Kenyarwandans: More alike than we are different

Rwanda and Kenya elections having been so close in terms of timing makes it amenable for some of the obvious comparisons.

Aside from the calmer election campaigns in the former compared to the long, drawn-out and noisier drives in the latter, something can also be said of the Diaspora turnout in the respective elections.

First, the voter turnout was inversely proportional relative to each country’s population. Rwanda’s population is about 12 million, Kenya’s around 44 million.

Over 3,000 eligible Rwandan voters registered in Kenya, against 850 Kenyans who registered to vote in Kigali.

Rwandan in the Diaspora voted overwhelmingly (national average was over 98 percent) for President Paul Kagame.

The Kenyan vote was almost evenly split between the two frontrunners, despite there being eight presidential candidates on the ballot.

In Rwanda, 298 voted for President Uhuru Kenyatta, with 255 picking his main opponent, Raila Odinga. Only one vote went to an alternative candidate.  Just over 65 per cent of those registered cast their vote, which was lower than the average national turnout of over 78 per cent.

The pattern was replicated among Kenyans in Burundi at 47 and 48 votes for Kenyatta and Odinga, respectively. In Tanzania, 393 voted for Kenyatta against 394 for Odinga.

Uganda returned 408 and 322 votes for the incumbent and his main opponent, respectively.

There’s a possible explanation for the even split, which may partly be found in the garrulous and often virulent social media chatter by the Kenyans, especially on Twitter (#KOT), for or against either candidate.

It is often argued that Kenyans are socio-politically conditioned to vote for one tribe or the other. Without delving into tribal intricacies and arithmetic, I will, for the sake of argument, suggest a more neutral example cited by author Eli Pariser in his book Filter Bubbles.

He coined the term “filter bubble” to refer to the results of computer algorithms that dictate what we encounter online. He gives the example of two people who google for news about “BP” (British Petroleum). One user sees news related to investing in the company. The other user receives information about a recent oil spill.

The two people receive the different results by virtue of the computer algorithms that have learned their online habits and kind of news they prefer from most of their searches.

In the same manner, groups of people or cultures naturally have to filter information often leading one to veer one way or the other in the choices we make.

In their turn, filter bubbles create echo chambers – say, your group on WhatsApp or Facebook – in which we assume that everyone thinks like us. In these groups, we are closed listening to each other, often affirming our own biases.

“This is why partisans of one political stripe tend not to consume the media of another. As a result, an information environment built on click signals will favourcontent that supports our existing notions about the world over content that challenges them.”

This about sums the role of the social media in Kenyan politics, where many in the Diaspora and their pro-Jubilee Party and NASA proclivities attack one another, often influencing their voting patterns.

Rwandans on social media, on the other hand, are not as divisive.

This brings me back to citizens in either country. Kinyarwanda being all pervasive with many Kenyans in the country quick to understand the Bantu language, it did not take much leap of imagination for citizens of both countries to put one and one together and more than jokingly refer to themselves as “Kenyarwandans”. This indicates our connectedness, how we are more alike than we are different.

We, therefore, look out for one another. As I wrote this, the announcement was about to be made about Kenya’s next president after the African Union, International Conference of the Great Lakes Region and other international election observer missions declared the polls credible. By the time you read this, Kenyatta will most likely have received his certificate from the election commission declaring him as the winner.

Last week, I suggested that one gets a better feel of the heat closer to the boiler room. I need not report how the heat is now a notch or two higher with tension, especially after the main political opponent’s startling demand to be declared winner against the law.

One hopes it won’t result in violence. There is some consensus that, unlike in the 2007 dispute when the opposition had a lot of diplomatic support, it is now isolated. This, in addition to the scale of their defeat, has dulled their potency.

Though there are some isolated skirmishes, my optimism for relative calm remains high.

Twitter: @gituram
The writer is a Kenyan living in Kigali.