The sympathy axis on which a Musalia Mudavadi-Kalonzo Musyoka ticket would rotate, would fail the National Super Alliance (NASA) even worse. I will explain.
American Psychologist Drew Westen conducted a study at Emory University on how the brain is unconscious and driven by emotions during politics. He presented the results at the 2006 annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.
His findings revealed that the part of the brain most associated with reasoning (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) was dormant. Most active were the orbital frontal cortex, which is involved in the processing of emotions; the anterior cingulate, which is associated with conflict resolution; the posterior cingulate, which is concerned with making judgements about moral accountability; and once subjects had arrived at a conclusion that made them emotionally comfortable, the ventral striatum, which is related to reward and pleasure. Basically the study showed that political decisions are a product of unconscious confirmation bias.
The effect is that in politics, a majority will settle for the person who endears most to their emotion rather than reason. There is a reason why the phrase ‘Ndaani ndaaani ndaaani’ has become a catchword in Kenya, even beyond politics; because it attracts some happy, fun emotion. Another is the word ‘Tibim’ which I have heard around NASA. I asked around and my conclusion is that it means nothing. It sounds like it means something, yet it is hollow. But we say it back at a politician who chants it anyway, because it is emotional.
With that in mind, the much-touted Mudavadi-Kalonzo ticket, in whichever order, is bereft of emotion.
The core tenet of political psychology is that voters know nothing about what really matters, and will bank on an emotional catalyst to make a decision.
The political audience has what is euphemistically called cognitive-processing limitations. It means that most cannot or will not learn about and remember candidates’ records or positions. Consequently voters will substitute something else for that missing knowledge. Most important in Kenyan politics is not what voters think, it is what they feel. On Kalonzo and Mudavadi, the only emotion they elicit is that they once betrayed Raila Odinga, or that they soon will. In recent times, Kalonzo has generated a lot of heat within the political circles only when politicians from his backyard demand he be given the ticket or they walk out. Beyond that, nothing. A lot of what is written about Kalonzo-Mudavadi is a matter of thought.
They bank on emotions of people, but, a lot of reason is put into it. They say that while Central, parts of Eastern and Rift Valley may have a lot of dissatisfaction with the current government, they would rather vote for a grasshopper than elect Raila. This theory further suggests that Kalonzo or Mudavadi would be a more comfortable landing ground for these sympathy votes. It sounds true, sounds reasonable and calculated.
However the biggest miscalculation is that you will need to drive in that sense of sympathy or rebellion into these regions. Mudavadi cannot drive any emotion in his own backyard. In 2013, Raila got more votes in Mudavadi’s backyard than the former Vice President did. Kalonzo on the other hand sounds too elite beyond his Kamba turf. Watch a NASA rally and you will notice that while Kalonzo and Mudavadi speak, people listen quietly. When Raila speaks, even his commas, full stops and exclamation marks are cheered.
The fact that Raila is perceived to be so hated in the aforementioned regions, that they’d rather elect a locust than him, is exactly what Kalonzo-Mudavadi lacks. The emotion directed at them is exactly what they elicit out of people: plain, flat and uninspiring.
In 2003, when former President Mwai Kibaki was on a wheelchair, it took the effort of Raila, the late Karisa Maitha and a host of other electrifying politicians to campaign for him. In 2007, when he was considered to be beyond his political prime, the likes of Martha Karua, Kiraitu Murungi and Uhuru Kenyatta were at the forefront of his campaign. Why? To draw emotion out of voters.
The Kalonzo-Mudavadi ticket as touted looks like a great possibility, but is the most unlikely to beat Jubilee. They are two very sane, modest politicians in a political field where when you are the only sane person, you look like the only insane person. Politics is extremely rapid whereas these two have a conscious style that is rational and linear, where one thought follows another; pitching policies to Kenyans at the rational level is a formula for losing elections.
It would need Raila to campaign as if it were his own Presidency on the line, which we know will not happen under the sun. My observation is that this Kalonzo-Mudavadi talk is being fed unknowingly to NASA by Jubilee, knowing it will be the easiest win for them. NASA needs more than Kalonzo-Mudavadi to win this election, because as is, they are losing.
Patrick Mureu is a teacher. [email protected]