MUGWE: Is fifth-generation warfare Ruto’s trump card?

It's much easier to communicate something without concern for things, such as truth, evidence or logic.

In Summary
  • But more importantly and urgently, you should hire a battalion of 5GWs. and not as a gesture of tokenism.
  • They should be legion, well remunerated, highly informed and untiringly creative.
President William Ruto rides a portable stall at State House, Nairobi on October 2, 2023
President William Ruto rides a portable stall at State House, Nairobi on October 2, 2023
Image: PCS

The only constant in life is change. And learning how to adapt is the key to winning. This, too, is true of warfare in which there have been many iterations.

Traditionally, warfare was executed within defined periods of time, in identifiable terrain, with tangible tools of war that included aircraft bombers, tanks, and rifles.

The war was within geographic boundaries, and there was a clear fine line between civilians and the military.

When the objectives of war were achieved or abandoned, the troops returned home to their women and children.

These wars were governed by the Geneva Conventions and Protocols.

This traditional warfare was called the first-generation warfare. These battles were fought in the ancient period and were hand-to-hand combat.

In these wars, each party bore the symbol of their state on their flag and uniform to identify themselves. The weapons included swords, spears and bludgeons and the soldiers were in a phalanx formation.

What followed was the second-generation warfare. This was characterised mainly by fire and gunpowder.

The soldiers used rifled muskets and breech-loading weapons.

Next came the third-generation warfare that saw the beginning of modern warfare.

The weapons used included air forces and long-range weapons.

After that came fourth-generation warfare.

It was a period in which civilian casualties outnumbered those of frontline soldiers.

Guerrilla tactics gained prominence and paramilitary groups and terrorist organizations were also used as proxy soldiers.

But today there is a whole new domain of warfare without geographical boundaries, fought with intangible weapons and an ambiguous army with blurred lines between civilians and the military.

They are beyond the reach of the Geneva Conventions. This is called the fifth generation of warfare, aka 5GW.

Everything we know about warfare has changed under 5GW.

This fighting is conducted through non-kinetic military action using the accelerating pace of technology. It is a war of information and perception.

The weapons of choice are digital operations focusing on the individual voter and involving disinformation, misinformation, distortion and social engineering. It is a psychological warfare that is impossible to attribute.

It reduces feedback loops to milliseconds, thus rapidly driving decision-making on a societal scale.

Fifth-generation warfare has thrust us into uncharted domains disrupted by an invisible enemy that makes all of us question our reality.

Today, at the risk of usurping a position that’s way above my pay grade, I choose to address the President.

Mr President, isn’t it curious that only one year in, the most commonly regurgitated statement is how your government is clueless, uncaring, reneging on pledges and out of touch?

As a nation, knowingly or unknowingly, we are at war. We are all engaged in 5GW either advertently or inadvertently; covertly or overtly.

Our methods of battle have become who can shout the loudest; besmirch adversaries in the ugliest ways, disinform and persuade the swiftest and most effectively.

No matter how hard your government rolls out its initiatives and programmes, their utility is quickly watered down. It is because your opposing 5GW warriors are applying Brandolini’s law.

This is also known as the bullshit asymmetry principle. It is the adage that the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude greater than the effort to create it.

In other words, it is much easier to communicate something without concern for things, such as truth, evidence or logic, than it is to prove what was said was fake or hyperbole. Bullshit often takes more energy to refute than to create.

The information presented by this ambiguous attacking force is sensational, scandal-mongering, or biased hyperboles presented as the objective truth.

It takes advantage of our cognitive biases and deliberately manipulates us to achieve a certain desired outcome.

The undoing of your administration regarding its performance is in the messaging. Those who communicate your programmes and initiatives, report news.

They tell us what you and your lieutenants are doing or plan to do. They showcase you riding mobile vending stalls, launching community health promoters in a model mabati house, driving an electric car and commissioning bipartisan talks.

And these are good and important newsworthy stories because you are who the voters elected, and you should be the face that should be seen to be working for them.

However, it becomes fodder for the opposing 5GW warriors because the framing of what your administration is doing does not resonate with the citizens. It communicates an instrumental narrative, yet what they need to hear is a transformative one.

This instrumental narrative needs to be reframed into what it means for the common guy. For instance, what is the increase in disposable income of an Uber driver if he switches to an electric car?

Now multiply that by the number of Uber drivers nationally. How much will the woman in Gacharaigu village save in health expenses through the community health initiative?

Extrapolate that by the number of households the programme is targeting.

How much revenue increase will the fishmonger in Kondele enjoy due to the bipartisan talks that have kept maandamano at bay? Multiply that by the number of national Micro, Small and Medium

Enterprises. Or how many jobs have been created through the environmental worker's youth programme? Multiply that by the beneficiary’s dependents who will not sleep hungry tonight.

These, then, will effortlessly become the newspaper headlines, the social media posts, the barroom conversations, the hair salon discussions, the conference dialogues and the market tête- à-têtes. And facts are stubborn. They do not catch feelings.

I submit that to tell this transformative narrative, you should engage not just communication experts but also communication development experts to frame this narrative.

But more importantly and urgently, you should hire a battalion of 5GWs. and not as a gesture of tokenism. They should be legion, well-remunerated, highly informed and untiringly creative.

Warfare is expensive. But losing is more costly. At present, you are outnumbered and out-manoeuvred.

Generals and lieutenants do not go to war. Likewise, do not send your Cabinet Secretaries and members of your ruling party coalition to the battlefield aka our television morning shows, public barazas, and social media handles.

They become an easy target because they are identifiable. This is a war that has to be fought and won anonymously, all day and all night long, like prayer, without ceasing.

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to the President. You cannot bring a penknife to a gunfight.

The most contested space is the one between the ears. The mind. As it happens, we are all addicted to the digital dopamine and our next fix is just a click away. But unlike the doom scrollers, do not be crass.

Use class. Leverage your 5GWs. Because war is too important to be left only to generals and lieutenants.

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win – Sun Tzu

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