How would one describe the mood or energy in the two main coalitions in contention this electoral season? In broad terms, Azimio is frigid and regimented; its leaders often appear nervous, apparently performing under harsh compulsion, their behaviour repressively policed and every misstep cruelly punished by Big Brother.
This morose air has percolated to the followers, engendering a long-faced, lugubrious hint of despondency and a heavy-hearted, perfectly woeful temper.
Azimio supporters are a dispirited, vaguely disenchanted lot, shifting about catatonically as though performing automatic motions outside of their will; bodily present yet spiritually abroad. They profess a panic-stricken sort of confidence in their autocratic leadership, reciting empty partisan slogans in deadened tones and shuffling about nervously, like a doomed vision set in a political dystopia.
On the other hand, the Hustler Nation is bursting through its seams with callow exuberance, a totally confident restlessness and irrepressibly positive, even optimistic psychic energy. It is joyful, madly chaotic, loudly optimistic, boundlessly confident and inexhaustibly motivated.
They seem to live up to their contemptuously assigned moniker, Tangatanga (restless, on the move) which they appropriated with cantankerous delight, as they hustle and bustle their way through terrestrial as well as the virtual streets of the social media. For their part, the Hustler Nation and Kenya Kwanza leadership appear to be at ease, comfortable around each other, effortlessly collaborate and complement one another, and evidently in sync with their followers whenever they gather and mingle. The delightful fraternity in Kenya Kwanza is positively festive, as though the campaign is a high-spirited carnival.
What accounts for such stark difference in affect between the two campaigns? One way to explain it is by looking at them as an expression of the political vision of their apical leadership. Azimio is a monument hewed out of the forbidding granite of institutional and political constraints. It was built out of compulsion and deployment of raw state authority to extract compliance, enforce alignment and coerce allegiance.
The question of willingness and choice is absolutely immaterial to Azimio’s coalitional dynamics. A majority of its politicians would not be in Azimio on present terms if their constitutional freedoms were unimpaired. They are unclear about the objectives and values of the outfit, evidence that they have not voluntarily subscribed to Azimio’s agenda. A heavy pall of nameless dread looms with burning urgency above them and every moment is charged with paralyzing apprehension.
At its apex, Azimio’s chieftains aspire to remake Kenya and its institutions according to their will. They understand leadership, politics and governance to be an extension of their patrimonial entitlement, and perceive national institutions to be proxies of their personal will. They are accustomed to the acquiescence of swathes of their regional and national constituencies to their flimsiest of whims.
They cannot contemplate being subject to a norm other than their will, and never expect – under any circumstance whatsoever – to ever have to utter the words “please”, “thank you” or “sorry” to anyone beneath their exalted dynastic ranks.
Instead, they are fluent in the tyrannical vocabulary of inevitability and ultimatum: wapende wasipende, nobody can stop reggae, take-or-leave-it.
Thus was Azimio constituted; a violently assembled menagerie of miserable hostages going through the motions of a political campaign whilst encumbered by a pervasive sense of unresolved conflict, unvoiced objection and suppressed resentment.
On the other hand, Kenya Kwanza is a convivial coalition assembled with infinite patience and painstaking consideration. By taking time to engage exhaustively and negotiate the finer elements of the pact, Kenya Kwanza leaders achieved strategic fit in putting together the coalition, ensuring that the comparative advantage of each constituent entity complements those of its counterparts. That is why with every additional signing, Kenya Kwanza gets bigger, yet nimbler and stronger.
Its leaders appear energised, confident and comfortable in the coalition’s authentic collegiality and its followers are motivated, optimistic and raring to go.
Kenya Kwanza’s leadership took nothing for granted, cherished every supporter, value every opportunity and appreciate every consideration.
Their values are reflected in the coalition’s outlook, and form the strong bond of community between them and their followers. The sense of a common purpose and shared values is self-evident, and the motivation is substantial. Everyone feels genuinely engaged, included and meaningfully accommodated in the coalition’s agenda.
The essence of political performance is conjunctive: an invitation to form a positive connection between a person’s actions and their values, and to infer who a person is from what they do.
We can observe the spectacular consistency of the values projected by the Azimio and Kenya Kwanza coalitions with the essential character of their respective leaderships: entitled, plutocratic, exclusive, zero-sum, or inclusive, affirmative, egalitarian, positive-sum and bottom-up.
The forthcoming contest is defined so clearly we can tell the competing visions by the vibrations in which respective bases already resonate.
Mr Ng’eno is an advocate of the High Court and a supporter of William Ruto’s presidential candidacy. @EricNgeno