Viewers of popular television series like Numbers and Sherlock are probably familiar with how logic is used to resolve mysteries. The protagonists of the series use a form of game theory to describe, explain and predict behaviour, usually, of socially deviant people.
Game theory has been described as the science of strategy. A relatively new discipline, it deals with human transactions. It assumes that everyone who comes to a transaction is a rational actor who puts their interests first before others and that the transaction is utility maximising. Game theory can be used to improve strategic decision making.
In fact, many companies use it to make high risk, high reward strategic decisions in highly competitive markets or situations. The decisional process itself is based on factors like efficiency, least energy used, and the greatest reward achieved with the least risk.
The political situation in Kenya lends itself to game theory. It fits perfectly where there is preoccupation with self-preservation. From the pre-independence days when homeguards collaborated with colonialists to the detriment of indigenes, it has survived the nascent years of the nation’s existence and now finds expression in most, if not all, the leading political elite.
An examination of political parties today shows them to be a mish-mash of personalised interests without proper ideology and as transient as their founders’ alliances and allegiances.
For instance, Deputy (DP) President William Ruto and opposition leader Raila Odinga were once members of the Orange Democratic Party (ODM), determined to wrest power from the then president, Mwai Kibaki.
This was even as President Uhuru Kenyatta joined forces with Kibaki and Kalonzo Musyoka to form one half of a coalition that eventually led the country through turbulent times.
Subsequently, Mr Kenyatta and Dr Ruto would team up to form a movement that ushered them to the presidency. The glue that held them was the looming spectre of the International Criminal Court (ICC) where they faced sanction on allegations of involvement in the 2007/8 post-election violence. The presidency was to, ostensibly, give them a bargaining edge in the trial.Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula are members of a political coalition of opposition centre-left parties called the National Super Alliance (NASA).
Going by frequent and public displays of pique among them, NASA appears to be nothing more than a motley collection of strange bedfellows united only by their desire to ascend to the presidency.
Another aspect of the game theory called the prisoners’ dilemma speaks to the shifting alliances and fractious confrontations in both NASA and the ruling Jubilee Party. In the theory, two prisoners held for the same crime, are interrogated separately and offered various inducements to turn on each other.
The idea is to extract a confession. Each prisoner gains minimally when they both co-operate. When only one does, the other who doesn’t gains more. Unknown to the prisoners, if they both don’t co-operate, they stand to gain the most as they could be set free in the absence of a confession.
President and his deputy put up a united front and overcame the ICC. However, now that the threat of a conviction is long behind them, their camaraderie is starting to unravel. The instinct of self-preservation no longer glues them together and other self-interests have emerged.
Using game theory, one can determine the likely outcomes of a situation where there are two or more players and where there is a known pay-out or quantifiable consequence.
Kenya faces a referendum on constitutional amendments. There are two initiatives that are geared towards the plebiscite. One is led by Dr Aukot Ekuru and the other by an amorphous outfit dubbed the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).
The BBI effort is likely to carry the day. It has the backing of most of the leaders of both the opposition and the ruling Jubilee Party.
However, Ruto is yet to voice his support for the BBI. Because he has been the man to beat in the race for president in 2022, the numbers are stacked against him.
The classic prisoners’ dilemma has appeared to be used to his disadvantage with those perceived to be closest to him bearing the brunt of prosecutions in the renewed fight against corruption.
Game theory assumes that all players are rational and will strike to maximise their payoffs in the game. Should the BBI referendum succeed, it would guarantee such a payoff to its supporters to the exclusion of the DP. It remains to be seen whether Dr Ruto has counter.
Mr Khafafa is a Public Policy Analyst