In 2018, at the height of my public engagement on the competency-based curriculum, the concept of homeschooling gained prominence media discussions on education. In a few interviews, journalists asked me if homeschooling was an alternative to CBC and public schooling. I answered from my experience of having taught homeschooled students in my university classrooms in both the US and Kenya, saying that some of the students whom I consider outstanding were homeschooled.
In hindsight, I now see that I was naïve, and that I fell into a trap that I did not know I had fallen into. I understood the trap after I criticised a media report on homeschooling and received an unexpected and persistent backlash from homeschooling parents.
Before I talk about the news report, I need to clarify the following. I am not making a personal critique of the parents involved or their children. In a free world, making this caveat would be unnecessary, but not in Kenya which has such an entrenched anti-intellectual and passive-aggressive culture that is used to bully and harass Kenyans when we dare to discuss anything social. The first response in the anti-intellectual and passive-aggressive toolkit is usually to brand commentary on social phenomena as attacks on specific people, or in Christian parlance, as “judging others”.
Secondly, education is more than just the personal choices of select families. I will address this neoliberal ideology of choice further in the article, but for now, let’s say that the project of education is a complex one where we must ask not only about individuals, but also about the society. Education requires complex thinking, which once again takes us back to Kenya’s anti-intellectual public and institutional culture, a culture that seeks to alienate complex thinking from public discourse. And finally, by virtue of that argument, a debate on whether children should go to an institution or school at home is not the interest of this article.
Education mumbo jumbo
Following the closure of schools last year to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the government and the complacent Kenyan media offered parents the option of covering the curriculum at home. The manner in which this endeavour was packaged is troubling, because it mixed terms which seasoned educators know refer to different types of education. On their twitter handle, the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) talked of “home based learning”, which misleads parents into thinking that they now have access to homeschooling which normally only a minority can afford. However, what KICD was really offering is curriculum content that is broadcast on radio and TV. In yet another tweet, KICD introduced yet another term, “digital curriculum” while announcing content available on the KICD cloud.
The media played its part in this muddying of the Kenyan public awareness. KTN reported about a homeschooling family that was teaching an unnamed curriculum to the children. In a twist that once again made CBC and homeschooling strange bedfellows, the parent talked of choosing homeschooling to develop the children’s “talent”, an argument which the government has also made about the new education system.
The concept of talent is problematic. “Talent” gives parents the impression that their children are receiving an arts education and that the education system is addressing parents’ desire for opportunities that do not emphasize academic performance. In reality, however, “talent” in the new education system refers to the pathway for children whose performance might most likely be determined by their limited access to resources.
For an arts educator like me, this jumble of different elements of education was too much to bear. I ranted on Facebook that the middle class are in over their heads, and that they were choosing to run away from the public education system without understanding the philosophical implications of the education choices they were making for their children.
Head start in an unfair race
I was not surprised by the parents who responded that teaching is best done by parents, because this argument, again ironically, was also made by KICD when they were marketing CBC as unique because of its “parental involvement”. “Parental involvement” in CBC found fertile ground in the middle class, which had, for the 40 years that the American evangelical movement has been in Kenya, consumed family enrichment programmes such as James Dobson’s “Focus on the Family”.
What I did not anticipate was the persistent rebuttal of certain Kenyans who refused to address the points I was making.
Their first line of defence was that I don’t know what I am talking about because I have not met any homeschooling parents, and I should only comment on homeschooling when I meet them. They did not clarify how they determined that. They would repeat this line even after I pointed out that sample size, a question of method, still did not respond to the philosophical question I was raising. When I insisted on my position, they started talking about me in the third person on my wall, about my character and what colleagues say about me. For a group of people who insist that their education raises Christian children, this conversation was weird.
I was not surprised by the parents who responded that teaching is best done by parents.
When the snide comments on my wall persisted, I asked why it was so important that I support homeschooling, even against my own conscience. Because I am a prominent voice on education, I was told.
That answer struck me as odd. As an advocate of good public education, especially for the poor, why would my voice on education matter to homeschoolers? After all, I had been emphatic that we should have a public education system that is so good, that parents would choose a different type of schooling for reasons other than running away from the public system.
More than that, what I was saying about arts and education was not at all new. The argument I made about “talent” as a replacement for the arts is the same one I had made when criticizing the public education system.
That was when it occurred to me that for my critics, my argument was fine as long as I restricted it to the public education system, because then I articulated a case for homeschooling as the alternative to the public school system. That is what the media was referring to when they asked me about homeschooling. It was essentially another way of asking, “How do I protect my own children from this clearly botched public system?”
At some point, some were brazen in their assumption that I was a voice for homeschooling. At various times, homeschooling advocates reached out to me, tried to twist my tweets as support for homeschooling, and were adamant in refusing to listen to my clarification that criticizing public education did not mean I was advocating for homeschooling. Others even reached out to me to join a court case they were pursuing to get the government to include homeschooling in the Basic Education Act.
The exchange on Facebook made me realize that there was a pattern in the behaviour towards me. Even in encounters with homeschooling advocates two years ago, they were politely and patronizingly rude, refusing to engage in my arguments despite my responding to theirs. I now understand that they were trying to shut me down from commenting on homeschooling since I was their PR person in their justification as to why they were avoiding the public education system.
So far, I have mentioned two points of convergence between CBC and homeschooling: the idea of talent, and the emphasis on the nuclear family as the primary space of education.
There is a third convergence between CBC and homeschooling: the neoliberal ideology. Neoliberalism is an ideology that is committed to destroying the social aspect of life. Its vision of humanity was famously articulated by Margaret Thatcher as follows, “There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” The goal of neoliberalism is to fragment society so much, that individuals become independent and isolated atoms that never collaborate. And the reason is obvious: collaboration is always a challenge to power and profit.
Others even reached out to me to join a court case they were pursuing to get the government to include homeschooling in the Basic Education Act.
Neoliberalism is a complete contradiction to education, because education is necessarily an affirmation of society. When we take children to school, it is because we want children to relate with the world and people outside the family. So there is no education without all of us asking, together, with whom children will interact, and what we want for all the children, not just for some children.
This means that the best education for individuals is the education that wants the best for society as well. What disturbs the status quo about my thinking on education is not that I am opposing the government programmes. It is that I am saying that for us to have a coherent, humane education system for individual children, we must think about all aspects of society – including the economy – differently. At the risk of sounding absolute, there is no good education for a child if there is no good education for all children.
If, as my critics say, they want the best education for their children, then they must articulate a vision for SOCIETY that goes beyond them trying to force me to accept that an individual (bourgeois) family is a substitute for society. Yet at every turn, they block that conversation and get upset when I insist on it.
Which leads us to a deeper, more disturbing paradox.
The homeschoolers want to have their cake and eat it. They want to privately benefit from ideas on how to treat individual teachers and the classroom, but they want those ideas removed from the social thinking from which it springs. They want to use social thinking to give their children a head start in a privatized status quo. That is why my ideas are useful to them when I’m talking about teaching and children, but not when I ask broader social questions that influence decisions about content and teaching in the classroom. But for me, one comes from the other. Social thinking and how we educate children are inseparable, hence the need to bully me by restricting my discussions to the public education system.
So in essence, homeschooling and government schooling are not opposed; they are collaborators. Homeschooling gives children not an alternative, but a head start in meeting the demands of KICD and the private sector. As one advocate put it, with homeschooling, “good moral and mental habits, high academic achievement and success in career are almost guaranteed.” Questions about whether the government or economic system we have is human, fair or efficient, is outside their purview. After all, to afford homeschooling, one is already doing well in the system as it currently exists. So if the private sector says it wants not just certificates but also a compliant character that is, ironically, authentic, homeschooling gives children a head start in moulding such a person.
This means that in an environment of extreme inequality where only 2 per cent of Kenyans have a university education, homeschooling will create a hyper social class has lacks either the interest or the worldview to improve the public education system, because they benefit from having an edge in it.
Homeschooling and mainstream media
This collaboration between homeschooling and public schooling becomes clear when one examines media reporting on homeschooling. Using the discussion on homeschooling on NTV Kenya’s morning show Living with Ess as a sample, a number of common features emerge from these shows.
The shows which host a discussion on homeschooling are the morning shows that are typically about lifestyle. On NTV, it was Living with Ess, on KTN recently, it was Morning Express, and on Ebru TV, it was on Being Mommy. The fact that the hosts are mainly women, and that homeschooling is associated with motherhood, as on Ebru TV, shows a clear imperial and evangelical ideology about the role of women in the nuclear family.
These types of broadcasts necessarily imply that there is no debate or critique of homeschooling, as we would expect of the more overtly political shows. Similarly, the same type of show essentially packages homeschooling as a lifestyle choice or consumer product, when homeschooling is fundamentally a political choice.
At the risk of sounding absolute, there is no good education for a child if there is no good education for all children.
For instance, in the Living with Ess episode, homeschooling is presented as shielding children from the competitive culture that dominates institutionalized education. Yet, as I have explained, the reality is that children who are homeschooled ARE still competing. They are just getting an edge over the others. This is confirmed by the show providing a list of American celebrities and an interview with an employee who was homeschooled.
The symbol of advantage of homeschooling is typically arts education, subjects that the Ministry of Education, the media and the private sector typically fights against through misrepresenting the arts and frustrating artists. The end result is that children in public schools are unlikely to get an arts education, a situation that is highly discriminatory against poor children but is politically deliberate.
The ideology of homeschooling is the neoliberal ideology of choice, which ignores the reality that options for choice are not equally available to all. Some time back, the media reported about a woman from a poor Nairobi neighbourhood who was arrested because she chose not to take her children to school for religious reasons. This discrimination becomes glaring when one considers that homeschooling in Kenya is largely informed by religion.
I’m sure I have disappointed some parents who may have wanted a balance sheet about the pros and cons of public or institutionalized education and of homeschooling. But what I am saying, in essence, is that with education, we cannot avoid political questions about what kind of society we want. The lesson of COVID-19 is that our standard of living is only as good as the standard of living of the poorest among us.
It takes a village
So in conclusion, let me clarify the following: Parents perform a unique role in children’s lives that cannot be replicated by any form of schooling. Lessons of identity, character, love and work ethic are taught by parents and extended family. No school can provide those. It is this love that should compel parents to make political demands of the public education system and of public culture as a whole.
Homeschooling is not simply about learning from parents alone. Whoever designs or informs the curriculum which the parent is teaching the child also has a huge role in moulding the child’s consciousness. While many Kenyans may think that this does not matter for children, it has political and psychological implications when the children become adults, and not just for the children, but for the entire society. Therefore, homeschooling is not the absence of state in a child’s education; it is a choice about what kind of state.
Accessing curriculum materials online is not necessarily homeschooling, or “digital learning”. Accessing digital materials is simply that, and it is no different from using a textbook. It does not necessarily translate into better education.
Online learning refers to education conducted almost entirely online, when meeting physically is the rare exception rather than the norm. Kenyans should know that online learning success rate is terrible, especially for adults who do not already have a strong background in the traditional face-to-face learning.
The media and KICD are misleading the public when they refer to use of materials online or on broadcast media as “digital learning”. The desire for online learning is a project that the president has flirted with since he was the Finance and the Education Minister in the Kibaki government and it is designed to deny poor children in public schools access to education provided by human teachers.
The ideology of homeschooling is the neoliberal ideology of choice, which ignores the reality that options for choice are not equally available to all.
That parents are the best teachers of children is a claim that is not necessarily true and is definitely not ideologically neutral. The claim comes from a specifically ideological project, and for Africans, especially those who use the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, this ideological project is troubling.
Incidentally, the same argument applies to CBC, where the state has decided to intervene directly in families in the name of promoting “parental involvement”, but the involvement is modelled on the Eurocentric middle-class Christian nuclear family. If anything, one would argue that in Kenya, homeschooling ideologically paves the way for privatization of public education.
Homeschooling converges with CBC in its ideology of talent, parental involvement and employment. It therefore does not offer alternative education but simply an alternative venue and facilitator.
Although parents often feel that they are making a practical choice between homeschooling and institutional education, my argument here is that this is not a real choice. Homeschooling is as good, or as flawed, as public schooling.
At this time of the COVID-19 pandemic this analogy may, hopefully, warn us against complacency about public education. Just like the middle class is vulnerable to a pandemic if the poor don’t have healthcare, it is also vulnerable to the cost of ignorance when the poor are getting a bad education. And public education is wider than schooling. It includes culture, festivals, arts, research, publishing, public libraries, public spaces like parks, museums, playgrounds and halls. In other words, anywhere where people can get together and learn from each other.
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UN Panel of Experts: Kenya Urged to Back Former CJ Willy Mutunga Candidacy
Willy Mutunga, the former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya has been nominated by a number of international organisations to be one of the three experts. International human rights activists are calling on the government of Kenya to join with others in Global Africa to support the nomination of Willy Mutunga.
On 28 June 2021, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations called on the UN to set up a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent. This call came one year after the police murder of George Floyd in the United States. The UN panel of three experts in law enforcement and human rights will investigate the root causes and effects of systemic racism in policing, including the legacies of slavery and colonialism, and make recommendations for change. Willy Mutunga, the former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya has been nominated by a number of international organisations to be one of the three experts. International human rights activists are calling on the government of Kenya to join with others in Global Africa to support the nomination of Willy Mutunga.
The government of Kenya is strongly placed to support the nomination of its native son, an internationally respected jurist. Kenya is currently a member of the UN Security Council and an influential member of “A3 plus 1”, the partnership between the three African members of the Security Council and the Caribbean member of the UNSC, St Vincent and the Grenadines. Last week on 7 September, President Uhuru Kenyatta co-chaired the African Union, Caribbean Community summit. This meeting between the AU and the Caribbean states agreed to establish the Africa, Brazil, CARICOM, and Diaspora Commission. This Commission will mature into a politico/economic bloc embracing over 2 billion people of African descent. Kenya, with its experience of reparative justice from the era of the Land and Freedom Army, has joined with the Caribbean to advance the international campaign to end the dehumanization of Africans. African descendants around the world have lauded the 2021 Human Rights Council Report for calling on the international community to “dismantle structures and systems designed and shaped by enslavement, colonialism and successive racially discriminatory policies and systems.”
Background to the nomination of Hon Willy Mutunga
The murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 led to worldwide condemnation of police killings and systemic racism in the United States. The African Members of the UN Human Rights Council pushed hard to garner international support to investigate systemic racism in policing in the United States. In the wake of the global outcry, there were a number of high-level investigations into police killings of innocent Blacks. Three distinguished organizations, the National Conference of Black Lawyers, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the National Lawyers Guild convened a panel of commissioners from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean to investigate police violence and structural racism in the United States. Virtual public hearings were held in February and March 2021, with testimonies from the families of the victims of some of the most notorious police killings in recent times.
In its report, a panel of leading human rights lawyers from 11 countries found the US in frequent violation of international laws, of committing crimes against humanity by allowing law enforcement officers to kill and torture African Americans with impunity and of “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhumane acts”.
Among its principal findings, the Commission found the US guilty of violating its international human rights treaty obligations, both in terms of laws governing policing and in the practices of law enforcement officers, including traffic stops targeting Black people and race-based stop-and-frisk; tolerating an “alarming national pattern of disproportionate use of deadly force not only by firearms but also by Tasers” against Black people; and operating a “culture of impunity” in which police officers are rarely held accountable while their homicidal actions are dismissed as those of just “a few bad apples”.
After the Commission’s report was published, the convening organizations’ Steering Committee mobilized international public opinion to publicize its findings. Former CJ Willy Mutunga was one of the jurists in Africa who worked hard to publicize the report’s findings and recommendations.
It was in large part on the basis of these findings that the Human Rights Council issued its own report at the end of June. The United Nations decided to set up a panel of experts to investigate systemic racism in policing against people of African descent, adding international weight to demands in the United States for accountability for police killings of African Americans, and reparations for victims. The panel of three experts will have a three-year mandate to investigate the root causes and effects of systemic racism in policing. Many organizations have submitted names for suggested panel members. Legal experts from Global Africa and international jurists have recommended Willy Mutunga to be one of the three panellists. Thus far, the following organizations have endorsed the candidacy of Willy Mutunga:
- The African Bar Association, with membership in 37 African Countries.
- The United States Human Rights network (USHRN), a National network of U.S. organizations working to strengthen the Human Rights movement in the US.
- International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence Against People of African Decent in the United States.
- Society of Black Lawyers of the United Kingdom
- Bandung Conference, a Diaspora Human Rights network based in Nairobi, Kenya.
There are now calls for the government of Kenya to step forward to be more proactive to lobby the Human Rights Council and to write letters to its President, H.E. Nazhat Shameen Khan (firstname.lastname@example.org), endorsing the candidature of Dr Mutunga. His CV is included for those who want to write to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Kenya to lead the endorsement of Willy Mutunga.
The Steering Committee of the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States is coordinating the campaign for Dr Willy Mutunga to be appointed by the UNHRC as a member of the International Expert Mechanism to monitor compliance of the UNHRC findings and recommendations.
The Government of Kenya and Human Rights groups are kindly asked to send copies of their endorsements to the Coordinator, International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence in the United States, email@example.com.
Cutting the Hand That Feeds: Is the UN Silencing the Voices of Farmers and Indigenous Communities?
More than 500 indigenous and farmer organisations across the continents have raised their voices to expose the UN’s Food Systems Summit as only advocating one food system—so they’re being silenced.
The United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) invokes the UN Sustainable Development Goals to demonstrate its purpose—namely, goals 2.1 and 2.2 (to end hunger and malnutrition). At the same time, however, the summit is obstructing another of those goals: goal 2.3 (to increase resources for smallholder farmers).
Because of this contradiction, the summit, planned since 2019 to be held at the UN Headquarters in New York, will now be exclusively virtual (September 23), a measure intended to maximize control and minimize dissent. During the last year, more than 500 indigenous and farmer organizations across the continents have raised their voices to expose the summit as advocating only one food system, the one that is polluting the soil, water, and air, and killing vital pollinators.
In contrast, the food system that feeds 75 to 80 percent of the human population—smallholder farmers practicing biodiverse cropping (in line with the principles of agro ecology)—was only added to the agenda after months of criticism. Those in opposition to the summit say it is advancing industrial agriculture, which is the core problem, not solution, for addressing climate change, malnutrition, and hunger.
A second criticism is that corporations are trying to replace the UN system of one country-one vote with “stakeholders,” a euphemism that may sound inclusive but really only invites those “who think like us” to the table. Smallholder farmers, who produce the majority of our food, are not invited.
This food summit is about the global business of agriculture, not the livelihoods of those who produce nutritious, biodiverse foods. Governments’ attempts to regulate global food corporations (e.g., labeling unhealthy foods, taxing sugar products) meet strong opposition from these industries. Yet the corporations profited massively from the 2008 food crisis and strengthened their global “food value chain,” contributing to the consequences that over 23 percent of Africans (282 million people) still go to bed hungry every night.
This focus is in stark contrast to the stated aims of the summit. As the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food explained in August 2021:
Hunger, malnutrition, and famine are caused by political failures and shortcomings in governance, rather than by food scarcity ….. How will the [Summit] outcomes identify the root cause of the crisis and hold corporations and other actors accountable for human rights violations?
A third criticism of the UN Food Systems Summit is that it heralds technological advances as the primary answer to overcoming continuing hunger in an era of climate change. Most of us applaud multiple revolutions in genetics while we queue for vaccines, but genetic manipulation of seeds threatens the future of food, because ownership of the technology controls ownership of the seed. Industrial agriculture expands corporate profits from commodification of seed (beginning early 20th century), from the financialization of seed (speculative trading, late 20th century) and continuing today, through the digitalization of seed.
To the industry, a seed is merely a genome, with its genes representing digital points. The genes can be cut and pasted (by enzymes, e.g., CRISPRcas9), much like we edit text. A seed is no longer a living organism representing thousands 1000s of years of careful selection by expert farmers. For example, biologists today say they no longer need the germplasm of Oaxacan corn from Mexico to access its drought-resistant characteristics.
Promoters of these technologies rarely admit that they are very imperfect, with uncontrolled “off-target mutations.” Further, a seed variety needs its biome to flourish. It is farmers who understand the intricate interactions, who experiment with changing micro-climates (often in one field) to cultivate adaptive seed varieties.
No farmer denies the importance of scientific advances. But industrial agriculture giants are denying the value of farmers and their knowledge, saying they no longer need them: digitalized seed can be planted, watered, fertilized, and harvested by machines, run via satellites (this is called “precision agriculture”). Taste is irrelevant, because it is chemically added as crops are processed into food products.
Success in derailing the “corporate capture” of UN processes (e.g., UN Committee on World Food Security) to address increasing hunger arises from global, organized resistance by smallholder farmers, pastoralists, and fisher folk. After appeals to transform the agenda, many of these farmers and advocates decided to boycott the summit. This “outside resistance” included African voices, who stated:
The current UNFSS process gives little space to traditional ecological knowledge, the celebration of traditional diets and cuisine . . . ….Indigenous and local community Africans have experience and knowledge relevant to the current and future food system. Any process or outcome that does not recognize this is an affront to millions of African food producers and consumers.
The “inside resistance” worked to advance farmers’ voices within the official pre-summit dialogues, holding a series of webinars among the farmers in Southern Africa, and then globally (July 28). This trajectory was possible because of allied support within the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. As stated by one of the convenors of these official dialogues, Andrew Mushita, “African smallholder farmers are not beneficiaries of the corporate [agriculture] industry but rather co-generators of innovations and technologies adaptive to ecological agriculture, farmers’ needs—within the context of sustainable agriculture.”
To follow the end result of the summit, go here.
We Are So Much Better Than the Elites Make Us Out to Be
To resist the efforts of Cambridge Analytica and similar social saboteurs in the media and the academy, we must believe in our capacity to vote on a diversity of issues.
Theatre scholar Gĩchingiri Ndĩgĩrĩgĩ writes that in 1991, at the height of the clamour for multi-partyism, the government denied a license for the staging of Drumbeats of Kirinyaga, a play by Oby Obyerodhiambo.
The reason given was that the play portrayed an ethnically diverse and politically cohesive Kenya, which contradicted the president’s argument at the time that Kenya was too ethnically divided for multi-partyism.
While President Moi was claiming to care for Kenyans who are too tribal, his government was ironically also suppressing any public display of Kenyans transcending their tribal identities. The government needed to encourage tribalism among Kenyans in order to give itself something to cure.
We were shocked by the confirmation by a young man, Christopher Wylie, that Cambridge Analytica played a major role in polarizing Kenyans during the 2017 elections. Some were insulted that foreigners would deliberately diffuse messages that would polarize us ethnically. Others, however, argued that Kenyans are tribalist, with or without Cambridge Analytica. I think the reality is more complicated than that.
Cambridge Analytica’s role in polarising Kenyans is part of the larger efforts of global and local elites to keep convincing Kenyans that we vote on nothing else but tribe. The elites manipulate culture in order to coerce us to believe that tribalism comes naturally to us Africans. And yet, the reality is something closer to what the government censor did in 1991.
The role of politicians in keeping ethnic temperatures high has been repeatedly stated. But there are two other pillars that keep Kenyans convinced that they are naturally and inevitably tribalist: the use of culture and research by envoys, journalists, researchers, and now, by Cambridge Analytica.
For instance, while Kenyans called for electoral justice, the US ambassador kept framing Kenya’s problem as “long-standing issues” that should be addressed through reconciliation between NASA and Jubilee. The ambassador was savvy enough to know that using the word “tribal” would evoke memories of colonial anthropology. But even “long-standing” is just as insidious, because it appeals to the colonial narrative of Africans as stuck in the past.
Similarly, articles in the local and international media often used tribal data to predict a Jubilee win. The research they quoted almost always used tribe as the major factor in elections, yet there are other factors that influence the way Kenyans vote, such as income, gender, urban migration, economic inequality or voter frustration with politicians.
If a basic rule of good research is that it cannot always use the same variable, it means that the researchers are perpetuating tribalism through faulty research. Yet the variables exist. For instance, our media rarely mention economic inequality as a factor influencing election outcomes, and yet one article in Jacobin found a strong correlation between economic inequality and votes for Raila Odinga.
In the New York Review of Books, Helen Epstein queried the sampling methods of predictions of election results, pointing out that some researchers worked backwards from a known result to a sample, rather than the other way round. Some researchers went to Luo regions and predictably projected a high Raila vote, and to Kikuyu populations and predicted a high Uhuru vote, but did not go, for example, to Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Kisii Nyanza, Garissa and other regions where Jubilee claimed to have won a majority.
Other times, electoral predictions remain unquestioned because claims are made from people with perceived academic clout. For instance, Mutahi Ngunyi gave prestige to the concept of “tyranny of numbers”. Most media did not question the validity of his concept, even when a poorly circulated video done by AfriCOG showed that the premises of Ngunyi’s argument were rather weak.
If Kenyans were naturally tribalistic, the politicians, intellectuals and envoys would not need to keep reminding us of it. And there is a political interest in insisting on our tribalism: it prevents us from asking questions about social justice or worse, from organizing ourselves along other lines such us age, profession, economic status and gender.
If a basic rule of good research is that it cannot always use the same variable, it means that the researchers are perpetuating tribalism through faulty research.
The nightmare of the foreign and local elite is of Kenyans organizing as the poor, youth, women or workers, because then, the numbers would surely have an impact. And politicians would not get automatic godfather status like they do as tribes. They would have to pass through institutions like associations and unions, where success is not guaranteed. For instance, politicians’ efforts to divide the doctors along tribal lines backfired and instead produced a hash tag #IAmaTribelessDoctor.
It does not matter how many Kenyans Cambridge Analytica influenced. Even one Kenyan is one Kenyan too many. What matters is that it appealed to Kenyans’ worst fears, essentially hoping to whip up hysteria, just so that the president could win the vote. Our dignity was cheaper than Muigai’s desire to win. Six million dollars cheaper.
But the worst part of the tribal propaganda is that it is based on convincing Kenyans to believe so little of themselves. To resist the efforts of Cambridge Analytica and similar social saboteurs in the media and the academy, we must believe in our capacity to vote on a diversity of issues. For as Daisy Amdany put it, “We are so much better than what the elites make us out to be. It’s time to believe it, receive it, be it and live it!”
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