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What Tyranny of Numbers: Inside Mutahi Ngunyi's Numerology

Author: Wachira Maina
Organisation: Africa Centre for Open Governance
Publish Date: February 2013
Country: Kenya
Sector: Political
Theme: Elections
Type: Other publication
Language: English
Tags: Kenya, Elections, Scenarios

Mutahi Ngunyi’s “Tyranny of Numbers” article - now tyrannizing the unwary in cyberspace - says that the Jubilee Alliance of Uhuru Kenyatta will win the 2013 presidential election in the first round with a substantial majority over the Cord Coalition of Raila Odinga. In contrast to this, numerous opinion polls have consistently placed the CORD Coalition ahead of Jubilee with the most recent poll saying that the election is now a virtual tie. The polls say, in effect, that no party can win this election in the first round. Who is right? The polls, without question. Though Mutahi’s argument has gained traction in certain circles, it is wrong-headed and the numbers on which it rests have been tortured to yield results they cannot sustain. This article explains the basic errors and spurious conclusions on which the “Tyranny of Numbers” stands. Put simply, the analysis is so flawed Mutahi should refund the money of the client that paid for it.

The “Tyranny of Numbers” makes a plausible but trivial claim, that is, that Kenya’s voting is historically influenced by ethnicity. This claim is plausible because identity is central to our national life- as it is in Belgium, Lebanon and any other multicultural country you may care to name. It is trivial because no one has ever won an election in Kenya through exclusive ethnic votes without mobilizing at least three ethnic groups and so undercutting the argument that people vote ethnicity.
On the basis of that claim, Ngunyi then uses electoral demographics to build what, on examination, is a house of cards. The Jubilee Alliance, he says, begins with such a large numerical advantage the effort needed to secure an electoral victory is infinitesimally small. Barring a major catastrophe- including an assassination- Jubilee should win the presidential election in the first round. This inevitable victory comes from the Jubilee Coalition’s “bankable” ethnic vote of 6.2 Million (or 43.2% of the total vote). This number is basically a totting up of the registered GEMA and the Kalenjin voters. On that same ethnic logic, Mutahi reckons that CORD Coalition starts off with 19.2% of the vote or 2.74 million votes. For CORD to win, he says, they need to double their support. Or as he puts it, for CORD to catch up with Jubilee, it must multiply each of its Kamba and Luo vote by 2.3. Virtually impossible is the implication. Well? This is numerology not numeracy. Here is why.
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