Kileleshwa MCA Robert Alai and a few social media influencers have started boosting an alleged IEBC whistleblower’s claim that Raila Odinga won the 2022 presidential election by over 2.25 million votes. As the whistleblower remains anonymous, it is not possible to tell whether they exist. Certainly the spreadsheet of “true results” doing the rounds could have been created by anyone. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume the IEBC whistleblower actually exists – conventionally whistleblowers reveal themselves to authenticate their revelations.
The first point to make is, don’t make anything of the anonymous informant’s claim to have been “central to the administration of the 2022 elections.” Or indeed, their purported statement which can be found on the website created on 17.1.2023 to host the “new” claims. By the way, the statement itself is a good example of pseudo-profound balderdash. In substance, no new claims are now being made. The new revelations are, in fact, a rehash of old fake news, sleight of hand and deception rolled into one.
For example, although we know that Kenyan presidential results are tabulated by the IEBC from the ballot box level (46,229 ballot boxes in 2022), this IEBC “insider’s” spreadsheet only has 291 rows of data (the national assembly constituencies plus the diaspora). The IEBC tallied the official results from Form 34A so any alleged revelation that does not have 46,229 polling station entries of results should be dismissed with contempt by anyone who is really interested in reviewing the 2022 IEBC results. These are, after all, the famous forms that were uploaded to the IEBC portal to the chagrin of many.
Alai’s whistleblower renews the claim of substitution of the results forms and the mutation of Jpeg images to PDF format, both of which were discredited during the election petition. The easiest way to prove these claims was always going to be by agent’s testimony. But during the Supreme Court presidential election petition, Azimio La Umoja did not present a single agent (out of presumably 46,229 presidential agents) in court to say that the IEBC had declared different results for the polling station they were accredited. Not one person has since claimed their signature had been appended to a false result form. No-one has gone on record to say the IEBC portal form was different from the one they were given at the polling station. The supreme irony is that the only Azimio agents who testified at the Supreme Court spoke to the falsity of the documents tendered in evidence by the petitioners’ lawyers. Among these were fake Form 34As in Kitisuru Ward, Westlands constituency, Nairobi.
In an environment of growing pressure for a judicial probe of what happened during the 2022 tallying process, and just a day after the IEBC published its post-election evaluation report, I suspect the appearance of a whistleblower is a gambit to divert attention from Azimio through a fake news campaign.
We appear to be at the start of the next phase of what the EU Observer Mission to the 2022 Kenyan election aptly described as “extensive and sophisticated disinformation campaigns [that] distorted the online political discourse, contributing to the erosion of public trust in the electoral process and affecting voters’ ability to make decisions free from manipulative interference.”
The EU conducted extensive social media monitoring and bot tracking, and published a detailed Annex to its Kenya report that “identified 2,838 accounts heavily engaged in disseminating early unverified results in the eighteen hours following the closing of the polling stations on 9th August.” Post- voting cyber manipulation efforts were noted by the Kenyan media too. A good example is this investigation by Wanja Mbuthia which documented a cyber conspiracy to smear IEBC Commissioners. Her twitter relationship maps are extremely informative.
Cyber disinformation is definitely not a one-way street. Indeed the American NDI/ IRI Observer mission report on Kenya’s 2022 Presidential election found that “both political campaigns used paid bloggers, influencers and other users to shape the political discourse and discredit their opponents on various social media platforms. The spread of misleading or falsified content online appeared to benefit both major candidates. Such tactics were also used in the immediate post-election period to undermine confidence in the electoral results and target political and electoral officials… rumours and disinformation were rampant in the immediate postelection period, with little or no accountability for those amplifying and generating specious claims about the electoral process.”
Why is this issue at all? Simply put, there are large numbers of people who fall for fake news. Why do people believe, or fall for, fake news? A 2019 study of American respondents has a psychological answer. This study of “bullshit receptivity, overclaiming, familiarity, and analytic thinking” draws the overall conclusion that “belief in fake news may be driven, to some extent, by a general tendency to be overly accepting of weak claims. This tendency, [referred to] as reflexive open-mindedness, may be partly responsible for the prevalence of epistemically suspect beliefs writ large.”
In other words, many of us are gullible and (for various reasons including bias and prejudice) unwilling to accept that an argument we’d like to believe is sound is unsubstantiated at best, or at worst completely fallacious. Political propagandists, knowing this, hammer away with one untruthful argument after another, sowing seeds of doubt. Their objective is not necessarily to prove any point; it is to make any argument available so that the debate continues ad nauseum, ad infinitum.
It is shape-shifting. Moving the goalposts. It’s insidious and fiendishly clever, but it is fake.
As I am now at serious risk of engaging in PPB myself, I will leave it at that.
Prolixity definitely doesn’t impute merit.
Views expressed in the piece are the writer’s. The editor welcomes responses.