Political Communication and Rising IQs
The Flynn effect is the observed rise in IQ scores across the world over the last century. As I write in this article, Kenya is the only other country in the world other than Leipzig (previously in East Germany) to show the highest rates of IQ gain. A study by Tamara Daley showed a rise of 13.85 points among Embu children within a 14 year period from 1984 to 1998. Flynn calculates the rate of gain to be 0.989 IQ points per year. That’s almost one IQ point annually.
Kenya’s rising IQ scores is impressive and I believe if a similar study was done today, Kenya would still record more gains. Since 1998 when the last study was done, twenty four years have passed corresponding to an IQ gain of 16.54 points. Assuming the same rate of gain, that’s equal to an IQ of 96 today. But my estimation is too optimistic considering a Kenya of the 80s was much more backward than has been in the last couple decades. IQs in that period were more sensitive to the Flynn effect than they are now. Revising my estimate downwards is appropriate and the rate of gain should be lowered to maybe half of what it used to be bringing the average IQ to 87 (For the Embu only; Kenya’s average by this calculation is probably 83).
Because I cannot be sure of my estimation, I decided to look at political communication in the forthcoming general election. How do politicians communicate their plans and what strategies are they using to sway voters? I will argue that Kenya’s political communication is taking an intellectual trajectory which corresponds to our rising IQ scores.
Kenya’s 2022 General Election
Kenya’s politics have become more technical lately. Our political posters and videos are heavily invested on logos as an appeal strategy rather than pathos which is often the most common strategy for whipping up emotions- especially for a country like Kenya where tribal politics are rife. There’s a move towards rationalizing politics, using technical arguments, and even more radically, the over dependence on data to sway voters. The number of opinion polls releasing numbers on an almost weekly basis has risen. Why would they do this if they didn’t believe it could sway voters, and why would voters be swayed if they didn’t understand numbers?
Some people are probably wondering why I am going for the low hanging fruit “understanding numbers” as a measure of rising intellectual sophistication. Kenya has a decent education system compared to other countries in Africa. Our children perform better than average in most tests of numeracy and literacy. But we’re still behind by global standards. Consider the fact that even though most Kenyan children in grade school can add and subtract numbers, only 33% of the students can divide double digits, only 27% understand division, only 1% can multiply triple digits, only 5% can multiply double digits, and only 26% can complete a sequence. Most children, it seems, finish school with a rudimentary understanding of math. “Understanding numbers” is, therefore, an important metric to gauge the rising cognitive sophistication.
Opinion polls are technical and require voters to surmise what the percentages mean. If Kenya was like South Sudan where most children are “unfamiliar with colour-printed material, inexperienced with using a pencil, unfamiliar with geometric shapes, unfamiliar with multiple choice tests, generally unfamiliar with taking formal tests of any kind, and, certainly, unfamiliar with IQ tests,” then we would expect that very few people would take opinion polls plastered on billboards seriously since the numbers would be beyond their comprehension. I use this billboard because unlike opinion polls presented online, the billboard has a larger audience of average Kenyans who aren’t subject to Twitter’s selection pressures.
Increasing cognitive sophistication should also reflect in manifestos if my theory were to be true. Even though the everage Kenyan does not and will not read a manifesto considering political candidates rarely invest in printed materials to disseminate their agenda, we can still catch a glimpse of how politicians market themselves and what strategies they use. In this, I concede that United Democratic Alliance (U.D.A) had a more robust manifesto than Azimio. Of importance though is that both manifestos were pitched presumably to a more enlightened populace than would be expected of a third world country. Take a look at Ten-Point Agenda of the Azimio manifesto below.
Any non-Kenyan reader will notice point #8 and point #10 are localized versions of “Obamacare” and the “No Child Left Behind” policies of the United States. Raila seems to be very much aware that Kenyans are exposed to international politics and that his credibility will rise if he sells a Kenyan dream similar to the American dream. Exposure to international politics might be a result of increased internet and electricity penetration in the country. Data shows that almost all Kenyans own a sim card (98%) while 65% of Kenyans have access to the internet. More than half of all Kenyans (52%) own a smart phone. With these numbers, there’s a high likelihood most Kenyans have a basic grasp of international politics which signifies political sophistication and rising cognition. The Azimio ticket also looks like a Biden-Harris replica not only in themes of social justice and progress but also campaign colors, symbols, and banners. Raila has insisted that Kenyans should vote blue for Azimio which seems to be a rallying call for Kenyans to vote like democrats and thus consider issues like gender equality while voting.
The UDA manifesto is slightly different even though it’s clear Kenya Kwanza directly translates to “Kenya First” which is similar to the populist slogan America First by Donald Trump. But still, something interesting has been happening in UDA over the last few months. Political communication in the party is even more sophisticated than what has been seen in Azimio. Videos of their manifesto feature more numbers, shapes, and incessant appeals to reason. This is not what you would have expected in the tribal politics of the last two decades. David Ndii is a leading economist and the architect of the Kenya Kwanza manifesto. In the video above, Ndii shows how UDA’s housing agenda will be achieved.
Ndii presents a technical argument that clearly lays out the problem (housing shortage), presents a solution (standardize materials to lower cost of building houses then build en masse), and explains where the money will come from (existing pension fund worth 1.5 trillion in assets). The whiteboard depicts numbers and shapes to represent the abstract ideas Ndii is talking about. Unlike people in South Sudan, most Kenyans seem to have developed scientific ways of thinking far removed from primitive and utilitarian ways of viewing the world. This is not the only instance where UDA has relied solely on abstractions to appeal to the masses. UDA’s economic plan is a “bottom-up” approach to economic growth which has attracted a huge voter base. These videos and campaign strategies are mostly relayed on televisions, which are widely watched by average Kenyans; evidence of increasing cognitive sophistication.
The last example I look at is a campaign poster by Moses Kuria which tries to explain why his rival candidate should not be elected. The poster is an important piece of visual argument which average voters of Kiambu county will be required to decode thus relying on slightly higher cognitive faculties.
The effectiveness of this poster depends on whether the average Kiambu voter knows who Robert Mugabe was and for how long he stayed in power. Essentially, it requires a well informed electorate with sufficient general knowledge of Mugabe’s decades-old dictatorship. As if following Toulmin’s model of argumentation, Kuria grounds his claim with evidence depicted as a series of pictures showing how long his rival has been in power, albeit not as a governor. At this point, it’s worth reminding the reader that only 26% of Kenyan children could complete a sequence. Like an IQ test, the poster requires the average Kenyan to surmise the pattern Kuria is presenting then make the right conclusion as he expects. After presenting the claim and the evidence, Kuria makes a warrant, or a summation of his argument using a popular quote by Albert Einstein. The quote explains why the pattern observed is unacceptable and how often it leads to insane outcomes like dictatorships. Despite the attention to detail involved, the poster is propaganda and most readers will easily see why.
I begun this article with a discussion of Kenya’s rising IQ scores which I predicted must have increased further by now. Unlike other countries in Africa, Kenya continues to show increasing intellectual sophistication evident from various aspects of life such as political communication. How could a country where most people can’t perform simple arithmetic end up with highly numerical posters, billboards, and manifestos? Why would a candidate sell the American dream in Kenya? When did propaganda evolve to become more subtle; tapping on voters’ cognition for exegesis? As this article has shown, Kenya’s maturation politically will follow a cognitive trend in rising IQ scores. The smarter we become the more politicians will be required to bring substantive issues for election and re-election. If we want issue based politics then getting smarter is how we achieve it.
1. This article would have been better if it was comparative. Probably compare 2017 political communication with 2022. With this article as a benchmark and archive, I will do that in 2027.
2. This article looks at how the average person might perceive political communication. Highly educated people, who are not average by any means, will think I went too low.
3. Poor understanding of basic skills in school persists to adulthood. We expect thus, if children cannot do basic arithmetic, the same will be true for adults.