By Constantine Magavilla,
Even Daniel Arap Moi, with all his craftiness, as one of Africa's last 'Great' Statesmen fell victim to the uncompromising tide of change and the illusive nature that becomes power. Moi lived in an abyss of unreserved denial; choosing to address symptoms of change like Raila Odinga and the late George Saitoti as opposed to facing his own grim reality. Moi and KANU’s reign came to a grounding halt in one of the most definitive and telling elections the region has yet to witness.
I remember, at the time of the 2002 elections, I was in Kenya and dared to conclude, as a postmortem of the results, that the biggest loser was KANU and that the biggest winner was Uhuru Kenyatta. In as much as Uhuru didn’t win, he was catapulted into mainstream politics on the highest platform imaginable and demonstrated the highest grade of political maturity by conceding the elections to Mwai Kibaki. He consequently cemented his pathway to what is now a matter of history. KANU on the other hand played into the role of relic brand in an equally flawless style.
According to many political pundits of the time, KANU’s fall was inevitable. Given Kenya’s complex political landscape, which is arguably infused with tribal dynamics, KANU stayed in power simply by being synonymous with power. KANU, like many parties of its time, was a beneficiary of what I like to call a ‘legacy’ era. An era where no distinction exists between a political party and the government it rules creating a power bundle effect to an extend that one cannot imagine a world where the two are not together. Quite like legacy brands that we grow up with and that become synonymous with their categories as a result, the political parties of this era benefited from just being synonymous with power. If the adage saying ‘too much of anything is harmful’ is to bare any credence then this level of power concentration around any one entity or good could only lead to one inevitable truth - combustion.
I must also declare that, at the time, I was quite concerned that the coalition in the name of NARC, formed prior to the elections seemed to only have one real and not so sustainable agenda - ganging up on the ‘bully’ [Moi] to ensure one outcome - his political demise. After which what would have been the agenda? But this is exactly what (most) Kenyans at the time longed for; simply a Kenya without Moi/KANU in power irrespective of who would replace him/it! The word ‘consequence’ was temporarily deleted from the Kenyan vocabulary.
Unlike Tanzania and CCM of the day, Kenya and KANU had been run by one man only for a quarter century. Consequently that one man became synonymous with KANU to its end and even putting someone else to contest for Presidency in his place could not erase this lurid fact.
One can argue that CCM dodged this deadly bullet twice. Once when Former President Nyerere resigned from active politics to allow the party to breath within and the second time was when the same Nyerere (Tanzania’s most charismatic political figure dead or alive) posed as internal opposition allowing the party, yet again, another whiff of much needed fresh air. And CCM arguably reaped the rewards. From being in a dismal state leading into the 1995 elections to consecutively upping its election win percentage twice from 61% in 1995 to 71% in 2000 then again to 82% in 2005. Clearly, breathing fresh air can only be a good thing.
The only thing that concentration of power does is to suffocate a system of the much needed ‘air’ that enables it to serve its core purpose. Most political parties, governments or companies that depend on a large number of customers, members, citizens to exist, let alone thrive, are almost always run by a few people who sit in a ‘boardroom’ and inform the system that defines the fate of the organization. When the boardroom agenda is driven solely by the interests of these few custodians instead of the interests of those that are meant to be served by these custodians then rest assured that in a competitive environment, change will be knocking at the door and your organization will either implode from internal tensions or explode from the forces outside, but the effect will almost always be the same - a defining end.
In this spirit, legacy brands seem to be able to get away with almost anything (at least from the perspective of those who manage them) but once the legacy era is grounded in whatever style, what follows may not subscribe to any logical formula that informed the legacy of that brand. In effect, what is most likely to ensue is a movement driven culture, riding on the strength of emotions of the masses in support of or against the brand that leads the pack. The Kenyan political scene has never been the same. The role of the all powerful political party almost ended altogether with that election.
Brands become dominant not because they are inherently dominant but because their customers/members/followers made them dominant over time. In many cases these customers connected with the brand primarily because it was relevant and served a fundamental need or want. The dominance of any brand and or organization should never be an excuse to disarm the connection (access to fresh air) it has with its customers, members and/ or followers especially in the mass market environment.
Most legacy brands don’t fail for the lack of a superior structure, more competent employees or even financial muscle to impose their product on airwaves and in the trade when compared to competitors. Legacy brands fail simply because focus in the ‘boardroom’ shifts from relevance and perception management to dominance and propaganda deployment even if it means compromising the connection it has with its customers/members/followers. A legacy brand, as a result, has no one else to blame for its failing but itself.