027. 

Azimio’s post-truth populism is a ploy to force the Ruto Government to cave in to pressure to share power formally or informally. 

Since 1992, Raila has managed to share power with all the presidents before Ruto. He used a combination of mass action, and the failure of the Moi and Kibaki governments to clinch a majority of seats in Parliament, as well as divisions within Uhuru Kenyatta’s Government to secure a handshake with Ruto’s predecessors. 

He progressively increased his parliamentary numbers, making him the partner of choice to control Parliament. 

After the 1997 elections, Daniel Moi who won 107 seats out of 210, way below what he needed to avoid a hung parliament and to govern comfortably, was forced to appoint Raila into his Cabinet.

Moi went on to merge Raila’s National Development Party (NDP) with Kanu. Similarly, for all intents and purposes, the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), which dislodged Kanu in 2002, was an informal power-sharing outfit between the largely Odinga-led Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Mwai Kibaki’s National Alliance Party of Kenya (Nak). 

As such, although Narc won a comfortable majority of 125 seats compared to Kanu’s 64 seats and 21 for other minor parties, Kibaki’s failure to honour Raila’s wishes to be Prime Minister led to the party’s split, the government’s defeat in the 2005 constitutional referendum and eventually the 2008 post-election violence. 

Although Raila lost to Kibaki in the 2007 presidential poll, because he had 99 seats in Parliament, Kibaki’s weak numbers in Parliament (92 seats) forced him to share power, with Raila becoming Prime Minister. 

In August 9, 2022, William Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza Alliance secured a majority in both the National Assembly and Senate. 

Recently, it has also secured the support of the majority of Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee MPs (28), giving the government an unassailable power in Parliament. 

This time around, the odds are against power-sharing. Raila is outnumbered, out-gunned and out there! 

Prof Kagwanja is a former Government Adviser, now Chief Executive at the Africa Policy Institute (API) and Adjunct Scholar at the University of Nairobi and the National Defence University (NDU), Kenya. 

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