Reflections on Kenyan Supreme Court ruling and Gamblers Fallacy

Source: Nana Yaw Osei, Minnesota, USA |
Date: 4th-september-2017 Time:  11:22:08 pm

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On Friday, September 1, 2017, Kenyan Supreme Court in a near-unanimous decision of 4:2 annulled the presidential election held on August 1, 2017 on the grounds of irregularities and breaches of electoral laws of that country. International observers including erstwhile president of the Republic of Ghana, Mr. John Dramani Mahama have been criticized for creating good impressions on the foregoing election contrary to Kenyan Supreme Court’s assertions.

Without hesitation, I would have joined the bandwagon of Mahama’s backlash only if he went there as a constitutional expert or an information technology (IT) expert for the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) of Kenya.

Many political pundits and journalists are heaping praises on Kenyan Supreme Court for being pacesetters of African rule of law and independence of the judiciary. This writer is bereft of any intention to be an insouciant spectator, even so, I will look at the judgement from the perspective of gamblers fallacy.

Gamblers fallacy is better known as the fallacy of the maturity of chances. Others call it Monte Carlo fallacy. It refers to a situation wherein an individual mistakenly has a belief that beginning of a given random phenomenon is less likely to occur following an event or a series of events.  This is a problematic thinking because past events cannot change the probability that certain events will happen in the future. For example, given that a series of 10 coins have all landed with one side up, per the gambler's fallacy, a person might predict that the next coins flip is more likely to land with the other sides up. This kind of thinking is a prime misunderstanding of probability because the possibility of a fair coin turning up is always 50%.

Notwithstanding the problematic nature of gamblers fallacy, it affects us in our everyday thinking.  For example, on Friday, September 1, 2017, Soccer fans in Ghana were thrown into states of bemusement after Congo held Ghana by 1-1 draw at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi.

Notwithstanding the fact that Coach James Kwesi Appiah uncompromising proclivity to use new players at must-win games contributed to Ghana’s defeat, the puzzlements of the Black Stars supporters also stem from this fallacy of maturity of chances in the sense that both Egypt and Uganda defeated Congo Brazzaville so Ghana must win them automatically. Buckling to moral, social and political pressures, judges could suffer from gamblers fallacy. For example, a judge who convicts the first four out of five suspects consecutively in a day, is likely to acquit the last individual for the day for the fear of being tainted as a callous or a predictable judge. This could be an ample demonstration of gamblers fallacy.

Prior to the Kenyan Supreme Court hearing of the electoral petition, Mr. Raila Odinga reportedly cast doubts about the trustworthiness and credibility of the Supreme Court in annulling the results that declared the current president of Kenya, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta and the son of the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, as a winner. After the 2007 post electoral violence which killed more than 1000 people, there was a power sharing between President MwaiKibaki and Mr. Odinga wherein the former became the president and the latter became a prime minister. The power sharing accord was the brainchild of the international mediators to curb further political violence. Power sharing accord in Zimbabwe between president Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangrai though decreased the simmering political temperature, failed to accelerate the country’s democratic hopes. Mr. Odinga again challenged an electoral result of 2013 which brought Mr. Kenyatta to power as a president thereby accentuating the drawbacks of 2018 power sharing deal.  I think power sharing deal is an indirect suspension of the Kenyan constitution. The Supreme Court quashed the 2013 electoral petition of Mr. Odinga and the latter was not happy with the outcome. He who is dissatisfied always look for opportunity for revenge and as a corollary Mr. Odinga questioning the integrity of the Supreme Court when the opportune time came in the form of election 2017 alleged irregularities.

The main problem here is whether there were significant irregularities to overturn the electoral fortunes of President Kenyatta or were the judges influenced by the gambler's fallacy? What are the gamblers fallacies? (1) We threw out Mr. Odinga’s petition in 2013, so let us give him a chance this time. (2) Mr. Odinga thinks the Supreme Court is bereft of dignity and credibility, let us prove to him otherwise. (3) Let us make Kenya the first country in Africa to annul the electoral victory of the incumbent president.

Although the thoroughgoing Kenyan Supreme Court strides in rule of law and judicial independence are worthy of commendations, the electoral violence flashpoints of Nairobi and Kibera Slums as well as 2007 post-election violence which claimed the lives of over 1000 Kenyans must goad all stakeholders of African peace to be concerned about the court’s judgement implications on the country’s political stability. In every African society, there appears to be a very deep political cleavage mostly causedby ethnic bigotry. Kenya is no exception. Odinga is from the Luo tribe. They dominate Kisumu city in Nyanza Region close to Kampala and Lake Victoria.  President Kenyatta is from Kikuyu tribe predominantly inhabiting Nairobi with majority from central Region of Kenya (Source, Personal Communication with a Kenyan course mate, September 4, 2017). Both enjoy strong supports from their tribe men. What will be the reactions of the supporters of president Kenyatta if he loses the incoming presidential re-election. Will the Supreme Court judges be bold again to annul further irregularities or the judges may be under the dictates of gamblers fallacy?

Will the judgement not be a recipe for more irregularities? Suffice it to say that if Mr. Odinga challenges the outcome of the incoming election at the Supreme Court again, it is more likely to suffer a major setback under the influence of gamblers fallacy; the court cannot keep on nullifying electoral results.  Mr. Kenyatta is more likely to benefit from the aforesaid judgement. As Napoleon Bonaparte rightly asserted, in politics, stupidity is never a handicap. The ruling party can perpetrate more irregularities because based on moral grounds and per gamblers fallacy which affects human thoughts inadvertently, declaring the results of the incoming election as null and void again could be very pricy for Kenyan economy. We must as well think about the negative effects of Kenyan Supreme Court’s ruling. May God almighty save Kenya from further political topsy-turvy!


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