The prevailing Kenyan tale of populist politics, selfies and sideshows

Steve Biko taught us, that in the struggle for mental liberation, we should not allow our minds to be manipulated and distracted by propaganda. Also, Bob Marley told us that: None but ourselves can free our minds and that we should emancipate ourselves from mental slavery.

Their message to the world is that the mind of an oppressed person is a powerful weapon to the oppressor. The oppression then was as a result of colonial settlers who administered indigenous communities colonially thereby transforming their way of life. However, exploitative and manipulative dealings still persist in modern times.

I have observed something not very unusual in our country’s politics for the past one and a half years. In a society that has so enfeebled truth, we have been blind-folded by our political leaders who have been turned into noisemakers, public orators and superstars.

I have observed with utter disgust how politicians are communicating and connecting to the citizens by way of controlling and manipulating their minds. Call it a visit, meet and greet to shake hands, taking selfies, carrying babies, visiting patients in hospitals, high fiving students and whatnot. Our politicians have found a new way of generating a people’s person feeling and approachability and a way of portraying themselves as ordinary citizens yet all these are merely symbolic and have little lasting value in the lives of the masses. When this happens, you see both the old, the young and children smiling happily because their celebrity politician shook their hands and posed for a selfie with them and they have something to post on their social media.

bob marley
Bob Marley

We have also seen political leaders connecting with people working in the social justice space making themselves more relatable and more accessible by giving a narrative of hope and change while redirecting focus away from a specific topic or issue. A key question then arises. Is this service delivery or self-aggrandizement?



Many politicians are now investing on PR services such that those who are not including Busia Senator Okiya Omtatah, are also seen to be looking for publicity. This is mainly attributed to the erosion of trust in our politicians, a product of a long history of colonial and post-colonial leadership that undermined human and property rights of their people. Simply put, slavery certainly influenced the extent to which the commons trust their current leaders.

Since people have lost faith in them, political leaders are now using Massive PR to display their ‘good side’ and acting in corrupt ways without damaging their images, thus perpetuating inequality and keeping the electorates in poverty. Sadly, the people are normalising PR politics and fail to realize that most of our leaders are practicing populist form of service delivery to depict themselves as responsive to the citizens’ needs while distracting us from the state of our country.

Perhaps the most outstanding period that remind us of how easily we can fall for publicity is 2022. Kenyans were fed with anti-progress propaganda and many were unknowingly influenced into accepting falsehood. No detailed information about manifestos and development plans were disclosed to the hustlers who have now fallen to the very bottom, as a result of the populist 2022 bottom-up election campaign narrative.

Since the oppressor has made the lives of the oppressed difficult, the oppressed is not able to associate failed health care system, housing, poverty and famine with public policy failures. Simply put, they cannot associate basic public service delivery failures with poor governance system. A case in point is the ongoing doctor’s strike. While it is the government’s failure to protect the lives of its people, many of the oppressed are blaming doctors without understanding that the responsibility of abandoning patients is not to be shouldered by doctors because Kenyans pay taxes to the government, not to the health care providers. Consequently, it is the fascist capitalist oppressive government’s obligation to provide health care to its people. In other words, because the oppressed have been mentally enslaved, they fail to appreciate that the government prefers to maintain the status quo.

Course of action

 Populist politics is based on beguiling and hypocritical leaders who claim to embody the will of the people in order to amass power. A time has come for the ordinary citizens to have their power back. It is my informed opinion that the inclination of giving politicians PR platforms must be stopped. If we are to ever emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, we must find within ourselves the same unremitting drive that our enemies hold. Nobody or any system can do it for us.

Guest author The Platform Magazine