‘Tyranny of Numbers’: The Devil is in the Details

‘Tryanny of Numbers’ by Mutahi Ngunyi has raised quite a stir in the Kenya. Some people want to crucify Mutahi Ngunyi while others want to compose songs in his honor.


However, what most people are not looking at is the devil in the details. People are just taking absolute figures from his analysis, formulating their own theories and seeing how those theories can fit into their political agenda.

What Mutahi Ngunyi has dished out is a hypothetical simulation of scenarios he believes will happen ceteris paribus. What most politicians will tell you is that in politics ceteris paribus is hardly ever possible. This assertion alone puts Mutahi Ngunyi’s ‘Tyranny of Numbers’ in doubt. The ‘Tyranny of Numbers’ is by all means an educated attempt at trying to bring certainty into an uncertain world of politics.

However, the underlying basis of the educated guess must be tackled. Does the analysis hold any water in our political reality?

Well, two things are undeniably true in the analysis. One is that Kenyans vote on a tribal basis. The other is that Kenyans are sure to vote on the same tribal basis come March, 4th 2013.

Let us first look at the tribal pattern in a deeper perspective.  There are sub tribes amongst our larger communities. These sub tribes have been known to vote differently. This difference is always greater when supremacy battles exist between the leaders of the different sub tribes.

For instance, it is obviously known that not all Luhya votes will go towards Mudavadi. The only question is what margin of those votes will go to Raila? Again, it is also highly presumptuous to assume that all the Kalenjin votes will go towards Jubilee. Mutahi Ngunyi commits the same errors when it comes to the Meru and Embu. It may be safe to assume that all these numbers assigned to Jubilee in error will mostly fall in the hands of Raila.

Secondly, let us look at another critical break in Mutahi’s tribal arithmetic. There are those Kenyans who are voting on issue based politics and there are those who just wish to rebel against their fellow tribesmen.

These Kenyans are arguable few but are they still a force to reckon with. They belong to the middle class who influence the tone and general gist of conversation within the country. This is especially true when it comes to their influence on the media and the international community.

Let us use Ferdinand Waititu as an example. He won the TNA nomination for governor. He did this against the wishes of the middle class but the general perception of him since then has been shaped by that same class of people. They did it on Twitter and Facebook. They influenced the media and now the media portray him as the middle class view him.

The middle class did not win but their voice was felt loud and clear. They did not ascribe to any tribal outfit but instead focused on the issues. This therefore goes to show that the middle class can influence the public’s perception of any candidate. Given enough time this perception will take root.

The middle class are susceptible to change. If anything drastic happens before within a fortnight they will choose sides. Their choice will be firm. They will have one and a half weeks to consolidate forces and change public perception. Their efforts will not win an election for anyone but their motive would be to prevent a win.

Thirdly, the raw data collected by Mutahi Ngunyi from the IEBC did not contain any information on ethnic demographics. It was purely numerical. This places some doubts on the figures as absolute figures.

For instance, in Rift Valley a large cosmopolitan community exits in Nakuru, Eldoret and Kitale and in Nairobi the figures for are just too ethnically blurred to analyze. This means that Mutahi may be off by a small margin but this margin translates into thousands or even hundreds of thousands in his analysis.

Finally, the assertion that Cord’s support will mainly come from two major tribes is simply wishful thinking. Raila Omollo Odinga has been in politics for decades. The political maverick has built up alliances and structures all across the Kenya. He garnered overwhelming support in seven provinces during the last general election. How can his support base be reduced to only two tribes? Hiyo ni nusu mkeka.

Where Raila has seemingly lost support he has carved out lieutenants to either wrestle the entire voting bloc from his detractors or divide it. This is the role of Kosgey, Wetangula, Joho, Kalonzo etc. How then can his voting bloc be reduced to two tribes?

In conclusion, I must agree with Mutahi that the one who needs to work harder is Cord. Cord needs to appeal to the people unlike Jubilee who can sit back on its huge flock of tribal voters and send out scouts to gather some additional voters at the last minute. Jubilee has two huge logs, Cord therefore needs to gather more bits and pieces to have enough wood for its fire.’

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