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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Powershift: The real determinants of the outcome of this election

In his book ‘Powershift’ author Alvin Toffler states that the determinants of power can be reduced to just three – Knowledge, Wealth and Violence.

This is what he refers to as the Trinity of Power. Toffler wrote for the 21st Century and his book rings true almost to letter in the political situation in Kenya today and more particularly in this election.

With a bird’s eye view of the election, one can clearly see the trichotomous relationship between Knowledge, Wealth and Violence all of which are determinant factors in the outcome of the election – depending on what extent each is applied.

Each side of the political divide has invested well in all the three. Nasa however seems to have invested well in Knowledge, while Jubilee has the Wealth and both have the instruments of Violence. Here’s how.

When Knowledge is power

The oft used epithet – ‘knowledge is power’ or ‘scientia potentia est’ is attributed to 17th century English philosopher Sir Francis Bacon. In present day situations, the statement generally refers to how we acquire, process and disseminate information and how that information is able to get us acting in a particular way.

Political power is about how we are able to get people acting in a particular way (voting for us) to help us access state power and to enable us to direct state or other resources to certain areas deemed to benefit the same people that helped us access power (and perhaps also those who didn’t).

State power is hard to access which is why Knowledge, particularly the kind that will get people acting (voting) in a certain way, is necessary. Nasa is employing Knowledge as a form of disruption in their quest to access power.

Knowledge as a form of Disruption

In order to maintain or preserve power, an aura of state secrecy is (probably) necessary and the less the people know, the easier it is to keep them peaceful, or so it seems.

Information, the baby of Knowledge, is absolutely necessary in a democracy and the two are seen to be synchronously compatible but in the real sense they are diametrical opposites.

Information that is likely to make the government unpopular especially in an election year, if often closely guarded.

Too much information on the other hand is the stuff that topples governments particularly through undemocratic means. The Arab Spring for instance illustrates well the multilateral relationship between power and knowledge. Welcome to the age of informational disruption.

Raila Odinga and Informational disruption

There is what we all know which generally comes from what the Government considers safe for us to know, and then there is what we don’t know because the Government considers it likely to lead to its unpopularity thereby threatening its hold on power.

The general populace is therefore in a constant state of hunger to try to know what the Government is doing or is about to do. Raila Odinga has invested in telling the people what the Government doesn’t want them to know. He is exploiting the knowledge gap to his political end as has been seen in the recent past.

Raila has invested quite well in accessing information not even accessible to certain quarters in Government itself and has used it effectively to make Jubilee look bad. And he is doing it so well. Corruption talk, rigging talk, coup talks, maize importation talks, assassinations talk – name it. In the process, he has played Government like putty in his hands.

Tough Secrets

Government, at least in the Swahili conception of it, implies a deep level of concealment of information (‘Serikali’ from ‘siri kali’). Raila Odinga has understood the contemporary context of knowledge being power. He has treated us to information that would ordinarily be classified and highly privileged.

By effectively using the knowledge that he has found, Raila Odinga has generally upped the ante in this election and is basically thrown Jubilee on a constant defence often making them look at their back for what could be coming. When he spoke against Ann Waiguru in the NYS Scandal, we all wondered how he got the information which apparently the Deputy President and senior government officials seemed not to have.

In fact they came to the grand defence of Ann Waiguru castigating Raila for overstepping himself over the matter. It later turned out that Raila was right after all and when Ann Waiguru tried to link the DP’s office to the NYS scandal, Ruto joined Raila in condemning her and she eventually quit the cabinet. Raila had the last laugh.

Getting government acting

Although ordinarily Government should be impervious to the actions and sayings of the Opposition, Jubilee has found itself constantly boxed into a corner by the information that Nasa has been able to access. We still wonder how he knew the KDF are to be used to rig the election.

After several exposés by Raila we are now conditioned to believe that everything he says is the gospel truth. Riding on that level of confidence, he has he has gone ahead to state that Jubilee plans to rig the election and he has few who doubt him, even Jubilee supporters believe him.

A series of communication blunders from those responsible for information in Government has only added credence to Raila’s claims. Raila has got government acting like headless chickens every time he begins to speak. He is effectively calling the shots here! The power of Knowledge!

Wealth as power

This goes without saying. The amount of money you have generally determines how far you go politically. And this is true for every elective position not just in Kenya but around the world.

There is an Independent presidential candidate who recently told the BBC that he had so far spent about Sh. 2 million in his entire campaign. He was quick to add that it was far less than what the main parties were spending in organizing just one rally (there have been over 1,000 rallies around the country by the two main protagonists).

This election is shaping up to be the game of big boys. So far, Jubilee has broken all spending records and has outspent all the other candidates combined. Their televised advertisements were undoubtedly done by the best in that field and is the stuff that remains in your mind long after the advert is gone (including the one the President is insouciantly singing off-key).

Comparing them to the Nasa adverts leaves one feeling that Nasa could only afford the cheapest the market had to offer and pales in comparison to those of Jubilee. So far we have spent more on this campaign than ever in our history - perhaps enough to wipe out the national debt of our first two decades of Independence.

It is not hard to see where the billions are going. Jubilee campaign materials are all over - banners, posters, t-shirts, bags, flags, shukas, caps - name it, you have it. Handouts in form of cash and unga also had their place.

Aerial views of their campaign rallies are a sign of a well-funded campaign. Besides, their campaign roadshow tracks are all over, branded vehicles can be seen all over and their informercials are in every conceivable media outlet.

Hiring of Helicopters for Nasa is very expensive as none of the Nasa principals are known to own a chopper unlike Jubilee principals who have several at their disposal complete with foreign pilots. When Nasa tried to cry foul that Jubilee was spending too much, they were quickly reminded that the Opposition had supported the defeat of the Election Campaign Financing Act last year.

Jubilee was also quick to seal Nasa funding sources and promptly froze accounts associated with Civil society organizations deemed friendly to Nasa including some run by relatives of the Nasa principals. Some of Nasa financiers have been visited by the taxman asking for back taxes, the motive scarcely veiled. If Jubilee will retain power, then they constructed and paved the road to State House using the wealth of this nation.

Violence as source of power

Since time immemorial, violence has been the most reliable route to power. Man has used violence to conquer other people and to subjugate them and to preserve their hold over them. Man also uses violence or instruments of violence to also fend off the possibility of such (which explains the thriving global arms trade).

It was through Violence that we were colonized and through violence that we gained Independence. Violence however has the greatest potential for disruption of human activities and often leads to economic stagnation, suffering and death.

Now the threat of violence has been very clear on the minds of many Kenyans in this election. The narrative of violence began way back. Talk of a ‘last bullet’ and ‘blood must be shed…’ was in the lips of politicians a while back. Raila Odinga added to the problem by not condemning such talk and variously stating (and maintaining) that he would no longer go back to the people saying his vote was stolen and that he would only accept the election if it was free and fair. He has not told us who will be the judge of ‘free and fair’ and has never stated what he would do in case the election is not ‘free and fair’.

There is the talk of ‘guarding’ votes after the counting is over and also the Tallying Centre somewhere ‘in Kenya and in Kenya and in the clouds…’. The Nasa Tallying Centre seems to have only one candidate to declare, and that will not be Uhuru Kenyatta. Now what happens if the IEBC declares a different person other than the NTC? He has also stated that ‘the power of the people is greater than the people in power…’ This stance has greatly fuelled the fears of violence.

That is the fear that feeds into the Nasa strategy, not because they intend to cause violence but because they realize it is what gets people acting their way. And it has worked in that it has got people literally falling over themselves to do their bidding of only to avoid Kenya burning.

A history of violence

Raila Odinga has effectively employed violence several times before, the latest being in the ejection of the IEBC Commissioners which led to the reconstitution of Commission just seven months to the election. The threat of violence has however had one (largely unintended) consequence – it has led to economic stagnation, capital flight, travel advisories, flight cancellations, low hotel bookings, workers and businessmen leaving certain parts of the country all for the fear of violence.

On the other hand the government has not been caught pants down. It has deployed its instruments of violence – the police (and if need be the army), to ensure that any Election related upheavals are contained. In the 2007 Election, most of those who died in the ensuing PEV were actually killed by State forces and which was why former Police Commissioner Ali appeared before the ICC.

In this Election, Social Media is abuzz with pictures of armoured vehicles ready to be deployed at the slightest sign of violence. Acting Interior CS Matiangi has called for all those who have voted not to hang around the polling station and Nasa is digging in for a fight on that one saying people must guard the votes.

Kenyans fearing the repeat of 2007/8, have taken measures to ensure peace – from prayer rallies to television advertorials and informercials and even songs composed specifically for peace.

I must mention a good friend of mine Prof. Thomas Achia who organized a Peace music festival last month at the KICC dubbed ‘1000 Voices for Peace’ featuring among others choirs from Tanzania and Uganda and many from Kenya with a guest performance by Eric Wainaina and little Zawadi Kayo. Kenyans have invested in online messages through chat rooms and social media to ensure that we have a peaceful election. However, between these three groups of Kenyans, it remains to be seen who will outdo the other.

My take is that the election we will either rise together as a powerful nation or sink together into the abyss of ignominy. This is the choice. This is the moment.

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