Metaphors in Political Discourse in Kenya: Unifying or Divisive?

Raphael Francis Otieno


Metaphor has been viewed as a tool that is used in political discourse to structure human thought. In the structuring function of metaphor, it is assumed that there is a similarity between the source and the target domains. However, the similar structure in the target domain does not always exist before the metaphor is coined (Lakoff & Turner, 1989). Rather, the metaphor can create the similar structure in the target domain. The politicians’ reference to war, religion, business and animals among others, therefore, serves to structure and limit the thought of the electorates to view politics from certain perspectives. The basic argument in this study is, therefore, that metaphors are ingrained in our conceptual faculties and play a significant role in structuring our thought patterns in politics. The structuring through metaphor can, however, either be positive and/or negative. In other words, the structuring could either be unifying or divisive. As Rozina (2001:12) asserts, ‘…political discourse is primarily focused on persuading people to take specified political actions or to make crucial political decisions.’ Using the Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) and Critical Metaphor Analysis (CMA), this study investigated the extent to which metaphors in political discourse in Kenya create, reflect or symbolize the values of national unity and inclusiveness enshrined in the Constitution of Kenya. The study found that both positive and negative axiological values are present in metaphors in political discourse in Kenya. However, the negative axiological value overrides the positive value.

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