NANJIRA: Data can counter political appeals to emotion

NANJIRA: Data can counter political appeals to emotion

NANJIRA: Data can counter political appeals to emotion

One thing that politicians understand, and are able to manipulate, is that we are primarily emotional beings.

It is no longer tenable to merely report that billions of shillings are missing or unaccounted for; the same fact could be framed in terms of the opportunity cost.
As campaign season hits, and as the State House Summits continue, demands for data must accompany the claims of impact.

all know the famous quote attributed to Albert Einstein, that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.
By and large, a diagnosis of the Kenyan electorate is described by this quote, simply because when the pen meets the ballot paper the result is largely the same, elected leaders that we complain about for the better part of five years.

This diagnosis is more serious than we appreciate and mustn’t only be fodder for cynicism and sarcasm. We are suffering because of these habits.
We seem stuck in a vicious circle, and much as we desire to break it, at least rhetorically, it is not easy.
One thing that politicians understand, and are able to manipulate, is that we are primarily emotional beings. Evoke certain feelings and you have very likely secured a voter or follower.

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The magic, often, is not in what you say but in how you say it. It’s not about whether you need a mall or new road in your constituency, but about making it sound like it heralds development and prosperity. The cost-benefit analysis becomes secondary to the illusion!
Therein lies the breeding ground for all manner of misinformation, disinformation and outright falsity.


What chance, then, do data and facts have in the decision-making process? Honing in more specifically on our democratic process and the upcoming elections, will facts and data influence how we debate and eventually vote for our leaders?
Facts and numbers can be boring and intimidating and while they demystify a lot, they can also be twisted and spun to support existing biases and agendas.
Over the last couple of years, there has been renewed effort and focus on freeing data from laboratories, research institutions and other "silos" to the public who are the intended beneficiaries, and through their taxes, often the funders.

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We have, for instance, the Kenya Open Data Initiative , which serves as a repository of data about us, collected for us from various government institutions. We have also seen numerous initiatives, such as efforts in data-driven journalism and fact-checking sites like Pesa Check .
The impact of these initiatives is varied, primarily because they may have overlooked, or cannot yet factor in, an important reality. More often than not, we are first emotional and then logical beings.
Philosophy categorises various logical fallacies, yet those hardly matter when emotions, especially feel good ones, have been stirred.  While data is increasingly being "freed", it is not necessarily lighting up people’s thinking and decision-making.

This may be because it is either not well explained, thus intimidating people, misreported, hence distorting reality, or plunging readers into a new level of disillusionment: “now I know, but what am I supposed to do?”


Many arguments from academic and policy circles, are rightly anchored in logic. They point out to us mythical, yet enticing proclamations, that, for example,  entrepreneurship will curb ever-rising unemployment , more roads will hasten development , or that more roads will ease traffic congestion , say in Nairobi.
The examples cited above have been weaved into narratives that the ordinary citizen can consume. Much more data is yet to be broken down into easily digestible formats.
Take reporting on corruption, for instance. We have been so inundated with the numbers that they evoke little emotion.

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