The changing nature of elections campaigning in Africa: Lessons from 2013 Kenya’s elections campaigns to Tanzania’s 2015 elections

In 2010 I was fortunate to put my name forward for a special seat MP. I was not successful- i.e. my name did not pass through. However, the experience was priceless. I took two months off my PhD research and join the party campaigning team through which I gained an invaluable insight into political campaigning. I don’t think my many years of studying Politics & IR had taught me enough of Hobbes’s description of the human nature as the two months of campaigning. The only scary thing is…such an experience can lead you to a Machiavelli’s worldview of pessimism and see people as evil beings that must be treated accordingly…believing that ‘it’s better to be feared than loved’. 🙁

Well, In March 2009, out of my passion as a party member and the urge to contribute, I had decided to start a Facebook page, which hosted vibrant discussions from Tanzanian youths both at home and abroad. This page made me very proud and happy.  People were discussing relevant issues that are crucial for the promotion of democracy in Tanzania. Thus, when I went for the campaign in mid 2010 the page was one of my ‘selling tickets’ as my contribution to the party. This, as you can guess, did not sell!  The reason was that people could not see the importance of using social media for campaigning. All in all, they did not at all resonate with that idea. I was hurt.  But I came to know that the problem was I and not they… I had forgotten that I was in a ‘different time’ with them.  This is now changing. Politicians and political aspirants in Tanzania are increasingly realizing and using socio-media networks in Tanzania and so political parties will never be able to ignore social media in the forthcoming 2015 elections campaigning.

The 2013 Kenyan elections campaigns have showcased the changing nature of campaigning in Africa through the use of Internet and most impressively socio-media networks including twitter and facebook.  All presidential candidates have effectively utilized twitter, which is an excellent way of embracing change and read a good number of voters. Followers, for example, retweeted and favourited the candidates’ tweets, which meant they had a multiplier effect reaching a wider audience than their immediate followers. It is important to remember that a tweet may reach a bigger audience than a public rally. Today as Kenyans are voting and waiting in historical long lines, they are using twitter and facebook to update the world what is happening. In fact the #KenyaDecides, is today’s 5th top TT(Twitter Trend). For those who understand the e-word know that this is a statement!

Apart from the social media networks, the news media in Kenya were all on point. They live streamed their news so everyone can have access to it even in the absence of TV. The debates, for example, could be watched even from a smart mobile phone.  Impressively, the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) also used Internet to do many things and voters could even check their registration status online. Because they are aware of an e-community existing on twitter and facebook they also used those means to communicate to voters. There are many other examples plus other independent groups such as ‘Ushaidi’ etc that used Internet effectively to ensure that Kenyan elections are peaceful and fair.

The Kenyan experience is the lesson for us all in the preparation for the 2015 elections in Tanzania. Political parties, NEC, politicians, and many of us will have to remember that there is a big audience in the e-world (or is it i- world now?). Thus, if you are a politician and aren’t using socio-media networks and Internet effectively,  you will find it difficult to survive in the coming years.

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