There is no ‘deep state’ to decide who becomes the fifth president

Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Nakuru Deputy Presiding Officer Ann Kiptanui leads the inspection of polling kits at Moi Secondary School ahead of the 2017 repeat presidential election. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

The narrative on the existence of ‘deep state’ has already been institutionalised and mainstreamed into our political talk. It is slowly becoming part of the biggest conspiracies ahead of the elections.

Last week, I asked a colleague if he has registered as a voter. He boldly told me that there is a deep state that will determine who our next president will be. He wondered how I was not aware of a sensation that has been hogging media coverage. I was shocked!

I had not taken the narrative so seriously, but it seems most Kenyans have bought into this phenomenal conspiracy, which US President Donald Trump popularised during his tenure. In the American political lexicon, the deep state phantom is a bug that clung on Trump to the White House—according to records, soon after his inauguration in early 2017. His inner circle were the most prevalent peddlers of the conspiracy.

In his article entitled How the Deep State Came to America: A History, Ryan Gingeras (an associate professor and an expert on Turkish, Balkan and Middle East history) warns credible academics to “think twice before trying to prove the existence of a deep state.”

In Kenya, however, the mainstream media and political elites, and pundits, have dived into proving that deep state will determine the 2022 presidential outcome. I don’t believe that the deep state will lord over next year’s elections — or has our country stooped too low?

What’s the deep state?

Daringly, the sensation has bypassed the gutter press (especially online bloggers and other alternative media) and crept onto the lmainstream media through key politicians and political influencers on our talk shows. This way, the conspiracy is slowly getting into our consciousness and building reality that would require a generation’s effort to clear. For example, by the time President Trump was leaving power, three-quarters of Americans believed in the existence of a deep state. We don’t know how long it will take to decolonise their minds.

From where I stand, it seems our political elites are loosely using the term inconsiderately. The deep state is deemed to be a secret network of rogue elements operating alongside the legitimate government with intentions of ensuring continuity of status quo, job and tender security, self-regarding ideologies, alongside other clandestine objectives.

According to Joe Sommerlad, a UK-based independent journalist, the deep state is “an anti-democratic cabal of rogue bureaucrats [that]…work within the machinery of government undermining the policies of elected officials to serve their ends, drawing on allies within the intelligence community, the military, industry and the media.” From Sommerlad’s conception, the deep state undermine legitimately elected government—a characteristic similar to that of government saboteurs. If Kenya is ripening for such a cabal, we are bargaining for more than we can swallow in the future!

The origin of the spectre is even scarier! The word deep state originates from the Turkish derin devlet, a stealthy elite gang comprising military intelligence and civilian cronies whose mission was to protect the 1923 secular order that Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the post-Ottoman Turkey, established. The sect is said to have implemented at least four coups and massacred journalists, nonconformists, Communists, Kurds, and Islamists. Does that sound familiar—compare this description with the state of affairs in countries under dictatorial regimes that come into power through military coups. It is utterly gory!

The concept of a deep state in Kenya
In Kenya, the deep state is political rhetoric, slowly sneaking into our political lexis. However, the concept is not new. After the 2007 elections, there was a similar form of conspiracy of presence of a Mt Kenya mafia—a high-end elite phantasm that supposedly determines who the head of state is. The opposition widely argued that the powerful leech was responsible for installing President Mwai Kibaki, although Raila Odinga had won the election.

The clandestine narrative legitimised quick constitutional ducking to find a political solution—namely, the grand coalition government in the wake of post-election violence though it was agreed by all and sundry that deep-rooted historical injustices were mainly to blame for the chaos.

In 2017, the deep state was also conceptualised as the “Kompyuta” that allegedly gave Jubilee victory. The opposition then referred to Uhuruto and elected Jubilee politicians as vifaranga vya kompyuta (computer-generated chicks), which was also enveloped in the narrative of ‘servers’, It was the opium for NASA and its followers after losing the elections. It is not easy to lose an election, which cost billions of shillings, then walk into defeat without an explanation. Such conspiracies are usually post-election painkillers!
The computer and servers conspiracy legitimised the swearing-in of Raila as people’s president overseen by the self-proclaimed National Resistant Movement General Miguna Miguna. The move purportedly bullied Uhuru Kenyatta to accept a handshake with Raila so that he could, at least, preside his last term in peace; and peace he has experienced.

Why deep state is toothless, if at all it exists

There are some reasons why I argue that the deep state exists in our minds. If the deep state was there, it could have helped Uhuru in the many by-elections that he lost to the newly formed UDA the whole of 2020 through early 2021. Some of these by-elections were so hotly contested that if the deep state existed, they should have invested all they had to escape the egg in their faces.

The same deep state did not help with the BBI, the project that Uhuru’s government supported with all its heart, soul and might. A project that saw senior politicians lose jobs and expelled from their political parties for not supporting. The deep state that could not avert the 2017 presidential election nullification is a weak institution, an overrated cat hidden behind a lion’s head.

Furthermore, if it does exist, this anti-democracy bug we call the deep state cannot be walking in our political streets holding a placard labelled “we are deep state.” Deep state is a ‘deep’ secret—it cannot be out here chest-thumping through proxies. It is Wole Soyinka who said that “A tiger doesn’t proclaim his tigritude, he pounces.” This deep state has lost chances to prove its muscle.

Therefore, if a deep state exists, it should be a secret movement. The blatancy in the conspiracy makes me conclude that what our politicians and political influencers are peddling around is pure rabblerousing. Such teasing is expected in politics though. You don’t just face your opponent with a plain face and words. As such, this David versus Goliath political discourse is anticipated in the dirty game of politics. However, the role of media and the IEBC is deconstructing these narratives because politicians will continue vending them.

I don’t dispute that some form of the deep state could exist in weak democracies and authoritarian states. Some overthrow existing regimes, while others safeguard the status quo with the help of former colonies. Kenya is far beyond the crossing line of a mature democracy. Here, a presidential election can be nullified; the courts can cancel a government-supported project like BBI, and where human rights activists and media can criticise institutions and live. The deep state, in its strict sense, cannot oversee these democratic wonders.

The conspiracy of a deep state is today so much entrenched such that in 2022, Raila’s diehards believe that an institution more powerful than the Mt Kenya Mafia, namely, the deep state, is on their side. On the other hand, Ruto loyalists are strewn in a mulato complex—to believe or not.


Regardless of whoever is peddling it, the narrative is a deceptive one but has far-reaching implications for our democracy. First, the conspiracy creates a sense of voter apathy among the electorates. That’s why such a conspiracy should be punctured.

In conclusion, I reckon the best way to steal elections is to mobilise people to register as voters while encouraging them to vote come August 2022. Laying political treasures on a deep state, mafia groups, computer servers and other short stories, might end in premium tears. The proper deep state is shaping opinions, consolidating campaigns funds and crafting strategy for preferred candidates. Anything else is political propaganda!

We must call upon IEBC to unknot this supposedly harmless conspiracy, which is partly guilty of low voter registration and will potentiallly drain voters trust in the next elections.

Dr Ndonye is a lecturer of communication and media