The Kenyan voter is prone to making irrational moves


Kamotho Waiganjo. [Beverlyne Musili, Standard]

Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, is reputed to have said that the best argument against democracy was a five-minute conversation with the average voter.

Nothing exemplifies this statement more than my experiences with diverse voters in the last couple of weeks. First was my constituency of residence, Kiambaa. In the weeks surrounding the by-election, which was won by UDA candidate “Ka Wanjiku”, I had several discussions with voters.

At the outset, let me say there is a lot to be learnt from UDA in campaigning. How they “designed” an unknown candidate from scratch, branded him and ultimately delivered a win against a stronger government fronted candidate can be the subject of a PhD thesis.

But my focus is on the attitude on the voter and why democracy skeptics have a point. Every voter I met agreed that Kariri Njama, the Jubilee candidate, was the best choice. They all loved him, knew his record and agreed that he had been their “shadow MP” since the 2017 polls.

But many who voted for Ka-Wanjiku were clear they were voting for UDA “to teach Uhuru a lesson”. Remember that these are the same Kiambu voters who in 2017 voted for Ferdinard Waititu to “teach Kabogo a lesson” and had “buyer’s remorse” within a few months.

IEBC officials at Karuri Primary School, July 15, 2021. [George Njunge, Standard]

Clearly, voters hardly learn from their errors. I say this not to disparage my MP-elect, I have no reason to doubt his capacity, but to emphasize that voter behaviour is not rational, and that on occasion, voters vote against their best interests.

The second event was a conversation between anti-Jubilee market women in Nairobi explaining why they would not support Jubilee in 2022. While they acknowledged that the party had made great strides in developing infrastructure, especially minor rural and urban roads, they were resolute in their disdain for the outfit.

They could not “eat tarmac” they said. Instead, they wanted an “improved economy”. Now I appreciate that there are some policy errors Jubilee made that pushed many of its supporters to the margins.

These included the ban on counterfeit and sub-standard imports and reducing the age of imported vehicles, sectors in which many particularly in central Kenya were engaging in. While this caused a lot of bile in the “hustler economy”, it was still shocking that the voters, who appeared well informed on other issues, absolutely refused, in the case of infrastructure, to connect the building of roads and related infrastructure to improvement of the economy.

They would proceed to make major political decisions on this erroneous foundation. The third was a conversation last week relating to the elections for governor in another county. Here, most voters acknowledged that their current governor had performed exceptionally in managing county resources and “delivering development”. But again they were resolute.

There was no guarantee that they would return this governor. Instead, they would vote for the candidate that “irrigated their throats”; code for vote-buying.

I have no doubt that voter and civic education would assist in helping voters connect their vote decision to their welfare. But that has never been priority for government or the IEBC.

Ballot boxes and other election materials at Moi Secondary School, Nakuru. March 2, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

So year after year voters vote with their emotions, ignore obvious signs of undeserving candidates and start the complaint cycle immediately after the elections. Will 2022 be different?

Only if non-state actors including the church and media invest heavily in voter and civic education. Unfortunately, that can only be effective if carried out before the electoral war drums have commenced. Unfortunately, again the war drums are on.

So expect an irrational campaign, an irrational vote and an even more irrational result. How I pray that I will be proved wrong!

Share this story
Eric: Advertising genius who left brief, but lasting impressions
Eric Ndavi, one of the biggest names on the Kenyan advertising scene, lost his battle with cancer this week.
China win two gold medals in Tokyo
China's Yang Qian won the first gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics in the women's 10-meter rifle competition on...