First, let me admit that if I were a betting man I would have lost literally everything I own if I had bet on who would win the Trump versus Clinton election. Like most political pundits, I was 100 per cent sure Hillary Clinton had this in the bag; so sure of it that I did not even bother reading up on Donald Trump – not until after he won! Honestly, I just did not see the guy coming.
However, I have learnt crucial lessons. One; the race is not over until it is over. Two; you should not believe everything you read in the press. Three; the ‘margin of error’ pollsters give might look small, but it is large enough that they are right, even when they are wrong! Finally, you must never write off anyone in a political contest, however weird or crazy you think their chances are for winning.
Kenya has been down this road.
In 2013 we had the Uhuru-Ruto presidential ticket. When the duo launched their presidential bid most people laughed them out of town. How could two guys who were facing charges at the ICC actually imagine they could run for President? The sheer audacity was shocking. The international community was lost for words, to the point some have never been able to remove their foot from their mouth four years later.
The duo were outcasts; ostracised and vilified by nearly every section of polite society. They were depicted as convicts (with prison uniform and a prisoner’s ball and chain on their legs) by most leading cartoonists. They were denounced by local political pundits; including yours truly; in acres of newsprint. They were put down on every media outlet by media talking-heads, and terribly demeaned on social media. Politically they were massacred by every politician trying to make a name for themselves nationally.
And how did Uhuru and Ruto respond to this?
They were brash, hardline, and obnoxious. They called out the international community, denounced civil society, chided the coalition government leadership for selling out their lieutenants for fear of being held to account for their own 2007 acts of omission and commission, and declared Kenya a sovereign state that would not be dictated to.
Then they held political rallies … huge, chest-thumping, fire-spitting old-school political rallies that just kept on growing. This all triggered an intra-ethnic nationalism in their respective communities like had never happened before. Kikuyus and Kalenjins, traditionally extremely conservative communities politically, were on the street singing political slogans (sound familiar?).
Then they had these teams of young college kids who knew no limits to what social media could do. They created propaganda pieces, hacked whoever they could, ridiculed everyone and made graphics that literally jumped out at you. The content they created turned other docile desktop-based social media bloggers into crusaders overnight, unleashing a vicious army against the mainstream media that was demonising the UhuRuto ticket daily, that they won. They outswarmed mainstream media to a point news has never been the same again.
Not even ‘madimoni’ could stop the duo! Two guys who between them had less than 15 years’ government experience went on to defeat a dream team presidential ticket that had an incumbent Prime Minister and Vice President; and who between them had over 50 years of government experience. It was shocking.
Let me disappoint those thinking 2017 will be like the 2016 US election. We have been there and done that. Kenya does not follow trends; we set them (remember negotiated coalition governments?). Meanwhile, congratulations, President-elect Donald Trump. You learnt well.