Does BBI court blow put Ruto ahead of the pack? Not at all

Deputy President William Ruto. August 5, 2021. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

The Court of Appeal upheld the illegality of the constitutional review process launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition chief Raila Odinga.

The Court of Appeal has ruled that "the president does not have the power under the constitution to initiate constitutional amendments. A constitutional amendment can only be initiated by Parliament (...) or by popular initiative," said presiding judge Daniel Musinga.

Supporters of Deputy President William Ruto have cottoned on to this ruling to suggest that in one way or another, the ruling has settled the question of who will win the 2022 presidential election.

They claim that the ruling as good as gives Ruto the thumbs up in the duel. In their view, the sudden death of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) at the Court of Appeal dealt a major blow to Raila Odinga's chances of succeeding President Uhuru Kenyatta, placing Ruto solidly ahead of the pack. Is this the case? What has one got to do with the other?

False equivalence is a logical fallacy that occurs when someone incorrectly asserts that two or more things are equivalent, simply because they share some characteristics, despite the fact that there are also notable differences between them. The most common issues that make an equivalence false are the following:

The equivalence exaggerates the degree of similarity between the things being equated, the equivalence exaggerates the importance of the similarity between the things being equated, the equivalence ignores important differences between the things being equated, and the equivalence ignores differences in orders of magnitude between the things being equated.

Note that there is generally some subjectivity involved in determining whether an equivalent is false or not.

For example, in a situation where there is a difference in the order of magnitude, in terms of impact, of two acts that are being equated, the person presenting the equivalence might believe that this difference is small enough that the equivalence is reasonable, while someone else might argue that the difference renders the equivalence false.

In such situations, it’s up to each party in the discussion to argue either in favour or against the equivalence. Specifically, the burden of proof initially rests with the person who proposes an equivalence, meaning that they must provide proper support for the equivalence.

Then, their opponent has a burden of proof if they claim that the equivalence is false, meaning that they must provide proper support for their argument against the equivalence.

False equivalence is a type of cognitive bias or flawed reasoning style. False equivalency means that you think (or are told) two things should have equal weight in your decision-making. If one opinion has solid data supporting it, but the other opinion is conjecture, they are not equivalent in quality.

False equivalence leads people to believe two separate things are equally bad, or equally good.

Why are we susceptible to false equivalence? Because it simplifies our thinking. There are fewer critical thinking skills needed when we accept two things as equal, rather than unequal. In addition, when someone (especially a person in authority) tells us two things are equivalent, we tend to believe it more due to his or her inherent power.

How do you fight back against false equivalence? First, educate yourself on the different forms it takes so you can recognise it. Next, call it out when you see it. Distance yourself from the source of the false equivalence.

The more we educate others about this cognitive bias, and hold those who use false equivalence accountable, the less impact it may make on an unsuspecting public.

Dr Wanjawa teaches at Pwani University