The Kenya Forum | ‘Trending’: our round-up of this week's biggest news stories - The Kenya Forum

October 15, 2023


In this week’s ‘Trending’ article, we consider the Israel-Palestine conflict, the perceived rift between Gachagua and Ruto, and more.

More by Cameron Grant

‘Trending’: our round-up of this week’s biggest news stories

‘Trending’: our round-up of this week’s biggest news stories

You’d be hard pressed to find anyone who isn’t aware of the biggest international news story ongoing right now. Even the least international affairs-aware person will have some knowledge of the latest development in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

However, as is always the case with our ‘Trending’ weekly article, our intention is not just to give you the latest details but to place those facts within the grander conversation. Our ‘Trending’ article is as much about informing those that want to be in the know as it is about framing that knowledge within the grand, era-defining narratives that are an ever-present to each of the earth’s greatest, most influential moments.

A large portion of this week’s ‘Trending’ article’s column space will be given over to this huge issue. However, there will also be time and space for the discussion of a Kenya-specific development that may well prove to be influential for each of us as the Ruto regime enters its adolescence.

We will, therefore, also give you the latest on the still-developing, as-of-yet-unconfirmed rift between Kenya’s president and his deputy.

2023’s latest development in the Israel-Palestine conflict

In the early hours of Saturday morning, an Israel playing host to an international music festival was subjected to a coordinated air, ground and missile attack. Soon after, Hamas – an acronym of Harakat al-Muqāwamah al Islāmiyyah, or, in English, the Islamic Resistance Movement – took responsibility for the attack.

Video of Hamas fighters paragliding into Israel has been widely circulated online, as has footage purporting to be illustrative of the attacks on homes along Israel’s border with the Gaza strip. Since the initial attack, retributive action in the form of a targeted bombing campaign by the Israeli Defence Force has also been documented on video and posted online.

The initial attack by Hamas resulted in the deaths of some 1300 Israelis. The subsequent bombing campaign of the Gaza strip has killed an estimated 2,300 Palestinians.

The initial invasion, the subsequent counterattack, and the increasingly vitriolic and emotionally-charged conversation has since been pored over, reanalysed and repackaged numerous times. Video footage of brutality is readily available and, in a conversation that has been bipartisan and charged for quite some time, there is no doubt that it’s spread and the context given to it – in captions and as quotes when the footage is reposted – is incendiary by intent.

If there is an online desire to accurately report on this conflict without the leveraging of emotion, that desire is being buried under very obvious intent to do otherwise. Misinformation on the topic is rife. Both sides are keen to frame the conflict, and the manner in which it is being conducted, as morally justified – often by presenting the other side’s as not so.

Yesterday, Friday 13th of October, Israel’s government followed up it’s comprehensive bombing campaign with an order that all Gazans from the north – including Gaza city which has an estimated population of 1.1 million Palestinians – must evacuate the city and head south. Fliers were dropped on Gaza City in order to give the directive. The reasoning behind it, according to the Israelis, is to clear the north of the Hamas fighters that have previously vowed to fight on until their last drop of blood has been shed.

Over a million Gazans are fleeing en masse, attempting to do it within a 24-hour timeframe, and they are leaving every thing they own behind with no hope of succour outside of Gaza. Numerous organisations – the UN and the EU’s foreign policy office amongst them – have warned of the potential for a humanitarian disaster as this evacuation starts.

Israel is planning a coordinated ground assault, having already started raids in southern Gaza.

This is the situation the Gaza strip and Israel presently finds itself in. We are bearing witness to a drastic retributive act of military action against a force considered by many as a terrorist organisation who have vowed, many a time, that they will not relent until they achieve Palestinian independence, or they are all killed in the attempt of doing so.

The conflict has no easy ending and all commentators, wherever their allegiances align, can see this. This is part of why conversation online has become as emotionally charged and framed by violent imagery as it has. The end that is in site looks as if it can only be met by decisive, and extreme, action, and whatever course that action takes, those justifying their side’s means to that end are applying some ghastly imagery in doing so.

One of the more gruesome theatres in which the online debate is presently being framed is on the topic of which side – Hamas or Israel’s Defence Force – is perpetrating the greater amount of war crimes. Pro-Palestine advocates present the argument of the Gaza strip’s being, in effect, an open air prison. Israel supporters detail accounts of Hamas fighters using Palestinians as human shields. Hamas sympathisers attempt to sway our conscientious desire to find a moral right with video of the IDF dropping white phosphorus bombs – internationally considered illegal if dropped on populated areas – on very populated areas. IDF defenders, in their turn, tell us of how Hamas fighters beheaded over 40 babies in their invasion of Israel. (The last of those ‘facts’, though once widely circulated – including by US president, Joe Biden – has now been debunked with no legitimate source capable of confirming this as actually having happened.)

Online debate on all matters tends to stray towards extremist language and imagery. We’ve even written an article on a similar topic before. When we converse online, the distance placed between us and our conversational partners is separated by a screen and, often, anonymity. This allows for an unbridling of our characters as we debate online, most obviously at the expense of our usual temperance.

This perhaps explains why when the world debates non-military, but otherwise influential, international happenstances, commentators always manage to find space for the use of imagery of murder and extreme criminality as they try to sway us with their arguments. Britain’s Brexit was framed as life or death. Kenya’s 2010 Constitution drafting was considered dangerously criminal. Where we host international sporting events is often a question commentators shape as being better answered in The Hague.

In the case of the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is a warzone. Murder and extreme criminality have always found hidey holes within the shadowed spaces of warzones. The rhetoric surrounding, therefore, needs very little imagined input. That doesn’t mean that the conversation on who has the moral right of this conflict isn’t being influenced and we would all benefit from being aware of this fact.

There may, in fact, not be a moral right in this issue. But, if there is, and if you’re looking for it, beware of those attempting to sway your conscious as they also tally up one side’s number of babies murdered without presenting the others.

Ruto vs. Rigathi: a Kenyan conflict

Now, onto a significantly smaller-scoped conflict that is far closer to home for those of us living in Kenya. Interestingly, this conflict, just like the one discussed above, stinks of déjà vu. Kenya’s president and its vice president have, it would seem, had a falling out.

Though these rumours, as you would of course suspect, are being dismissed out of hand – most recently by DP Rigathi Gachagua himself –, those of us watching Kenya’s leadership closely these last few months have noticed what appears to be a developing rift between the two.

The exact reasoning, playing out as two human individuals live, work and interact with one another in very close and high stress proximity to one another, we can only guess at. However, there are a number of recent events that have played out in public which may also be analysed with the intent of shedding some light on the nature of this perceived conflict.

The Ruto presidency is being forced to handle a greater-than-usual amount of international and internal pressures. Inflation remains high and IMF loan repayments are forcing the government to find increasingly inventive ways to generate capital. Resultantly, we are witnessing what seems to be a new tax or a tax hike every month. That, of course, is putting strain on an increasingly overburdened Kenyan populace already struggling with a high cost of living resulting from increased pressure on the globalised trade network.

In this time of increased pressure, the president has been forced to watch as his DP has made a number of gaffes. His first gaffe was embarrassing but forgivable. Gachagua, on a trade mission in Columbia, invited his Columbian counterparts to visit Kenya in order to see it’s resident tigers; Kenya, of course, has no tigers.

His second gaffe forced a comment from the already beleaguered president. Gachagua, himself under pressure from Kenyans unhappy at how costly living is right now, told a highly strung media conference that Kenya was going to be run like a ‘limited liability company’. If you own shares – i.e. if you voted for the Kenya Kwanza coalition – it would pay you dividends.

The allusion there, plain for anyone looking, was that this was a government for it’s voters, not for all Kenyans. In a country already rife with division, these comments caused quite a stir. They may well be the reason why Ruto seems to be resentful of the ties he’s made with his number 2.

The story of Brian Mwenda

Lastly, we wanted to finish with a light-hearted story, a story of Hollywood brought to life here in Kenya: the story of Brian Mwenda.

Many of you have already heard the tale of how a man with no qualifications, no certification from the Law Society of Kenya and a lot of confidence managed to wrangle his way into a job as an advocate for Kenya’s High Court. Brian Mwenda managed to craft together a life not unlike that lived by the principle character in Hollywood’s Suits: Mike Ross.

You can read Brian Mwenda’s own account of his story on X so we won’t go into detail on it here but it is an amazing one so do check it out.


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