RE: Politics Beyond the “Tyranny of Numbers” and onto “Moore’s Law”.
I was watching IEBC Chairman Wefula Chebukati fumble his way through the results of the “re-elections” when I started thinking about the genesis of Kenya’s current morass – Jack Morton’s construct “tyranny of numbers”.
As previously written, Mr. Morton, an engineer with Bell Labs originated the expression “tyranny of numbers” back in 1958 to describe the limitations/challenges computer engineers of the 50s and 60s were experiencing in their efforts to increase/improve the performance of the computers i.e. speed, accuracy and complexity etc.
The limitations, physical in nature, were due to the large number of components – transistors, wiring and capacitors – that had to be assembled together to increase the performance of each generation of computer. And since at the time, the components were manually assembled together i.e. strung, bundled and/or soldered together, the challenge was basic manufacturability so that with each additional component added onto the assembly, a potential new failure mode was introduced; one whose complexity depended on what/how many existing components the new component interacted with – a form of “tolerance stack-up” between mating components.
Mutahi Ngunyi’s analysis was based on Jack Morton’s original analysis first unveiled in the peer-reviewed scientific journal “Proceedings of the IRE” (Institute of Radio Engineers); an analysis the scientific community agreed with at the time – given limitations of the era’s technology.
Consequently, and as applied to Kenya’s 2013 elections, the “tyranny of numbers” analysis (also) made sense given the primitive and rudimentary nature of Kenya’s post-independence politics as laid out by Jomo Kenyatta and duplicated by subsequent presidents.
The political survivability of Kenya’s political leaders has primarily been dependent on the raw numbers from their tribesmen/women – much like the way every improvement to the performance of each iteration of computer model depended on assembling an increasing number of existing components.
However, with the discovery of strategic minerals (such as germanium) and near-quantum technological advances, the industry, led by Texas Instruments’ Jack Kilby, another electrical engineer, set out to see how to integrate multiple components onto a single integrated circuit (IC) that streamlined various functionalities thereby reducing the number of discrete components required to boost the computer’s performance.
In so doing, the “tyranny of numbers” as originally envisioned by Jack Morton was solved and effectively replaced by “Moore’s Law” – named after Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel.
What does the computer industry’s progression from the archaic “tyranny of numbers” to the modern “Moore’s Law” have to do with Kenya’s electoral politics?
(Moore’s Law: The observation that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubled approximately every two years i.e. from small-scale integration SSI – to ultra-large scale integration ULSI and everything in-between and with that, the performance of computers)
The kind of politics Kenyans continue to see, especially from the incumbents of the day, is wholly reliant on raw (ethnic) numbers and not on ideas or innovative thinking that has appeal OUTSIDE said tribal base AND reflects the global village/marketplace of thought.
It’s also NOT sustainable which is why politicians/leaders resort to machinations such as bribery, intimidations/threats and when cooption fails, outright murder.
In the marketplace/battlefield of political and social ideas, none of Kenya’s four presidents has consistently sold (and sustained the power of) their ideas to a majority of voters across tribal/ethnic lines.
Jomo Kenyatta’s popularity and gravitas benefited from the post-independence euphoria that pervaded the beginning of his presidency only to degenerate into a reign marred with oathing, co-option, authoritarianism and outright murder once others – Jaramogi, Pinto, Mboya, Obama Sr., JM etc. – exposed the shallowness/mediocrity/duplicity of the man.
Both Arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki started off with a deep well of goodwill at the onset of their respective governments in 1978 and 2002. The former’s incompetence was only surpassed by his foresight and tactical prowess with cooption of foes, authoritarianism and outright murder always available as an option.
The latter – Mwai Kibaki – once described as an “urbane and sophisticated” economist, could not resist the intoxicating allure of power and ethnic loyalty. As predicted by Morton’s theory, he relied on his tribe’s numbers and the incumbency.
Unfortunately, as is wont to happen when a manufacturing assembly is scaled using a platform whose design intent is not wholly appropriate for the add-ons, the inevitable oftentimes disastrous system failure occurs.
Thanks to Mwai Kibaki’s under-cover of dark swearing-in, Kenya exploded into a paroxysm of post-election violence. Kibaki, emboldened by his tribe’s numerical advantage, albeit a tenuous one at the time, tried forcing his rule on a majority that felt otherwise and the system (Kenya) crashed and burned!
Uhuru Kenyatta has followed predecessors: Predicated his presidency and legitimacy on a demonstrably limited and dangerously flawed “tyranny of numbers” construct.
It took the scientists at AT&T’s Bell Labs in New Jersey ten years to evolve from the vacuum tube iteration of the day’s technology to the “advanced” transistors that was the bane of Jack Morton’s existence and the basis of his observation.
In less than twelve months, Jack Kilby (Texas Instruments) presented the results of his findings re: the ability to manufacture circuit componentries onto a single piece of conductive material (germanium) to his managers and just like that, a decade old problem – “tyranny of numbers” – was solved – replaced by Moore’s Law.
Kenya is in for an interesting next couple of months given the progression of the now-obsolete “tyranny of numbers” theory that originated the on-going socio-political zeitgeist.