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To win in 2007, start to deliver in 2004!

It is the dawn of 2004, and you might be forgiven for thinking that we’re already in the run-up to the 2007 election. Every politician in the land seems to have his or her beady eye fixed firmly on December 2007. All the political buzz in the land is about coalitions, alliances and deals. The pace of activity is indeed remarkable. There are detailed calculations about voting blocs, frenzied meetings about tribal alliances.

What an absurd waste of time and resources! As strategists, our politicians are hopelessly out of touch. They are stuck in the political strategies of yesteryear. They are focusing on all the wrong things. There is a sure way to win in 2007, but it does not involve political horse-trading, at least not at this point in the game.

Our politicians have failed to understand this because they appear not to have grasped a rather fundamental point: the Kenyan voter has changed. In the past, politicians operated on an implicit presumption: that the voter was uneducated, naïve, and easily led. The working assumption was that voters were mindless sheep that simply needed to be herded into the right boma. If you threw a few scraps of incentive to these creatures, they would follow you anywhere.

A winning political strategy in the past consisted of a few essentials. First, you had to put the fear of other tribes into your constituents. Constant references to the bloody pogroms of the past, allusion to injustices in allocation of jobs and resources, the need for your tribe to occupy its ‘rightful place’ at the top table – these were the key elements in your dialogue with your voters.

The second essential was to project yourself as the prophet who would lead your people back to the promised land. You were the big man, the forceful leader, the people’s champion. To achieve this image, all you had to focus on was just that – image. Lots of talk, plenty of bluster, a surfeit of threats, a glut of promises. The actual development of your people was, in fact, a cruel illusion. Four decades of independence, of following this brand of politics, has confirmed this. This type of leader has, on the whole, delivered next to nothing. Just plenty of hot air.

Thankfully for the future of this country, a major change has taken place in the political landscape. As Kanu discovered in the last election, the Kenyan voter is a very different creature now. Partly, this is due to better education and improved awareness. To a large extent, however, the politicians were responsible for their own undoing. Voters began to see that the same old stories were taking them nowhere. They began to see leaders for what they really were – masters of deception. When you’ve watched a two-bit conjurer do a cheap trick many times in a row, you soon see through it. To cap it all, the illusionists could no longer keep down the curtain covering the harsh reality backstage – crippling poverty, and an economy sustained by handouts.

This was the voter that went into the 2002 election with eyes wide open, and duly delivered a stunning knockout. Kanu, by all accounts, could not believe its eyes and ears. This is always the lot of an organisation that has used a strategy to great effect in the past – success blinds it to changes in the ground beneath its very feet. When the day of reckoning comes, it is usually short, sharp and painful.

Kanu’s successors, unfortunately, have fallen into the same trap of flawed thinking. They, too, are ignoring a fundamental new reality: the voter is different now! This voter expects results: growth, employment, and a better standard of living. This voter will not accept empty talk and more broken promises. This voter is not attached to particular politicians in the way his or her forebears were. This voter will kick you in the teeth without a second thought if you fail to deliver a better life.

This voter does not care about your alliances and coalitions, Mr Politician! This voter is extremely irritated to find you not focusing on real work. This voter does not care about your political career beyond 2007. If you do not deliver an improvement in this voter’s life in every year leading up to that date, expect to be seeking employment in 2008. This voter means business.

Had Narc understood this voter, it would have had a very simple political strategy when it came into power. In 2003, 2004 and 2005, deliver an economic recovery. Make an unquestionable impact on employment. Make cheap credit available to the common man. Fix the elements of infrastructure that the economy depends on – roads, power and communication. Revive agriculture by working on market mechanisms. If these were delivered, I guarantee that winning the next election would be a stroll in the park. Those who bestowed a better standard of living to the new voter would receive a landslide victory that would dwarf 2002.

Unfortunately, this government has got things back-to-front. It put the politics first, thinking it still occupies the land of the old Kenyan voter. The political strategy of Narc bigwigs seems to be: ‘Let’s sort out the politics of 2007 first, then we can return to this business of economic recovery.’ If you carry on in this way, ladies and gentlemen of Narc, well, it’s been nice knowing you. You will be a one-term footnote in history.

Pay attention to opinion polls and radio phone-ins – the evidence is all there. Any politician or party associated with economic failure will be an utter liability come the election of 2007. If you or your grouping is linked to non-performance in the economy, you may as well not stand for re-election. Every minister is under unprecedented scrutiny. Every MP is on notice. Every party’s utterances are under observation. Do they promote the unity of purpose that is vital for any meaningful recovery? Or are they fomenting divisions and rifts because of egos and the desire for personal political gain?

If you are a member of this government, here’s some free advice on strategy. Take a deep breath, and stop worrying about the need for political manoeuvres. Goes against your nature, I know, but just do it! Don’t stress yourself about what your rival is doing in your constituency. Don’t worry about making statements to belittle your competitor for tribal chieftainship. Just roll up your sleeves and keep your head down. Work very hard. Think deeply about the problems of this country. Construct an action plan. Set yourself some targets. Crack the whip and get delivery mechanisms organised. Record a steady achievement of key results. Publicise these in a quiet, confident way.

If you do this, you will find that you have nothing else left to do to win by a record majority in 2007. If you don’t do it, start working on your CV now.

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