This was the week that the Jubilee Administration presented its fourth and final scorecard of its first term as a preliminary to seeking reelection.
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto used the launch of the National Government Public Information Portal in Nairobi on Monday to unveil a 12-point record of achievements that they hope will drive their reelection.
They used statistical data interspersed with narrative and spin to fight the Opposition narrative that Jubilee Party has in barely 48 months saddled Kenyans with the biggest national debt in their history, the worst runaway corruption and other superlatives of negativity.
But ODM leader and National Super Alliance luminary Raila Odinga promptly spat at the national government’s figures, dismissing them all out of hand.
While all this contention was going on, inside NASA itself, the four principals – Raila, Wiper’s Kalonzo Musyoka, ANC’s Musalia Mudavadi and Ford Kenya’s Mose Wetang’ula – were still locked in the three-month-long struggle to produce a presidential candidate flagbearer to run against President Uhuru at the August 8 General Election.
FALSIFYING THE TRUTH
Looking at both these scenarios unfolding in real time and all dedicated to the presidential race in Kenya’s 12th General Election, one is reminded powerfully of the phrase “post-truth politics”, the Oxford Dictionaries’ Phrase of the Year of 2016.
Wikipedia defines post-truth politics, “(also called post-factual politics) as a political culture in which debate is framed largely by appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored. Post-truth differs from traditional contesting and falsifying of truth by rendering it of ‘secondary’ importance. While this has been described as a contemporary problem, there is a possibility that it has long been a part of political life, but was less notable before the advent of the Internet. In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell cast a world in which the state changes historic records daily to fit its propaganda goals of the day.
“Political commentators have identified post-truth politics as ascendant in Russian, Chinese, American, Australian, British, Indian, Japanese and Turkish politics, as well as in other areas of debate, driven by a combination of the 24-hour news cycle, false balance in news reporting, and the increasing ubiquity of social media.”
It became the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year in the context of 2016’s Brexit referendum and US Presidential election.
On Monday, President Uhuru beseeched Kenyans, “It is going to take effort. Even a farmer must prepare the land, sow, fertilise, weed, and ultimately tend that crop. I believe we have started. I ask for patience, time, and support. We ask the people of Kenya to give us another opportunity to be able to continue on this transformational journey.”
RAILA CALLS THE PDU A SHAM
On Tuesday, Raila, alone among the NASA principals, issued a detailed nine-point rejoinder to JP’s one dozen points, huffing dismissively that the government’s own tally did not add up. He told Kenyans that the PDU launch was a sham wrapped in a bagful of lies.
Raila accused the President of “clinging to lies to seek reelection”.
He termed “a big mystery” the government’s records on the actual number of kilometres tarmacked in the last four years.
“When these highways are completed, they will be only 100km shy of Mombasa to Kisumu ( 830 ) plus Namanga to Moyale ( 970 ) plus Nairobi to Mandera ( 800 ),” he said.
“Which are the cities the highways are connecting? The existing cities, towns and most municipalities for that matter are already connected,” Raila taunted Jubilee.
On electricity connectivity, Raila said the number of households connected is “marked by the same confusion and contradictions being peddled about roads”.
“As of now, we have five wildly different numbers. The President’s figure is 2.9 million, CS Treasury says it is 3.7 million, the Energy CS says it is 5.5 million, and the Deputy Chief of Staff Nzioki Waita says 5.8 million,” he said
“Customers include business premises and institutions, not just homes,” he said.
To the Jubilee faithful, Raila’s prompt and rude response to UhuRuto’s impressive self-assessment appeared to be not so much a case of irresistible force meets immovable object as sheer bloody mindedness, the age-old Odinga versus Kenyatta epic struggle that has blighted two generations of Kenyan politics.
Many Jubilee supporters who believe UhuRuto has truly transformed the country since 2013 wondered out loud, including on social media, whether, going forward, Kenya will be run on the basis of rhetorical exchanges and a torrent of naysaying and insults from the Opposition.
At the same time the JP brigades mercilessly scorned NASA’s apparent inability to find a flagbearer to challenge Uhuru, referring to Odinga as “Ojinga”, and gleefully predicting that he would impose himself on NASA and go on to lose to Uhuru yet again.
In-between all the spin, counter-spin, propaganda and counterpropaganda, the ordinary Kenyan, who has never yet been allowed a sustained issues-based national political discourse by his and her tribal overlords, must be getting extremely confused.
But the post-truth era is really nothing new in Africa. It begun long before the end of colonialism, and incoming regimes such as Kwame Nkrumah’s in Ghana, Julius Nyerere’s in Tanzania, Jomo Kenyatta’s in Kenya, and many, many others, entered office with alternative views and histories about Africa’s historical encounters with the West, the settlers and the colonial state, that were diametrically opposed to the colonialist’s worldview.
As George Ogola has pointed out, President Donald Trump’s stunning victory over Hillary Clinton is one of the highest points of post-truth politics, whose proponents claim objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
TRUTH REGIMES REMAIN CONTESTED
Writing in The Conversation on February 27, 2017, under the headline “Africa has a long history of fake news after years of living with non-truth”, Ogola observed, “The American experience and the debates it has triggered on post-politics, post-truth, fake news and alternative facts are relevant in Africa where truth regimes remain both loose and contested.
“It is important to recognise that in Africa, the idea of a post-truth era – which by implication presupposes the existence of an era in which “truth” was self-evident – is folly”.
For as long as most Kenyans can remember, there has always been a Kenyatta and an opposing Odinga worldview, even when there was no Kenyatta or Odinga in government – for instance during much of Daniel arap Moi’s 24-year-long tenure at State House.
Whereas the political elite can afford the luxury of “post-truth” postures, being highly educated, well-travelled and worldly wise, their supporters in a highly ethnicised country, 65 per cent of whose capital city’s population lives in informal settlements and slums, have no such luxury.
Indeed, it can be argued that the participants in the Rwanda Genocide of April-May 1994 had their own “post-truth” mindset and trance that spun out of control of the educated elite. And so indeed did the combatants of Kenya’s post-election violence crisis of December 2007 to January 2008.
Things like Jubilee’s four-year first term scorecard of course ought to be eminently, tangibly and qualitatively verifiable. They are not abstract notions. Large public infrastructure, community projects, healthcare and other services cannot all be waved and wished away with the wave of a hand on the basis of so-called “emotive politics”.
JUBILEE SCORECARD NOT A CAR ACCIDENT
Adversarial politics have always been a staple of Kenyan electioneering, but as with the US Presidential campaign last year, they have rarely if ever plumbed the depths (there are those who will say the heights, and they are entirely within their rights to do so) of Raila’s savaging of the JP scorecard.
As for the seeming struggle inside NASA for a unified standard bearer, that too appears to have its own “post-truth” factors, about which more next week.
A State of the Nation address or a Presidential administration’s self-scorecard at the end of a first term is not a car accident scenario. However, both require credible witnesses, the latter for a successful insurance claim and the former for the all-important purposes of reelection, or not.
In car insurance, “third party” witnesses are essential and their credibility is key. In Presidential self-scorecards, third party witnesses come by multiple millions and they also include the electorate nationwide, or they do not. Raila’s attempt to reduce Jubilee’s four-year scorecard to a car crash at which only the drivers were present will not wash. The last four years cannot possibly boil down to the word of one driver (the President) and another (the Opposition leader).
At this rate the “post-truth” posture could yet reach the slums and the villages and be applied to actual General Election results – with consequences we cannot begin to contemplate.
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