Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 10, 2013

How The NYT Frames The Kenyan Election

Jeffrey Gettleman writes for the NYT as east Africa correspondent. His piece on the Kenyan election, Kenyatta Is Declared the Victor in Kenya, but Opponent Plans to Appeal, is a master example for obfuscating and tenuous writing. It starts:
Kenya’s election commission on Saturday declared Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Kenya’s first president and one of the prime suspects in a case involving crimes against humanity, to be the winner of the country’s presidential race amid growing allegations of vote fraud and a refusal by the other leading contender to concede.

The tricks Gettleman uses to make the Kenyatta win look bad are these:

  •  let the outcome of the election look close
  •  throw doubts onto the vote counting
  •  let the accusations against Kenyatta seem reasonable

To let the outcome look close Gettleman never actually mentions the percentage of votes the "western" candidate, Raila Odinga, received. Kenyatta received 50.07% but Odinga received only 43.31% of the votes. That is a quite big margin. But as Gettleman does not tell his readers that Odinga lost by 6.7%.   Instead he uses these retorical devices to let race look close:

Mr. Kenyatta [...] avoided a runoff by the thinnest of margins, about 8,000 votes out of 12 million, or .07 percent.
[i]t was not completely clear what the will of the people really was. The second-place finisher, Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister, has refused to admit defeat and plans to appeal to Kenya’s Supreme Court to overturn the results, which some independent observers said were sloppy and suspicious. Mr. Odinga said there had been “rampant illegality” and “massive tampering” with the vote-tallying process, the same problem that bedeviled Kenya’s last election in 2007. Mr. Odinga narrowly lost that race and after he protested, Kenya exploded in political violence.
This election was always expected to be close.

Reading that a casual reader would assume that the margin of votes was somewhat tight and that there are reasonable doubt about the outcome. That is not the case. If Kenyattas 6.7% advance was fraudulant the fraud must have been massive and quite obvious.

Then there are Gettleman's anonymous "some independent observers" who seem to make some case though we never learn which one. But the Independent Kenyan Election Observation Group (ELOG), which had over 7000 observers at the polls and did a Parallel Vote Tabulation, says that the officials results are very much within the margins of their count:

IEBC’s official results are consistent with ELOG’s PVT projections. ELOG wishes to note and to remind all Kenyans that it is the IEBC which is constitutionally mandated to declare and announce the final, official results of the elections. Based on the PVT, ELOG has verified that the IEBC results fall within our projected range for all the eight presidential candidates.
The EU Election Observation Mission to Kenya had (pdf) some minor technical issues with the election but saw no signs of fraud. No other source than Gettleman's mysterious "independent observers" has reported doubts. The Soros Open Society funded Africa Election Project reported:
the elections were peaceful, free and fair, winning praise from international observers despite widespread fears of a repeat of violence
Voice of America noted:
international observers have said the vote was largely transparent and credible
The Washington Post reported:
International elections observers have declared the election transparent
Reuters wrote:
International observers broadly said the vote and count had been transparent so far and the electoral commission, which replaced a discredited body, said it delivered a credible vote.

None of Gettleman's colleagues seem to have found those "some international observers" who doubt the election outcome.

"This election was always expected to be close." writes Gettleman. In January the Odinga coalition was slightly in the lead. But a TV debate on February 14 was won by Kenyatta and a poll a week later found him to be in the lead. The trend in February was clearly in Kenyatta's favor. Then followed not so veiled “choices have consequences” threats from the U.S. and UK should Kenyans elect Kenyatta. Protest votes against such outer interference explains the rather large win Kenyatta made.

The case before the International Criminal Court, which Gettleman emphasizes is rather flimsy. After the 2007 election, which Odinga probably also lost, Odinga followers went on killing spree against the Kenyatta side supporters. Those supporters then retaliated which resulted in more killing. The ICC accusations were brought up against leaders on both sides as "indirect co-perpetrators" of the clashing. The case was brought against the will of the Kenyan national assembly and the Kenyan government. The only reason the ICC kangaroo court trumped up the charges is pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom. Both want to keep Odinga as a puppet instead of having to wrangle with a more resisting Kenyatta.

Gettleman's task is obviously to support a drive to reinstall Odinga despite his large and obvious loss in the election. While readers from the U.S. might fall for his propaganda, I am confident that the people of Kenya will not.

Posted by b on March 10, 2013 at 17:58 UTC | Permalink


NWOdinga is veritably a tool and a traitor to his country. To simply allow instability to continue in his vile quest for power reveals his egotistical and selfish nature. He does not want what is best for Kenya. The NYT is quickly becoming my favorite newspaper that I love to hate. This whole crimes against humanity thing is something so vague and open that you can also basically level that type of charge against anybody. Why isn't Bush or Cheney or any of the Israeli heads of state or ministers accused of them. Either use them against everybody or don't use them at all.

Posted by: Fernando | Mar 10 2013 18:19 utc | 1

Another timely and masterful piece of analysis by b who reads the NYTimes (and WaPo) so we don't have to.

All that I would emphasise is that the folly of these failed attempts to intervene, by the "west" (otherwise known as the thieves and thugs who the Kenyans so recently kicked out of their plundered homes) will come back to haunt them.
Kenyatta and his people will add this latest act of arrogance to the long list of reasons to detest the Empire and all that it stands for. And so they should.

Posted by: bevin | Mar 10 2013 19:24 utc | 2

Listen, this is not a horse race to pick sides. The Washington Post is quite capable of a scathing critique of colonialism and Western democracy when all can be blamed on the British. From 2008

I doubt that the irony of Brown and Miliband's message was lost on Kibaki or Odinga. Today's Britain, between its botched war on terror and lack of checks on executive power (to name but a few flaws), falls far short of the democratic ideals so paternalistically espoused by Brown and other British leaders. Still, the prime minister's jaw-dropping chutzpah -- on display not only in Kenya but also in former imperial possessions such as Pakistan and Iraq -- is rooted less in Brown's own tin ear than in the nature and structures of yesteryear's British colonial rule. So are today's crises in the former empire. If you're looking for the origins of Kenya's ethnic tensions, look to its colonial past.

Far from leaving behind democratic institutions and cultures, Britain bequeathed to its former colonies corrupted and corruptible governments. Colonial officials hand-picked political successors as they left in the wake of World War II, lavishing political and economic favors on their proteges. This process created elites whose power extended into the post-colonial era.

Added to this was a distinctly colonial view of the rule of law, which saw the British leave behind legal systems that facilitated tyranny, oppression and poverty rather than open, accountable government. And compounding these legacies was Britain's famous imperial policy of "divide and rule," playing one side off another, which often turned fluid groups of individuals into immutable ethnic units, much like Kenya's Luo and Kikuyu today. In many former colonies, the British picked favorites from among these newly solidified ethnic groups and left others out in the cold. We are often told that age-old tribal hatreds drive today's conflicts in Africa. In fact, both ethnic conflict and its attendant grievances are colonial phenomena.

It's no wonder that newly independent countries such as Kenya maintained and even deepened the old imperial heritage of authoritarianism and ethnic division. The British had spent decades trying to keep the Luo and Kikuyu divided, quite rightly fearing that if the two groups ever united, their combined power could bring down the colonial order. Indeed, a short-lived Luo-Kikuyu alliance in the late 1950s hastened Britain's retreat from Kenya and forced the release of Jomo Kenyatta, the nation's first president, from a colonial detention camp. But before their departure, the British schooled the future Kenyans on the lessons of a very British model of democratic elections. Britain was determined to protect its economic and geopolitical interests during the decolonization process, and it did most everything short of stuffing ballot boxes to do so. That set dangerous precedents. Among other maneuvers, the British drew electoral boundaries to cut the representation of groups they thought might cause trouble and empowered the provincial administration to manipulate supposedly democratic outcomes.

Posted by: somebody | Mar 10 2013 20:19 utc | 3

Shortly before the election Elkim Namlo wrote in Kenya's Daily Nation: Foreign reporters armed and ready to attack Kenya, which was picked up in the Guardian.

Kenya was braced at the crossroads on Saturday amidst growing concern that the demand for clichés is outstripping supply.

Critical elections loom, say senior diplomats, and there is a pressing need not only for clichés, but for colourful phrases, authentic quotes and fresh sources. Without urgent action, warned a senior taxi driver, this strategic east African nation with close ties to the West, risks being driven to the brink of an uncertain future.

"We are now prepared for any eventuality,” said the spokesman. “Our monitors have registered an early demand for 'fears rising', 'key ally', 'strategic partner' and 'ethnic violence', and fresh deliveries will arrive within days.”

“Tribal rivalries’, and ‘ethnic violence’ is also proving popular, the UN official added, as are ‘bloodstained machetes’, ‘pangas and rungus’, and ‘mindless violence’ ‘Bitter memories’ is also in great demand.

Non-government organisations are understood to have teams on standby, ready to supply quotes about rampant corruption, grinding poverty, and soaring unemployment.

“We have prepared for the worst,” said an NGO representative. In the event of a peaceful election, journalists will be able to choose from a range of row-back options

Posted by: xcroc | Mar 10 2013 21:14 utc | 4

@ somebody [#3],

The NYT and WaPo are owned by whom and what's their true [Iraq/Syria/Iran anyone?] agenda? [or ist das ja ganz verboten um zu fragen?]

Posted by: Daniel Rich | Mar 10 2013 21:15 utc | 5

Caroline Elkins is always worth reading. I'd hardly call her honesty and knowledge typical of the WaPo whose ed page is run by unreconstructed and semi-literate neo-cons.

Posted by: bevin | Mar 10 2013 21:48 utc | 6

Here is a nice graphic analysis of what Kenyans were saying on Twitter during the election, during the debates, etc.

Posted by: xcroc | Mar 10 2013 22:04 utc | 7

xcroc, love your site. The logo is genius.

The evidence, as well as an innate sense of cause and effect, points to the Reptilian Order's actual fostering of terror for their own selfish ends. The mystery is how an idea in the head of a State Dept wonk translates into a suicide bomb. I get it that the Gulf states are cajoled, bribed, threatened to persuade the mullahs to recruit terrorists, but how does a young man strapping on a Semtex vest fail to see he's being used? Can one be that credulous?

Posted by: ruralito | Mar 10 2013 22:34 utc | 8

5/6 what is the use of reading stuff you agree with, you never learn something new ...

Posted by: somebody | Mar 10 2013 22:44 utc | 9

ruralito - 8

"but how does a young man strapping on a Semtex vest fail to see he's being used?"

The process is not too much different from that which takes normal people and converts them into willing, blood lusting criminals occupying places like Afghanistan and Iraq for the U.S. military. If a person can be kept ignorant, they can be made to believe anything. Some of the terrorists recruited by the west to attack Syria actually believed they were attacking Israel. Also look up such programs as the CIA's mkultra, they were seeking ways to indoctrinate people so they would commit the most heinous crimes without regard to their own survival. With this so-called "Muslim terror", one can see that they pretty much succeeded in developing their research into practical working operations.

Posted by: вот так | Mar 10 2013 23:22 utc | 10

"willing, blood lusting", true, but expecting a little seed money at the end for a pet store or a college education, not loud searing oblivion.

"believed they were attacking Israel." I've heard that too, what? third hand. Maybe they were told "By attacking the infidel Assad you will attack Israel" and the first phrase didn't make it to press.

Posted by: ruralito | Mar 11 2013 0:11 utc | 11

ruralito - 11

"but expecting a little seed money at the end for a pet store or a college education, not loud searing oblivion."

Most probably for that reason, but there are those who take the indoctrination seriously enough, that they are there out of sheer "patriotism". I've talked with both kinds, the latter being psychos in my mind.

"Maybe they were told "By attacking the infidel Assad you will attack Israel" and the first phrase didn't make it to press."

No, the captured terrorists actually claimed they thought they were fighting Israeli soldiers, not Syrian. There are also a lot of drugs involved. Both old ones, and new ones, specifically designed to make said terrorist "fearless" and think they are invulnerable. These latter drugs appear to be newly designed mood altering drugs in pill form.

Posted by: вот так | Mar 11 2013 0:29 utc | 12


Most of the tweets against Uhuru were written in humor and sarcasm which the computer interprets as positive sentiment.

Take note hasbara.

Posted by: ruralito | Mar 11 2013 0:32 utc | 13

A report on the CBC that I heard this morning was really similar. Just like Gettleman in the Times, it too failed to mention the wide margin between Kenyatta and the second place Odinga. Emphasis was place on the mere 8000 votes that put Kenyatta over 50%.

Posted by: Patrick Cummins | Mar 11 2013 3:57 utc | 14

my read of events in 2007 was that kibaki lost fairly but the u.s., alone at first among external handlers, refused to let odinga win -- rannenberger even spoke openly of this --and managed to get odinga to allow himself to concede w/ the shared post and idea that he would be groomed to win in the next eletion, once he had proven his competence at running this anchor nation approvingly.he believed the u.s. But now rannenberger is gone and things are a little different.

Posted by: b real | Mar 11 2013 11:48 utc | 15

Ruralito @ 8, Thanks for the complement. I'm no graphics whiz, but I put the header together myself.

As to the young man strapping on a semtex vest, I remembered reading something that addressed that and was able to track it down. I was much struck by it at the time. It was written by Chris Bray writing as Ambrose Beers, and published in October 2000 shortly before the Bush v Gore election. He was writing about the people who bombed the USS Cole. Here is the most relevant bit:

Them against fire

General [S.L.A.] Marshall was tasked with figuring out why men fight or fail when they know that their efforts might get them killed. He did his job; the book Marshall produced, Men Against Fire, is one of the weirdly beautiful works of non-fiction produced in the twentieth century, clean and careful and totally without institutional sentiment.

What Marshall announced, in case after case, is that men embrace death — causing it, or marching into it — as a decision made before an audience. They break from danger when they perceive a social permission to do so, as when seeing others run, and they launch unwaveringly into it when they believe that other men require it of them as a condition of respect. There is, then, "an inherent unwillingness of the soldier to risk danger on behalf of men with whom he has no social identity. When a soldier is unknown to the men who are around him he has relatively little reason to fear losing the one thing that he is likely to value more highly than life — his reputation as a man among other men."

This answers the question about two men standing at the position of attention next to a bomb they have just set to explode. The significant fact of organized violence is the fact of the organization. It is participatory and relational. The position of attention is the very opposite of a display of personal discipline or courage. It's a display of will-lessness, a posture of obedience to external control. It is a social pose, struck for eyewitnesses to see and report. It's like waving to your friends on the way off the planet.

To suggest that an organized attack, brought off skillfully by members of what must be an extraordinarily cohesive organization, represents nothing more than some simpering spasm of pathetic hatred is to carefully miss the very large, very unpleasant point: People who destroy human life in this precise manner are not alone, and not disorganized, and very much not finished.

As I recall the links were good too, though they are mostly dead links by now. They might be accessible on the Wayback machine.

Posted by: xcroc | Mar 11 2013 18:50 utc | 16

The ICC is a joke! ICC Prosecutor withdraws charges related to 2007 election against senior Kenyan official

11 March 2013 – The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) today filed to drop charges against Francis Muthaura, who was accused of crimes against humanity and other offences allegedly committed following general elections in late 2007, but reiterated that charges remain against the president-elect, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta.
She said that she had explained to the judge that several people who may have provided important evidence in the case have either died or are too afraid to testify for the Prosecution.

Ms. Bensouda also noted that the Prosecution lost the testimony of its key witness “after this witness recanted a crucial part of his evidence, and admitted to us that he had accepted bribes.”
The Court named Mr. Muthaura criminally responsible for the alleged crimes as an indirect co-perpetrator, alongside Mr. Kenyatta, the deputy Prime Minister and winner of last week’s presidential election.

“Let me be absolutely clear on one point – this decision applies only to Mr. Muthaura. It does not apply to any other case,” the Prosecutor said in her statement.

Posted by: b | Mar 11 2013 19:11 utc | 17

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