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Kenya and the art of voter demotivation

By Christine Mungai
Posted on Friday, 21 May 2021 16:16

Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta (L) greets opposition leader Raila Odinga of the National Super Alliance (NASA) coalition after addressing a news conference at the Harambee house office in Nairobi, Kenya 9 March 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

For a few furious weeks in April this year, Kenyans online took on the IMF, campaigning against a scheduled $2.3bn loan to Kenya. It began as a rather ordinary online petition - started by one Jefferson Murrey (who signed the campaign as ‘Weary Kenyan Taxpayer’) - which garnered more than 200,000 signatures in 48 hours, but quickly morphed into an even bigger digital campaign, with Kenyans flooding the comments section of the IMF’s Facebook page, urging the organisation to cancel the loan.

Every post or live event on the IMF’s page was attracting a dozen hundreds of comments under the hashtag #StopLoaningKenya. They argued that funds from previous loans had either been stolen or misappropriated by the government, and had only led to more taxation and more corruption. The decentralised yet organically coordinated campaign went even further, with the IMF’s app on Google Play Store receiving a barrage of one-star ratings from Kenyans, along with even more comments and negative reviews.

In Kenya today, most critics of the political establishment are not beaten, jailed or bribed with money and jobs. They are, instead, driven out of their minds, forcing them to careen into frustrated unhinged rants, thus discrediting themselves.”

Kenyans online, and on Twitter especially, are famously known for their eagerness to brawl – many have fallen to the stinging barbs of Kenyans On Twitter (KOT) – but this was particularly intense. It didn’t matter that trolling the IMF in this way was a bit misguided, as this article helpfully explained, but understanding the intricate workings of the Bretton Woods institutions was besides the point. To understand why Kenyans would camp on the IMF’s Facebook page for weeks on end, hijacking each and every post, and even tanking the institution’s rating on Google Play Store, you have to appreciate the shift in the political climate over the past few years that has slowly but comprehensively stifled legitimate avenues of dissent and drained their oxygen, so to speak – and thus left Kenyans with only a few options to grasp some agency and express their political ideals.