"A show of numbers": campaign rallies and performing elite alliance-building in Kenya
(University of Warwick)
Paper short abstract:
Political rallies are generally used for politicians to appeal to, or interact with, prospective voters in order to win elections. However, this paper argues that rallies also play a role in elite alliance-building, where local politicians seek to secure political futures beyond elections.
Paper long abstract:
Rallies during election periods are opportunities for parties and individual politicians to appeal to, and interact with, prospective voters to win elections (Dan Paget, 2018). However, this paper suggests that rallies are also important contests for local politicians to affirm alliances with national figures to secure political futures beyond elections. This is especially relevant in contemporary Kenyan politics where the system of devolved government has introduced new influential low- and mid-ranking layers of political office, animating the interaction between different levels of politics. This paper takes the example of a presidential campaign rally during Kenya's 2017 elections held in Marsabit County, where the two main rival gubernatorial candidates were supporting President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election. Investing in distinct party merchandise that distinguished the supporters by colour, and ensuring strict separate crowd control to make it clear how many 'numbers' each party had, staff of both gubernatorial campaigns emphasised that this rally was an opportunity for both teams to show the presidency "a show of numbers"; in other words, that both candidates should be seen as helping with his re-election even if they subsequently lost the gubernatorial seat. This rally reveals how mass performances are also important contests for local politicians to display their alliances with powerful national figures in order to secure political futures beyond the election itself.
Playing to the crowd: performance and the politics of campaign rallies