Friday, May 27, 2016

Whoever wins, we lose, Mr Gathara

In the run up to next year’s scheduled general election, weekly opposition protests and the subsequent brutal crackdown, have deeply polarized the country and left at least three people dead and many others, including police officers, wounded. - Patrick Gathara, Why This Is Not An IPPG Moment
With customary hyperbole, Mr Gathara declares that Kenya is "deeply polarised." Polarisation (according to the online Cambridge English Dictionary, "to cause something, especially something that contains different people or opinions, to divide into two completely opposing groups") implies that Kenya is divided, right down the middle, between those who support the Government on the IEBC question and those who support the Minority Party. Like I said, customary hyperbole.

Based on the most common, and erroneous, assessments, there are forty two "ethnic communities" in Kenya. (I wonder if these forty two groups include the "mixed" offspring of an ever-expanding state of "inter-ethnic" marriages and liaisons or the Afro-Europeans, the Afro-Asians, etc.) So based on Mr Gathara's hyperbole, the Government (and the ruling alliance that forms it) are supported by twenty one of those ethnic groups and the Minority Party has the support of the other twenty-one. If that sounds absurd, it is because it is. And the absurdity could be extended to the political parties represented in parliament; all the registered political parties in Kenya; the various civil society and professional associations that play an active role in the politics of Kenya; and so on and so forth.

If Kenyans were polarised, as Mr Gathara posits, they would not wait patiently for the coming of each Monday in order to pour onto the streets fulminating for or against the IEBC; they would never leave the streets at all. No. Mr Gathara, Kenya is not polarised and it behooves you and your colleagues to call it the situation what it really is: a family squabble.

The press has managed to create the impression, especially among the consumers of their fare, that Kenya is divided along political lines, the pro-Government/ruling alliance versus the Minority Party/CORD coalition, an idea that refuses to acknowledge an important fact: few adult Kenyans are members of political parties that form the ruling alliance or the opposition coalition. In 2013, about twelve million voters cast their vote in the general election. Even under the most generous assessments of party membership lists provided by the Registrar of Political Parties, there is no way that registered members of parties will equal the twelve million that voted in 2013. (More importantly, 12 million Kenyans, save for some fuzzy maths, do not represent half the people of Kenya; at most, they represent about one-third, who couldn't polarise the country if they wanted to.)

Mr Odinga's CORD commands a sizeable following, but, to paraphrase the odious Mutahi Ngunyi, the numbers are tyrannised by the numbers of the Jubilee alliance. Mr Odinga cannot prevail in Parliament and unless he can marshall a persuasive legal argument, he cannot prevail in the courts of law. He is left with the only arena that has served him well: the streets. He has exploited the disaffection among a core of disaffected Kenyans - unemployed youth, mainly - and used them as canon fodder in his campaign against what he perceives as a compromised IEBC so far without luck. The disaffected are mostly on their own; white-collar and blue-collar Kenyans with steady employment will not be joining Mr Odinga's rabble when they have bills to pay. That is the second ground against the polarisation argument.

Words are important, if only to tell us what is and what isn't true. From the IEBC commentary, one could be forgiven for believing that the IEBC is either incorrigibly corrupt or it isn't; that Mr Odinga is sacrificing himself for the sake of a far election or cynically exploiting unemployed young people without pity for his own selfish ends. No one sees fit to remind Kenyans that Mr Odinga is not a paragon of virtue and his family's single-minded focus on the presidency has been utterly poisonous for inter-ethnic dialogue in Kenya. Kenyans too, need to be reminded that key members of the IEBC have been adversely named in a corruption conviction in the United Kingdom; their integrity is no longer assured. Finally, it is not a battle of ideologies between Mr Odinga and President Kenyatta (hence the polarisation hyperbole) but one of huge egos and wits. The "people" are merely the fig-leaf for what is a political quarrel among the sons of the founders of the First Republic. Whoever wins, as one Alien versus Predator poster had it, we lose.


Patrick Gathara said...

A strange take on my piece. But let's look at it. Beginning with definitions. It should be obvious at the outset that "to divide into two completely opposing groups" does not necessarily entail dividing into two equally sized groups. Further, even if that were true (and I'll come to that in a minute) the idea that dividing the Kenyan populace into half means 21 tribes on each side is patently absurd (Kenyans are not uniformly distributed across ethnic lines).
But that aside, is it plausible that Kenyans could be split down the middle on issues? You would have us believe that Kenyans are disinterested in matters elections. This is not true. The fact is surveys have shown that nearly half (yes, half) do not trust the IEBC and want a negotiated process to decide how to reform it. Do they need to be registered members of political parties to hold this opinion? Presumably not.
SO we do have nearly equal sized groups in the country holding diametrically opposed views on the IEBC. I think that even meets your (erroneous) definition of polarization.
Finally, I do not believe I have anywhere suggested that Raila Odinga is a saint. Quite the contrary.The whole point of my piece is you cannot trust the politicians with the electoral baby and we must thus not fall into the IPPG trap.
Yes, words matter. What they mean matters even more.

maundu7300 said...

Mr Gathara, no, you did not suggest that Mr Odinga is a saint. I suggest that the polarisation argument, as advanced by the press, presumes that it is a zero-sum game for those on Mr Odinga's side and those against him - sainthood or treason. There is little of the expected nuance in a fluid and dynamic situation in which all parties, including the press doesn't come with clean hands.

Now, I did not suggest that polarisation means fifty/fifty, though I concede that I could have expressed myself better. However, "polarised" would seem to imply that there are only two sides to the debate, that there isn't a much larger constituency that could care less whether the IEBC stayed or not, wouldn't it? I argue that despite the surveys, the reality on the ground is that few employed Kenyans would actually leave their offices in solidarity with the IEBC or Mr Odinga and his cohort.

"Half the people surveyed" is a misleading statement. It implies that the surveyed persons are truly representative of all Kenyans. It is not. First; the Kenyan population is made up of voters and non-voters. For the purposes of a survey, typically, only voters and potential voters are typically surveyed. The presumption that young people or children do not have a say because of their minority-age status makes a mockery of the "half the people surveyed" assumption.

It is not easy to admit that high level politics is of little interest to the vast majority of voters, let alone Kenyans, yet it is of little interest. Of the 12 million voters recorded in the last elections, how many of them actively participate in political activity? Mr Odinga has never massed a million people to any of his rallies; neither have the pro-government parties. The day he does, perhaps, the hyperbole of a deeply polarised nation would seem more and more true. That day is not today, Sir.

Patrick Gathara said...

Again, I find your measure of holding an opinion rather perplexing. You think only the people participating in the protests have an opinion on the IEBC? Or just those who have registered to vote? Surveys can take a sample of voters or of the adult population (which is whom we are talking about, not kids - I accept that). It is curious then, that the supposed large number that doesn't care about the IEBC fails to show up in any surveys.
I would concede there is a measure of exaggeration involved whenever one attributes something to "the Kenyan people" but the term is not wholly without merit. It seems rather pedantic to insist any use of it must include each and every individual entitled to Kenyanhood. I think most readers understand it doesn't. That said, I would agree with the premise that we shouldn't be too liberal with how we use it.