Dr. William Ruto has been declared the President-Elect of Kenya after an unseemly bit of fracas at the dais and a strange statement by a section of commissioners claiming “opacity” of the tallying. The Azimio party led by Rt. Hon Raila Odinga has walked out of the tallying center saying that the elaborate tallying process has been opaque. The overarching feeling amongst Kenyans and other observers at this point is déjà vu, exhaustion, and frustration with the machinations of our elite. How on earth did we get here (again)?
The election, like most public projects in Kenya, was very expensive, costing approximately US $384.5 million, slightly over US $ 17 per voter. In comparison, Rwanda (which has one of the most cost-effective electoral processes in Africa) has an election that costs approximately US $ 1 per voter. In Kenya, we tend to measure the quality of products and processes by the costs attached to them; financial accountability has never been our strong suit. But that’s a story for another day.
In the lead up to this election, Kenyans were inundated with ‘peace’ messages on social media, billboards and mainstream media imploring us to vote in peace. This must have been done to satisfy the “international community” because the truth is that we never have any problem with casting our ballots peacefully on polling day. The average Kenyan has a deep reverence for his or her democratic ‘voice’ that belies the number of instances where it has been cruelly trampled upon. But for one who knows Kenyan society and our penchant for impatience, the orderliness with which we vote cannot be taken for granted. On the part of the state, we are well aware of the presence of international media and are on guard, not necessarily for the safety of our people but to avoid any travel advisories that may result in western tourists thinking that it may not be safe to visit ‘magical Kenya’. We may have successfully pulled off the illusion of maturity if it wasn’t for the unprecedented delay in the official declaration of a winner of this election. This has been occasioned by the effort made by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to have a transparent process. This has necessitated uploading returns on a publicly accessible platform, then verifying the same physically at the national tallying center. This rather cumbersome procedure has been adopted to seal the legal loopholes that led to a repeat of the 2017 polls after the initial results were declared null and void.
The waiting period has revealed all our social and intellectual struggles in sharp relief with a bewildering flood of “victories” declared on social media by hired bloggers, activists, and individuals in support of various candidates. Our mainstream media contributed robustly to the mess by claiming to hire ‘data analysts’ and drip feeding ‘provisional results’ to their TV screens. This is not surprising given that Kenyan politicians have significant investments in the media sector. The resultant outlets, therefore, became visible by providing data flow while feeding their audience with subliminal biases posing as neutrality.
Indeed, nature abhors a vacuum, even where information is concerned. In the absence of any official figures, however rudimentary from the official sources, these spurious data feeds became the only sources of pain or succor for Kenyans craving to know the outcomes of the polls. We have therefore ended up in a bizarre situation where desperate Kenyans were surfing channels looking for the one whose news feed suggested the kind of outcomes they hoped for. The stations themselves realized that they had captive audiences and crassly exploited the situation to increase viewership while monitoring social media chatter.
The flood of misinformation over the last few days reached an extent where people neglected jobs, businesses and families, basically, to gorge on noise. Strangely though, the close observer will notice that this heartbreaking and crippling anxiety wasn’t been based on any expected governance outcomes of either victory, but hubris and various prejudices, including full-blooded ethnic and personal animosities. People expressing very real anxieties over whether their preferred candidate will win faced vitriolic attacks and accusations ranging from ‘giving up the fight’ to ‘selling out to the enemy’. From these exchanges, one would have thought that the campaigns were still ongoing rather than a thing of the past. The prejudices on display were so visceral, that nobody seemed to appreciate that whatever they said or did at that point had no bearing whatsoever on the final outcome of the tallying.
I alluded to the reason for this general anxiety in my earlier analysis– we have conducted an election without any of the usual ‘waves’ that swept us along in the past. Secondly, Kenyans didn’t seem psychologically prepared to deal with this ‘strange spectacle’ of a presidential election outcome being determined by the counting of votes. The consternation of contestants and their supporters has been such that we have been treated to unseemly scenes of verbal exchanges, physical altercations, and pilferage of election materials by elected politicians and party apparatchiks in the tallying hall. To the outside observer, this level of cognitive dissonance at a societal level may be difficult to fathom without reference to Kenya’s electoral history. The truth about us is that our polls have been so regularly fraught with malpractices and manipulation that we have come to accept that as the norm. We have very firm electoral laws in place, but the enforcement that would guarantee adherence has been absent. In this particular electoral cycle, we’ve seen supporters of the side supported by the president (including senior elected leaders) for months being quoted as claiming to have the ‘system’ on their side, thereby guaranteeing victory. It indeed formed a strange tableau to see a contest where some competitors saw real or perceived weaknesses in the governance framework as a source of encouragement. This provides a snapshot of the governance struggles we have as a nation. The weakness of our institutions is only regarded as a problem by those who aren’t immediate beneficiaries thereof, resulting in a clamour for inclusion, rather than change.
Regardless of the final result, the 2022 election will be remembered as a demonstration of the psychological damage done to us by decades of cruel, dishonest rule at different levels of government. The insidious mind games we have played over the last few days have removed the vestiges of decency that we wear so well as a country. We have witnessed the whole spectrum from false declarations, religious and ethnic chauvinism, intra-tribal fascism, and even a false ‘victory celebration’ by one of the sides. The fact remains that in a Presidential contest, there can only be one winner. Many African countries have been known to shut down social media during elections, a move that looks (and is) unnecessarily draconian, but our behaviour in the past five days has illuminated the thinking that advises such actions.
Any noise made by either side after the conclusion of voting cannot be classified as stumping or mobilization of support, because the die was already cast on August 9th 2022. There cannot be any other demonstrable purpose for these words and actions, other than increasing the degree of difficulty your supporters will face in accepting a result that doesn’t go your way. The grief of the losing side will now be amplified and their coping mechanisms sorely tested by the trauma they face. By all estimates, this is cruel, dishonest, and unnecessary, but such is the depth of the moral slumber of our elites.
May Kenya wake to a brighter day under a new President and administration.