Skip to main content
February 22, 2019

Search for perfect scapegoat

I think I may have mentioned before how, back in early 2013, I had great difficulty explaining to an American journalist just how it was possible that a leader indicted by the ICC for “crimes against humanity” had been elected President of Kenya.

My explanation was much along the lines of what many Kenyans were saying at the time: That there was really no proof as yet that Uhuru Kenyatta had actually played any part in the tragic events arising from the post-election violence of 2008. That by all accounts the new President was a perfectly decent fellow, and not at all the kind of man likely to hire a famously ultra-violent gang for a revenge mission dedicated to the massacre of innocent flower farm workers in Naivasha; and so on.

I have since come to regret that I lost contact with this man, for it would now be my turn to ask a similar question: “How on earth did Donald Trump get elected President of the USA?”

For how Trump pulled off his victory remains unexplained to date, as far as I am concerned.

But we all know that for Uhuru, the path to State House involved, first, the political feat of uniting two Kenyan communities that had previously been regarded as irreconcilable political enemies. And then working day and night to get these two vote blocs – Central Kenya (mostly Kikuyu) and the Rift Valley (mostly Kalenjin) – to register as voters in unprecedented numbers. Finally, to engineer a near-perfect turnout of this massive vote.

That is all a matter of public record.

But what is more interesting is the political psychology which made this possible. This involved the totally false belief among Uhuru’s key support base that the Prime Minister, and now opposition leader, Raila Odinga, had “worked with foreigners” to deliver Uhuru and William Ruto to a foreign jurisdiction on trumped-up charges.

In short, Uhuru and Ruto found in Raila the perfect scapegoat for their problems at the ICC.

And this is one of the dirty secrets of political campaigns everywhere: That scapegoating is the fastest way to achieve social or political consensus. You need a narrative, deeply flawed and contradictory – and yet psychologically satisfying to your followers in that it gives them a convenient figure to demonise.

In this specific case, there was plenty of evidence – including live TV broadcasts of parliamentary proceedings – to prove beyond any doubt that it was the Kenyan Parliament which voted for the ICC option.

But somehow that was not considered an acceptable explanation for how Uhuru had come to face such a horrifying fate. For his supporters, there clearly had to be some powerful forces at play, both local and international.

And the image – falsely created – of Raila working secretly with malignant “foreigners” was just about perfect for this purpose.

Well this time around, it seems like it’s Uhuru’s turn to be on the receiving end of some very effective scapegoating. And I must say here that most Kenyan presidential elections – allowing for the inevitable interventions of what we may define as “deep state actors” on behalf of their favoured candidates – will usually revolve around the question of who can present the more plausible scapegoat to his followers.

Uhuru is now spoken of as being at the head of a classic African kleptocracy, and leading “the most corrupt Kenyan regime since Independence”; of having broken sacred promises over what he would deliver in terms of “development”; of exaggerating the achievements of his government on matters such as new roads built, or new power connections made; of being arrogant and entitled; of having more or less given up on the fight against corruption. And so on.

One leading opposition politician, apparently having forgotten the resilience the nation showed in surviving the decades of economic mismanagement under the Moi regime single-party state, declared that “Kenya cannot survive another five years of the Jubilee government.”

This was a particularly inspired piece of scapegoating.

And we may expect to hear it repeated more and more, as we head towards the election.

Poll of the day