Did Kang'ata colour outside the lines or was it an Overton Window reality?

What is truth? Who between the Mt Kenya governors and Kang'ata is telling the truth about BBI?

In Summary

• This week, we have been pondering over our own truth triggered by Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata. 

• He wrote a candid letter to his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta, saying he was reliably informed by research findings that the BBI was not popular in Mt Kenya region. 

Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata.
Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata.

Quid est Veritas? What is the truth?

This was the most germane question asked by Pontius Pilate.

He is best known for being the Roman official who presided over the trial of Jesus and later ordered his crucifixion, but not before wavering, and even exonerating Jesus before bending to the will of the crowd, and condemning him to death.

The Roman soldiers and Pharisees had arrested Jesus and presented him to Pontius Pilate. Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus responded. “You say that I am a King. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“Quid est Veritas? What is truth?” retorted Pilate.

This week, we have been pondering over our own truth. This search for the truth was triggered by Murang’a Senator Irungu Kang’ata.

Kang'ata, who also doubles up as the Senate Majority Chief Whip, wrote a candid letter to his boss, President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Kang’ata said he was reliably informed by research findings that the BBI was not popular in Mt Kenya region.

Although he admitted that his poll was not scientific, he advised the President that it was extremely worrying to note that only 20 per cent support BBI in Mt Kenya. \

Kang'ata further advised that the rejection of BBI in the region could be a harbinger of the upcoming Nairobi gubernatorial race, were Jubilee to field a candidate.

Following swiftly, a group of 10 governors and MPs from Central castigated Kang'ata for breaching protocol and addressing the President through a letter and leaking it to the mainstream and social media.

They asserted that it was premature for Kang'ata to judge BBI’s popularity in Mt Kenya given the bill had just been published and public participation and grassroots awareness was yet to be conducted.

They claimed that it was preposterous and a serious misrepresentation of facts and reality in Mt Kenya to allege that the region is opposed to BBI.

Begs the question, Quid est Veritas? What is the truth? Who between the governors and Kang'ata is telling the truth?

And by leaking the letter to the media, did Kang'ata colour outside the lines, is he a marionette par excellence, or he was simply operating within the Overton Window?

Often times we mistakenly believe that the truth is synonymous with opinion. And particularly within the context of politics and faith, we think that the more people that hold a certain opinion, or the more powerful the opinion holder is, or the bigger the following the opinion holder commands, then their opinion must be the truth.

But the reality is that the truth cannot be affirmed on the basis of blind faith or allegiance. Something is not true simply because you believe it; neither is it untrue simply because you don’t believe it. Truth simply is. Whether you like it or not, believe it or not, or know it or not. It simply is.

Truth invites questions because it is not a question that should only be asked, but rather one that must also be answered because it is verifiable and testable, based on credible information and sufficient evidence. Truth is the yardstick by which opinion should be tested. And if opinion fails the test of truth, then that opinion should be abandoned.

I submit that Kang'ata was operating within the boundaries of the Overton Window, which is a model for understanding how ideas in society change over time and influence politics.

The Overton Window is a non-physical space where the ideas inside that space are politically safe and the public is willing to accept them.

Any idea that falls outside that space is perceived as too radical for the public to accept. Any politician that supports ideas outside the Overton Window risks getting defeated in the next election.

This is premised on the reality that politicians are limited in what political ideas they can support.

They do not support whatever political idea they choose to, or are asked by the powers that be, to champion.

Politicos only pursue political ideas that are widely accepted by their electorate at a given time because they do not want to hurt their electoral chances.

The biggest mistake that politicos suffering from hubris syndrome make is that they have the power to expand or shrink the Overton Window without unduly risking their electoral support.

But the reality is that the window shifts through a slow evolution of societal values and norms, and not control from on high.

And this is what Kang'ata was attempting to communicate to the President by advising him to cease and desist from using hard power of the provincial administration and adopt the soft power of persuasion to popularise the BBI in Mt Kenya.

Kang'ata is an ambitious man, and from all indications, it is highly likely that he is eyeing the Murang’a governor position in 2022.

Astute ambitious politicians are alive to the fact that their business is not in shifting the Overton Window, but in detecting where the window is, and then moving to be in accordance with it.

And this is what Kang'ata has done. His non-scientific research has informed him that the BBI is not within the Overton Window in Mt Kenya.

He has not coloured outside the lines and disrespected the President. Rather he has located the Overton Window and its contents. He has done what any ambitious politician would have done.

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to Uhuru is that effective political tactics are like good underwear; they provide the perfect firm support, but should never be publicly seen. Likewise, either your political moves have become too obvious, or your operators have become too unconvincing.

In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot - Czesław Miłosz