As Kenya’s 2022 presidential race continues in lower public gear due to the global pandemic, today’s Daily Nation has a story headlined “Uhuru Cabinet sweep targets DP Ruto allies” which also reports on competing messaging from the opposing Kenyatta/Odinga/BBI and Ruto camps that has been apparent for at least a few months.
I noticed last year current activity on a Twitter account, “@TheRealRaila”, previously active for less than 30 days in 2017 associated with the very dark propaganda videos of the same title used on behalf of the UhuRuto re-election campaign in 2017:
The account started Tweeting again back in June 2018 after silence from August 2017, and was now being used to promote the Building Bridges Initiative from the Uhuru-Raila “handshake” and “Uhuru’s Big 4 Agenda”. And to attack “evil society” for criticizing the Chinese Single Gauge Railroad deal, to attack Chief Justice David Maraga, and to attack Deputy President Ruto and his cadre.
See this concluding discussion of the latest campaign posture from today’s Daily Nation piece that leads with talk of upcoming Cabinet and Parliamentary purges:
The reports of the looming changes emerged as apocalyptic videos akin to those that ran against Mr Odinga in the 2017 campaign surfaced online, this time targeting the Number Two man.
The video that has all the hallmarks of the well-planned propaganda campaign that the former prime minister suffered in 2017, asks Kenyans to kick out dishonest leaders.
Images of the deputy president fill the video, although he is not mentioned.
On Sunday, Jubilee Deputy Secretary-General Caleb Kositany, who has become the de facto spokesman for the pro-Ruto camp, said his team was aware of the videos.
“We know who is producing them. It is a group of people supervised by a leading government official and their job description is to discredit William Ruto,” Mr Kositany, who is also the Soy MP, said.
The 2017 anti-Odinga videos and the divisive campaigns that started in 2013 but were escalated five years later were linked to British firm Cambridge Analytica and Harris Media, with the former said to have mined personal information from social media giant Facebook to craft and target personalised messages at voters.
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again… like a remote control. It has to happen without anyone thinking, ‘that’s propaganda’, because the moment you think ‘that’s propaganda’, the next question is, ‘who’s put that out?’” Mr Alexander Nix from the firm said in the undercover video by Channel 4 TV.
The Ruto team On Sunday castigated the move by the government to reopen restaurants and not churches.
Dr Ruto’s activities have stopped due to the directive to close churches. Mr Kositany said places of worship should open, and follow the Covid-19 guidelines.
“It’s not about DP stealing the show in churches, those in charge are more inclined to business, than Godliness,” Mr Kositany said.
Churches, he said, were the “last thing on their mind”. Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen questioned the government’s move “to open bars and not churches”.
Recent news finds the successful Goldenburg scam architect Kamlish Pattni obtaining a court judgement for additional funds from the Government relating to incompetent prosecution endeavors against him. Also we read this week that more than Switzerland have been holding frozen funds related to the Anglo Leasing scandal which have not been released to Kenya.
In early 2008, according to a Daily Nation report said to be from Wikileaks, the US banned three Kenyan member of the Electoral Commission of Kenya based on evidence of bribery, but the US has never made any type of disclosure of that action or the underlying Election Commission bribery issue although I was told separately of ECK bribery by non-US diplomatic sources in the course of my work for the International Republican Institute during the Post Election Violence.
In my last post, I explored the fact that Ambassador Kyle McCarter is the United States’ first Ambassador to Kenya to come from a background in elective politics. Because he had just done what seemed to be a well-received television interview I added in introductory material to the original draft to reflect that.
In the aftermath of following the interview with an invitation for questions on Twitter, the Ambassador got drawn into the Kenyan controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power coal plant proposed for the Lamu area on the Coast. My sense is that he seemed to respond to a Kenyan political and legal controversy as a politician would in asserting his own opinion and judgment based on his own experience and positions–an easy thing to do on Twitter–in a quite different way than a diplomat would normally react.
In the context of following this discussion, I did a bit of quick updating on the internet of the status of the coal mining industry in Sen. McCarter’s former State Senate district in Illinois. By coincidence I spent some time visiting in the area as a young lawyer back in the 1990s and knew that at that time there was a perception of economic strain associated with a decline in local mining employment. After going through some history of mining, I found a recent article in a local newspaper about a young mayor of a town in the area responding to the economic circumstances by promoting solar energy in his immediate community. I shared the article with the Ambassador and a Kenyan leader on the citizen fight against corruption in the power generation and resale businesses in Kenya (as opposed to an anti-coal activist or someone otherwise involved in the Lamu case).
The Ambassador responded tartly that coal provided 95% of the power in his region in Illinois, he knew the mines and plants, and that coal was the cleanest and cheapest approach to needed power in the context of the highest environmental standards in the world. Further, he was not inclined to be persuaded by “well paid activists” and that “facts are stubborn things.”
This furthered an impression–hopefully not intended–that the Ambassador was weighing in on the Kenyan legal and policy controversy about the Chinese-Kenyan Amu Power deal.
Likewise, this generated pushback form “Kenyans on Twitter” who felt patronized or insulted, as well as those who have a different view on “macro” issues relating to power generation and environmental issues than they interpreted the Ambassador to have Tweeted. As for me, I had just intended to share an interesting recent news article, without comment, and not to get under anyone’s skin, or debate the philosophy of coal economics in the global context.
One thing is certain with active Twitter use: all of us who Tweet actively will “step in it” sometimes. The Ambassador well knows this because his ultimate voice vote confirmation in the Senate was held up for some months in apparent reaction to a few previous Tweets that generated push back and follow-up. The Ambassador is also representing the United States and has a professional communications staff of public servants to help him.
1. I cannot and have not defended New York Times’ use of the particular photographof victims that has angered Kenyans.
Using that photo, especially while the attack was ongoing, was bad judgment in a number of respects that have been well explained by others.
2. My personal inclination from my own circumstances is usually to be somewhat defensive of the Times when they get attacked . . .
. . . as they frequently do, not because they are not regularly frustrating and imperfect but because they have been and continue to be a critical part of the wider media firmament in the United States. And newspaper journalism in the United States is suffering to our detriment and all professional news reporting is contested in our Trump era. (More about this later).
3. But, apologies are easy.
I understand that if the Times turned over editorial judgment to social media responders they would quickly be lost in the internet sea and cease to exist or be snatched up by a hedge fund and/or an ideologically motivated billionaire and/or have to publish listicles and soft porn to survive. Likewise they can never willingly let themselves be bullied by authoritarian governments so the grandstanding demands and threats from the Media Council of Kenya make the situation harder to address constructively and are not in well considered good faith in my opinion. But apologies are still easy. (And surely taking down or swapping out the one photograph would be a “correction” not some actual editorial diversion.)
4. Thus, I come around to seeing and feeling a humility and empathy problem.
Especially as time has gone by. The Times is not the Daily Mail nor The Sun and does not deserve to be the poster child for historical imperialism/colonialism devaluing black and brown bodies even if it has its own limitations and faults. But the Times made a mistake here and it was unforced and not anyone else’s fault. The tone deaf lack of responsiveness makes me more appreciative of the perspectives that I have picked up from friends in academia and journalism and other fields over the years that are more critical of the Times.
5. The individual reporter did nothing substantively professionally wrong.
The complaint is with the photo placed by the editors in New York not with the reporter’s story. The photo was by a Kenyan photographer through the Associated Press. So it is simply not her fault. In the moment of anguish with the attack it seems that she received a lot of the grief associated with this situation which was not her doing or in control. Having arrived at an understanding of the facts, there is apparently still a broad sentiment among many Kenyans, including many that I admire and respect, to deport her for being insensitive and seemingly a bit flip in responding. In other words, to me more of a moral question as to whether we think from Twitter that she has the personal traits we approve of as opposed to her actual writing.
Keep in mind that she is a corporate employee presumably. Without knowing the details of her individual situation with the Times, in general terms most American employees are subject to being fired at will, for any reason or no reason, without any legal right to severance as in Kenya, much less “due process”. I am a corporate lawyer [my experience in the world of Kenyan media and politics (and especially the New York Times) that has been the basis for this blog was “on leave” from that corporate career] so I know something about how things work. For a remote employee to say unilaterally to the public on social media that her bosses back in New York screwed up something that is in their job description and discretion and not hers is problematic.
The reporter/correspondent is supposed to say “I am sorry but I personally think my bosses have made a terrible mistake with the company product back in New York”? I do not know what I would have done in her shoes, and I can sit back at home and imagine doing better but realistically she was in a losing position.
I had a slightly analogous situation as an NGO employee in Kenya when my bosses back in Washington put out a press statement that the exit poll I supervised in the 2007 election showing an opposition win was “invalid”. I was in a lose/lose situation on my own in Nairobi. My threading of the needle in dealing with that situation has never been fully satisfactory to anyone so far as I know but not fully “toeing the line” has been life changing in some respects. I objected strenuously in private. In public when I was pressed by a reporter for Nairobi’s Star on whether the statement from Washington “reflected my personal opinion” I explained that “it was’t intended to reflect my personal opinion”–no surprise that the reporting when it hit the paper was that I had said that it “did not reflect” my own opinion. When it was faxed to Washington the president of my organization “hit the roof” per a phone call from my boss who had heard it from him. After I explained the exact choice of words, she ran interference for me and got him “calmed down” on the basis that I had been “misquoted”. Of course I knew when the reporter called me that I was likely to get get fired for diverging from my superiors and I did not have an opportunity to go ask my wife and kids.
I did some things privately during the interval to keep the exit poll from “going away” before it was ultimately released publicly in July but that was closely held and I have never written about that part of the story yet.
It was only post-employment that I felt that I could publicly express my own opinions related to my work. Ultimately I was quoted from published interviews in The Nation magazine and The New York Times itself (and written about by Kenyan media and and The Weekly Standard and RedState.com without being contaced or interviewed).
Fortunately, my temporary duty in NGO-world was ending in a few weeks anyway. My law job was waiting for me at home. I decided not to resign to keep the office together and I did not get fired. But I was on a short leash until my return to the States and I avoided being out and about or meeting politicians so I would not have to be chose between being openly insubordinate or dishonest. I am grateful that I had some room to maneuver in that pre-social media era.
7. Where do my Kenyan friends want this to end up?
Is “the Kenya we want” one in which foreign reporters for foreign newspapers get deported because they are perceived to be insensitive on social media? What are the ramifications of that? Just reporters? Etc.
Remember that the Times of London correspondent was detained at the airport and expelled by all appearances because he was investigating the Eurobond mysteries. No one filled those shoes. You are still on the hook for the debt and it turns out there seems to have been a secret problem with the SGR financing from 2014 that you are just reading about now.
This deserves to be reflected on and discussed–perhaps mediated–offline and in person, with a little space from the anguish of this attack, and this photo.
6. The peak of this for me is someone on Twitter who wanted to deport the photographer.
Fortunately the Courts in Kenya have now clearly and explicitly ruled against the Executive Branch’s power to deport a Kenyan in the Miguna Miguna cases. We all know the application of the law to the actions of Executive Branch is difficult and often contested as a matter of power rather than right–here in the United States also–so I think Kenyans would be wise to think carefully on this.
Presidential aspirants Raila Odinga, Uhuru Kenyatta, Kalonzo Musyoka, William Ruto, Martha Karua, Charity Ngilu, James ole Kiyiapi, Kingwa Kamencu, George Wajackoyah, Peter Kenneth, Raphael Tuju, Musalia Mudavadi, Cyrus Jirongo, Eugene Wamalwa, and Moses Weteng’ula are now using websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook and You Tube to directly interact with voters. Only David Maillu has no Facebook or Twitter account.
In the 2007 campaign and aftermath, blogs were a significant source of information and advocacy, but not generally officially associated with campaigns, and SMS text messaging was widely used; otherwise, this is a big shift in how candidates and campaigns can reach, persuade and organize potential voters, especially through mobile internet.