Tweeting 'truths': rumour and grammars of power in Kenya
This study examines rumour as a mediator of public discourses in Kenya. It focuses on rumours that followed the killing of Chris Msando – a senior election official with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission – and his friend Carolyne Ngumbu a week before the 2017 elections. Although earlier research on rumour exists, it is limited to oral societies and overlooks the versatility of structure and functions of rumours. Therefore, I study the interface between rumours, Twitter and the politics surrounding the two deaths. The research is informed by four objectives: to trace the history of rumour as an area of study in Africa; evaluate the role of Twitter in the creation, circulation, and use of rumour in contemporary Kenya; discuss the uses of rumour for government and individuals; and analyse how the interface between rumours and Twitter impact on the everyday life in Kenya. I use close textual reading of rumours and informal conversations to corroborate data scraped from Twitter. I then apply four theories: Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis (1995) to unpack the meanings in rumours and informal conversations; Paul Ricoeur’s (1973) notion of hermeneutics of suspicion as popularised by Felski (2011) to analyse the rumours; Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) metaphorical rhizome to understand the amorphousness of rumours; and Jodi Dean’s (2009) concept of communicative capitalism to determine the extent to which communicative technologies of popular and social media’s appropriation in rumourous conversations evoke political awareness among different interlocutors. This thesis argues that rumours have changed and been changed by Twitter’s communicative cultures, owing to their structural complexity and the growing alertness among the general publics about the necessity of self-expression in a country where a majority of citizens have accepted democracy as the most desirable basis of political organization. Thus, contemporary rumours emerge from the process of co-creation in an amorphous public struggling to assert its identity through competing and alternative narratives it creates. The rumours are also subject to simultaneous archiving and transcend space and time. Furthermore, rumours on Twitter rarely filter to oral communities and vice versa, and are underpinned by ethnic sensibilities, historical mistrust, and national politics, all of which are the underpinning logics of Kenya’s experiments with democracy. This study demonstrates that viewing rumours as a weapon of the marginalised limits the scope of their value as knowledge, since the domination-resistance binary obscures the cultural and historical influences on creativity and appropriation of Twitter for rumourous communication.