Third Eye

Opinion leaders key in Ruto, Raila campaigns 

Monday, June 27th, 2022 10:37 | By
Colage of Raila and Ruto.
Collage of Raila and Ruto. PHOTO(RailaOdinga, WilliamRuto)Facebook

Interpretation of election campaign messages share lots of similarities with how mass media messages are understood and interpreted, especially in multi-ethnic societies. 

The media messages do not necessarily hit different ethnic or linguistic communities the same way.  This is because in most multi-ethnic societies, ethnic nationalism is fairly stronger than cultural nationalism. Therefore, messages from the very national level are interpreted in a multi step fashion, with opinion leaders playing a significant role. 

This is the reason why the same message on national TV is interpreted differently by different people in different regions. Scholars argue that through a selective process, collectivities and individuals interpret these messages in the context of their local realities and most importantly based on the influence of opinion leaders they can easily identify with. 

Often, these opinion leaders are from their cultural communities. It is the same with political campaign messages and this multistage interpretation applies in our multi-ethnic democracy. Our political mobilisation is predominantly on ethnic lines and even the way media covers politics arouses some ethnic sentiments and that influences our voting. 

Robert Horowitz found out that in highly diverse societies, mobilisation on ethnicities tend to be less effective as a strategy, but in Kenya, he established that ethnicity is central and salient in political mobilisation and that voters depend on ethnic cues to form election preferences. The consequence of this culture in our politics suggest that even though our politics is dynamic, you can predict the voting patterns by looking at influential political leaders and opinion shapers. Looking at the two political formations, one can then predict to a large extent how Kenyans will vote.

 A juxtaposition of Azimio One Kenya Alliance and Kenya Kwanza, for instance, can easily help us predict the outcome of the elections just by looking at key leaders from different regions who are supporting the two coalitions. Raila Odinga and Martha Karua’s campaign agenda, just like William Ruto and Rigathi Gachagua messages are cascaded a lot more to the people through opinion leaders. In fact, in Mt Kenya, Azimio-One Kenya coalition  is looked at through leaders from that region who are supporting the coalition, same as Kenya Kwanza.  What one needs to remember is that both Raila and Ruto already have staunch supporters in this region and from the recent political trends, Ruto has had massive following. 

However, as they speak to the mountain, their messages are reinforced by the leaders who are with them from this vote rich region and the opinion leaders below these leaders. 

At the national level, big names such as Kiraitu Murungi  and Karua have a long tradition in reforms and fight for a better Kenya and they provide a more reassuring picture to most opinion leaders in these regions who then woo the undecided outside there  for Raila. In Raila’s traditional strongholds, the people around him have a galvanizing effect and when folks in places like Nyanza, Western and the Coast see the leaders around Raila, they are definitely inclined to some great sense of belief that it is coming home. That has a galvanizing effect and that get out and go vote. It is probably the same effect with Ruto. 

At the national level, Azimio boast of Kalonzo Musyoka, Governor Charity Ngilu, James Ongwae and big names from almost all the regions and if these leaders locked their regions and cascaded the Azimio One Kenya Alliance agenda, it is hard to discern how Kenya Kwanza will get votes. 

Granted, there are hustlers outside there who are deeply rooted in Kenya Kwanza and Moses Wetangula’s and Musalia Mudavadi’s influence in Western Kenya gives it traction.  But then two things Kenya Kwanza may want to be conscious of is the fact that as the election draw near, most people are likely to be swayed towards voting for the winning side and the people around Baba are already swaying people towards Azimio and that is traction that Kenya Kwanza has to stop as they also look for votes. 

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