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What’s Tibim and Tialala? Not everything politicians do is strategy

In an article that is likely to send the followers of His Earthquakeness gnashing their teeth, The Standard columnist Michael Ndonye told ODM boss Raila Odinga that “Tibim” and “Tialala” is a not political strategy (July 9, p.16). The president of a certain nation in East Africa has a colourful phrase for such frank writing. It is like pushing your finger into a leopard’s behind.

Compared to Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto in 2013 and 2017, Raila, flying the CORD flag and later Nasa’s, had no memorable strategy, Ndonye pontificated. The Owner of the Earth is approaching his fifth presidential contest in 2022 in the same manner – and expecting a different result.

“Ruto and his team have designed a copyrightable strategy that they call bottom-up economic model. Kindly, Raila Odinga and your camp, give a better alternative to Ruto’s bottom-up strategy,” the columnist threw down the gauntlet at Agwambo.

Ahem, it is not just Raila and his “Tibim” and “Tialala” crowd that don’t seem to understand strategy. A lot of journalists reporting on politics apparently have no idea what animal this is.

“Ruto’s new strategy to beat the ‘system’”, a Nation headline stated on July 9 (p.4). The story said Deputy President William Ruto was pursuing a five-point strategy that he hopes will stir up a euphoric campaign to beat the ‘system’ and propel him to State House in next year’s election.

“The key cog in the campaign is the hustler nation narrative designed to appeal to the majority of the population in informal businesses that transcend ethnic boundaries,” the report said.

In a sidebar, the newspaper summarised Ruto’s five-point strategy as follows: 1) Hustler nation narrative to appeal to the majority; 2)Well-choreographed defections to give impression that leaders are fleeing the rival camp and reinforcing perception that  the ruling party is losing ground; 3) Playing victim following harassment by state operatives; 4) DP’s team hoping the appellate court will sink BBI; and 5)Ensuring campaign becomes rebellion against incumbent’s choice.

Sorry, some of the points listed above are not strategy. A narrative is not a strategy. What is done about that narrative is the strategy. How is it sold and why? Well-choreographed defections to weaken the ruling party? That is a strategy. Exploiting state harassment to portray oneself as a victim is a strategy. Hope is not a strategy. Ensuring the campaign becomes a rebellion against Uhuru’s chosen heir is not a strategy. “Ensuring” means what exactly? How this will be done is the strategy.

So, what is a strategy? The Observer is written by humble journalists, not top-dollar management gurus or decorated military tacticians with the scars to prove it. But we know that a strategy is an action plan; concrete steps to achieve a set of objectives. No success is achievable in any activity – whether it is wooing a woman, post-Covid business recovery or winning an election – without a strategy. What are you going to do and why? That is it.

In columnist Ndonye’s books, “Tibim” and “Tialala” have not delivered presidential victory to Raila because the slogans are hopeless as strategies. When their competitors were promising jobs, ease of doing business, building roads and railways, Raila’s team was shouting, “Nasa hao!” Ndonye stated.

As the 2022 general election fast approaches, the word strategy is already being bandied about in news reports. But do journalists and the expert sources they rely on to make sense of politics understand and correctly point out for their audiences what strategy exactly means?

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