Raila's post-truth populism suffers huge credibility deficit

Azimio leader Raila Odinga at the DCI headquarters, Nairobi on March 7, 2023. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The Oxford dictionary defines post-truth as “a phenomenon where beliefs, formed through exposure to media or campaigns’ use of cherry-picked data, seem more important than informed expert testimony.”

Apropos to the latest political developments, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga has become the ‘indignant’ face of post-truth populism.

He has used political campaigns, as Elena Aromeeva, Mirjam Liebroer and Darren Lilleker writing in the Political Association Studies say, “to exploit, manipulate and reinforce strongly held beliefs, distorting reality to encourage the disavowal of contrasting facts to shape attitudes.”

Raila has threatened to call for mass action if the Ruto administration fails to open the Independent Electoral and Boundaries (IEBC) servers for audit and to lower the cost of living.

Raila insists last year’s presidential election victory was stolen from him. He accuses President William Ruto of being in office illegally citing his own strange set of ‘facts’ that put him in the lead.

Yet reality shows otherwise. Credible and verifiable facts from the IEBC show that William Ruto won the elections. Election observers from numerous international agencies gave the exercise a clean bill of health. The Supreme Court of Kenya ratified this result by a unanimous decision that dismissed Raila’s petition. Any call to open IEBC servers is therefore a fishing expedition and a waste of time.

It is disingenuous to blame the government for the current high cost of living when it is widely acknowledged that it is a global phenomenon. Factors beyond the Kenya Kwanza administration, like the Russia-Ukraine war and the current biting drought, have precipitated a season of hardship.

Further, the government has been in power for just six months. It is far too early to judge the efficacy of the measures it has put in place.

Yet Raila continues to prosecute his case, not through an independent and effective Judiciary, but in the court of public opinion. Even then, his post-truth populism suffers a huge credibility deficit. This is for a number of reasons.

First, there is an increasingly growing constituency that thinks Raila is a conviction politician who is now propelled by self-serving politics.

They cite the curation and appointment of his next of kin to political positions which, in their view, should have gone to more deserving candidates.

Although his closest political allies like former Mombasa governor Hassan Joho and senior politician Kalonzo Musyoka have voiced their support for mass action, it does not appear to be by consensus. They have been conspicuously absent from a number of Raila’s crucial public events leading to speculation that their support is no more than lip service.

Second, Raila’s support base has now been whittled down to the rank and file of the Luo nation. His hold on the Luo elite now appears to be tenuous considering their rapprochement with President Ruto. Further, he has failed to reckon with Kenya’s ethnic calculus that puts him at a disadvantage when pitted against Ruto.

The president now enjoys the support of the entire Kikuyu nation and a huge section of the Luhya vote without which Raila’s calls for mass action will have no traction.

Third, Ruto has gone to great lengths to prove that he is the antithesis of Raila’s “use and dump” politics. He has rewarded political allies with plum positions in government, thus honouring his pre-election pacts. Musalia Mudavadi is now Chief Cabinet Secretary.

Moses Wetangula is Speaker of the National Assembly. Kithure Kindiki holds the powerful Internal Security CS docket. Many others are ensconced in powerful dockets.

In contrast, Raila’s past political liaisons read like a study in fallouts. He walked out on his cooperation with former president Moi. He turned against Mwai Kibaki after having endorsed him in 2002.

He is a perennial presidential candidate who perpetually reneges on his commitment to allow others to run. This lack of fealty to his closest allies may just be the final nail in the coffin of his post-truth populism.

-Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst