Lessons from Kenya’s General Election, 2022
The persistence of ethnicity suggests that it will remain an important variable even with modernization, despite the hope of many African leaders to the contrary.- Robert Miller.
This is the fourth and last article on Kenya’s general elections 2022. The first was a call to action where I urged Kenyans to vote, while the second was a discussion on changing strategies in Kenya’s political communication reflecting Kenya’s rising IQ scores. The third was a response to claims that the low voter turnout observed in this year’s general election could be attributed to young people’s failure to vote. This article concludes by reflecting on what I have learned so far about the election and voting patterns. Surely, there are a lot of lessons to learn and I will not discuss all of them. Instead, I focus on Kenya’s political sociology and what these elections tells us about the nature of our politics going forward.
The Emergence and Triumph of Class Politics?
Writing in 1974, Robert Miller looked into the formation of classes in Africa and whether the continent had sufficiently developed a class consciousness that differentiated the rich from the poor. In Russia, class conflict had led to the 1917 revolution that overthrew the state Duma and the Tsarist government. A similar conflict had also emerged earlier in France where King Louis XVI was overthrown and killed by peasants who protested higher taxes, economic deprivation, and conspicuous spending. With the rise of African socialism in the cold war era, Miller was intent on interrogating whether class formation in Africa was complete and thus sufficient for class-based political ideologies. He was pessimistic, observing that “present evidence is not sufficient to enable one to predict the formation of class” in Africa.
It’s indeed true that in the 1970s there was little to no evidence socioeconomic classes would form in Africa. Miller argued that the reason for that derailment was the existence of kinship ties between members of different classes. A rich person in Africa retained ties to his non-wealthy relatives and tribesmen. Conversely, in Europe and America, the head of the family dictated the class position of the entire family and that inter-class relationships were non-existent. This distinction between the wealthy and the poor was enough to ignite class consciousness and conflict in the west. In Africa, ties between members of different classes made it unlikely that class conflict would emerge since according to Miller “kinship retards class formation.”
Kenya’s 2022 general election is, therefore, an answer to Miller’s question on class consciousness and whether it would sufficiently develop to cause conflict. I believe very little has changed regarding inter-class kinship ties. Rich Kenyans still maintain ties with their non-rich relatives and we do not have the sort of class conflict observed in the west. There’s very little talk of landed gentries, kulaks, and greedy Wall street executives. In fact, Kenya’s middle class does not invite as much scorn as the political elite. This means that inasmuch as Ruto was running on a platform rooted on class -conflict, he cunningly misdirected public anger not against the rich but against the wealthy political elites. This is evident from his choice of the slogan “dynasties vs hustlers,” which doesn’t come close to rich vs poor. The difference between being just rich and being a wealthy politician is important in this context since ruling elites are by no means similar to economic elites. In Africa, ruling elites own the political economy rather than the means of production, and it’s this distinction that creates a ruling class far removed from the elite control of economic resources seen in the west.
Lesson one: The first lesson from Kenya’s 2022 election is that we are yet to develop class based politics. Ruto’s campaign targeted the patrician elites and not the economic elites. Public scorn towards the ruling elites was only made salient by economic mismanagement.
Tribal Inequality and the Real Class Politics
Even though Ruto ran on a platform based on class politics, the voting patterns that emerged afterwards did not reflect any form of class consciousness. In fact, ethnic voting patterns observed in previous elections persisted, and it’s these patterns that granted him a win. From the map below, Ruto gained most of his votes from Central Kenya, Rift Valley, and some parts of Western Kenya. On the other hand, Raila got his votes from other regions of the country including Nyanza where he comes from, lower eastern, the coast, and North Eastern. To the keen observer, Raila seems to have had a much wider following in the more impoverished parts of Kenya while Ruto drew more votes from the wealthy Central and Rift Valley regions. Several questions arise. Why would poor regions vote for Raila while the wealthier regions vote for Ruto? Wasn’t Ruto the champion for hustlers, the poor, and the downtrodden?
The answers require us to understand the confluence of ethnicity and economic inequality. Ethnicity is particularly important and has been for many years. In his work, Miller observed that “In Africa, ‘tribal’, or ethnic , loyalties” were very important in understanding political outcomes and that even though class realities existed, ethnic realities could not be ignored. Compared to existing class realities, ethnic realities were more dominant.
The source of ethnic salience in politics over class consciousness is, according to Miller, the tribal loyalties “created early in the process of individual development, prior to the growth of critical and evaluative faculties.” Children are socialized into ethnicity early in life and due to the emotive nature of this process, they develop loyalties that supersede class socialization. I would also add that ethnic groups in Africa share kinship ties mediated by substantial genetic similarities, making the tribe a formidable force in group evolution. With these genetic and social connections to the tribe, a person becomes a member of his tribe first before being a member of his club, class, or country.
This strong association between members of the same ethnicity places immense stumbling blocks to rational politics. Rationality in politics requires that individuals be able to reason far beyond immediate sensibilities and petty tribalism, and in turn, adopt complex word views on democracy, social justice, class, and progressivism. But as Arthur Lewis argues,“ antagonisms which result from these (ethnic) sentiments cannot be overcome by argument and economic concessions” since they’re not based on principle or interests. Lewis is not entirely correct since ethnic sentiments can be driven by rational self-interests related to quests for group prosperity. Wider economic disparities between ethnic groups are enough to trigger tribal antagonism with economic concessions being probable avenues for reducing tribalism and ethnic scuffles. Essentially, while it’s true rationality fails in the face of tribalism (which is a rational response to group conflict), ethnic problems are made worse by perceived economic inequalities.
This brings us to the second lesson from this election and a much bigger lesson regarding Kenyan politics. Even though William Ruto built a campaign based on rationality, or rather, class based politics, it largely didn’t have much impact on Kenya’s voting patterns. He got a majority of the votes from his Kalenjin tribe and the Kikuyu tribe which is a reflection of 2017 and 2013 voting patterns. These two tribes have hegemonic tendencies since the country has only been ruled by Kalenjin and Kikuyu presidents who succeeded in driving growth in their regions. Other parts of the country have remained secluded and underdeveloped which explains why cities like Kisumu aren’t as wealthy as counties like Nakuru.
The source of tribalism in Kenya’s politics could therefore be a result of perceived economic inequalities between ethnicities. Raila Odinga was a dynastic candidate, and even though he’s wealthy, his Luo community is yet to have a shot at the presidency. That explains why he commands a large following throughout the country except in Central and Rift Valley. It’s also the reason why tribalism should be viewed as a complex and rational response to real or perceived ethnic disparities. This problem can be dealt with through economic concessions that bridge economic inequalities between regions such as equitable growth and development throughout the country. In the words of Paul Mercier, “tribalism is a series of defensive reactions which can quickly disappear when the facts of inequality disappear.”
Lesson two: Issue based politics are far from being a reality in Kenya. Ruto’s presidency was a result of inter-tribal pacts between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin. On Twitter, I called this reciprocal altruism. Ruto wanted the Kikuyu vote and not the hustler’s vote. The results show he got the Kikuyu vote and not the hustler’s vote.
Lesson three: If in future class-based politics become a reality, tribalism will play a dominant role with poor tribes expressing discontent towards rich tribes. Check South vs Northern Nigeria. Where is economic development concentrated?
Lesson four: Education and modernization do not necessarily end tribalism since modernization doesn’t happen at equal rates between regions. In fact, modernization has the potential of increasing tribalism as more educated regions such as Central Kenya and Rift Valley become wealthier.
Lesson five: Raila Odinga was failed by those who did not vote. In this article, I gave five reasons why all Kenyans needed to vote. As a result, many argued that their vote wouldn’t change political outcomes. But from the presidential results, we see that Ruto won with a margin of only 200, 000 votes which Raila could easily have bridged if only his supporters had voted en masse.