This article was written on June 19, 2022, and ran in Nation almost five weeks to Election Day, August 9 in Kenya.
Now that the election was called on Monday, August 15, in favour of president-elect William Ruto, this article brings sharp insight and context to the election campaign and the ultimate victory. It has been slightly edited to realign it with the change in time. Read below.
Reverse psychology involves asserting a belief or behaviour that is opposite to the one desired, desiring that this approach will encourage the subject of the persuasion to do what is actually desired.
For example, you desire to see your wife go to Nairobi but you know she will resist. You, therefore, ask her to go to Mombasa. She refuses and goes to Nairobi in protest and hence you achieve your goal.
The person being manipulated is usually unaware. This technique can take the form of strategic self-anti-conformity. Strategic self-anticonformity is when a person advocates a position that is opposite to their true goal, while hiding the fact that they are using a persuasion tactic.
A common example is marketing techniques such as “do not click this link” or “do not push this button”. Strategic self-anticonformity and psychological reactance relate in their expected negativity or dis- agreeableness to their influence target.
How this works in politics is best illustrated by medieval Roman history. Julius Caesar, the Roman dictator, was assassinated by a group of senators on March 15, 44 BC during a meeting of the senate in Rome, where the senators stabbed Caesar 23 times.
They claimed to be acting over fears that Caesar’s unprecedented concentration of power during his dictatorship was under- mining the republic. At least 60 senators were party to the conspiracy, led by Marcus Brutus.
Caesar had served the Republic for eight years in the Gallic Wars, fully conquering modern-day France. After the senate demanded that Caesar should disband his army and return home as a civilian, he refused, crossing the Rubicon with his army and plunging Rome into civil war in 49 BC.
After defeating the last of the opposition, Caesar was appointed supreme leader. He was later assassinated. One character in his assassination is Mark Antony, an intelligent man. He was loyal to his friend, Caesar. When Julius Caesar was assassinated, Antony was distraught and sought revenge against the assassins, first by speaking to the crowd.
He showed how clever and cunning he could be when he convinced the crowd at Caesar’s funeral ceremony to side with him and not with the murderers. The people became excited and rowdy when he teased them about Caesar’s will, waving it in the air and pretending that he was not going to read it.
Reverse psychology is used when he first pretends to respect the conspirators, calling them honourable men, and then slowly proving that they are not. Therefore, is this being replicated in modern-day Kenyan politics? Is there a possibility that Uhuru actually wanted Ruto to win but was using reverse psychology to achieve this goal?
Was Raila fooled and got the impression the state was behind him when Ruto was actually the desired government candidate?
There exist signs that might support the hypothesis of ‘reverse psychology’. First, Uhuru understands the potency of ‘sympathy politics’ than every politician in Kenya. In 2002, he gunned for the presidency and lost on account of being a newbie.
His political fortunes changed for the better on sympathy after his arraignment before ICC on allegations he was among those behind post-election violence in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. Therefore, he ought to have known that his government’s humiliation of Ruto through mistreatment by junior ministers did nothing but fuel further sympathy for his deputy.
CULT FOLLOWING IN CENTRAL
I refuse to believe that Uhuru, with his deep knowledge of politics, both as a matter of practice and schooling, did not know how government weaponisation of state institutions such as the Directorate of Criminal Investigations helped build Ruto a cult following in Central.
When newspaper headlines screamed how Ruto’s office had been denied fund- ing and elite police removed from protecting him, Uhuru ought to have known how this worked in Ruto’s favour.
Raila encouraged the Uhuru government’s unfair crackdown on Ruto without noticing how this dipped his fortunes. Of course, the government had a moral and legal duty to enforce the anti-corruption law, but who loves unfairness? Why did government spare covid billionaires?
Second, Uhuru’s government came up with very unpopular policies a few months into the election. Prices of basic commodities skyrocketed, including fuel, flour and sugar prices. It was common knowledge that such policies were fodder for any politician vying on an opposition platform like Ruto.
Government also announced it would remove the fuel subsidy. Maybe this was the subtle blow intended to knock off Raila once and for all in the last month of the campaign. Uhuru’s government would have gone out of its way to forestall such economic outcome if it really wanted to help Raila.
Third, the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) debacle affirmed this hypothesis of reverse campaigning for Rupo. There was legal consensus that BBI was defective. There was every possibility Uhuru had this proper advice. But why did Uhuru push BBI despite clear advice on its defectiveness? The person who lost face when BBI failed was Raila and his mantra of ‘nobody can stop reggae’. Uhuru was exiting and hence his political stakes in BBI were low. Was BBi designed to fail from the beginning?
Fourth, if indeed Uhuru set out to have Ruto succeed him, there was no other way to help Ruto than pose as being against him. If Uhuru supported Ruto directly as some expected, the latter would have failed for many reasons.
They include the project tag. It goes without saying that maybe this reverse plan was out of necessity. Finally, some of Uhuru’s bosom friends supported Ruto. Most outstanding was JB Muturi, whose history with Uhuru can fill an entire chapter of a book. One can only hope they were not holding anyone’s brief.
SUCCESSFUL POLITICAL FAMILY
Uhuru has a degree in political science from an American university. He has grown up in a highly successful political family. It is, therefore, hard for one to be persuaded that he did not see how some of his government actions aided Ruto if the intention was the opposite.
Of course this hypothesis may be untrue. I have no cogent facts save for speculation. But after noticing obvious government missteps which clearly aided Ruto, including weaponisation of state institutions, I once posed the question to Ruto if Uhuru supports him in a subtle way. He did not answer. He smiled.
Dr Kang’ata teaches law at Catholic University of Eastern Africa. He is senator for Murang’a County and former Senate Chief Whip.