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How to identify political con artists, avoid their blatant lies



There are many tricks in the playbook of the political confidence trickster. [Courtesy]

The con artist weaves his schemes like an intricate tapestry. Baiting, hooking and reeling in a target or mark, he creates an elaborate web of deceit so cunningly woven as to be an art form. The victims never realise the con until it is much too late to untangle themselves. Usually, the con artist will work on inveigling themselves into the victim’s confidence or capitalise on the mark’s greed for mythical riches.

Take, for instance, the ubiquitous “wash-wash” money schemes. They are so-called because the con artists promise millions of dollars to the mark, if the latter foots the cost of chemicals ostensibly needed to wash off black ink from wads of notes looted from foreign Central Banks.

Or the fake gold export schemes that promise untold riches to anyone willing to pay dubious export taxes upfront.

In these schemes, the confidence tricksters will pass themselves off as wealthy types who are in these businesses purely for altruistic purposes.

They will drive flashy cars with all bells and whistles, be sartorially elegant and have a retinue of servants respectfully doing their bidding.

They will purport to help the mark out of the goodness of their hearts and nothing else.

Occasionally, the con artist finds his way into politics. Here the ante is the political office, and the marks are the electorate. The tools of trade remain the same; capitalising on the gullibility of victims, albeit, scaled up to countrywide dimensions.

The most successful political con is the one who manages to conflate public interests with self-serving desires; who uses national resources liberally, not for the greater good, but to meet personal wants.

There are many tricks in the playbook of the political confidence trickster.

A common one is to inspire solidarity by providing an object for hostility or derision. Ethnic differences will be exploited to the advantage of the politician in a “them-versus-us” stratagem.

And where the shackles of negative ethnicity no longer bind, the social class agenda will be brought to the fore to rally the indigent against the well-heeled.  

Another trick is to blur the lines between what is ethical and desirable and what is morally abhorrent, even repulsive. This entails the elevation of vice by celebrating those who have enriched themselves illicitly, indeed, even electing them overwhelmingly to public office.

By deliberately torching the pieties of an entire society, the con artist, adept at transgressing public mores, will have ascendancy over the morally upright person; the thief will be chosen over the honest man.

Kenya does not suffer a shortage of confidence tricksters. In fact, the style and substance aforementioned is easily recognised in a lot of “leading” figures. Citizens are all too aware of elected public officers who were said to be “too wealthy to steal”. Or supposed statesmen who turned out to be ethnic demagogues. Or the “smart” cons who influenced public policy to underpin their nefarious self-serving interests.

If you have, in the past, voted based on ethnic allegiances, know that you have been politically conned. If you have swallowed hook, line and sinker, pie in the sky promises of a utopian Kenya, you are the mark of a con game.

If you find yourself questioning why the glad-handing local representative, unavailable for four years, is now reaching out to you, know that you are being set up for yet another elaborate ruse.

Do yourself a favour. Engage in serious reflection and lively debate over the candidature of all elected politicians.

Shake off the current climate of political pessimism and see through the manufactured outrage of those who cause the nation’s problems in the first place. You owe it to yourself not to fall for the same tricks again.

On a slightly different note, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s sanguine outlook on his legacy is still being interrogated by economists. However, he still owes the nation his promised comprehensive statement on the Pandora papers. We hope this will be addressed this coming Jamhuri Day.

 Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst 

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