The heightened expectations and demands of the voter have compelled political campaigns in Africa to evolve. The changing landscape places pressure upon candidates and political parties to develop winning strategies in order to secure electoral victory. Although the typical African voter remains connected to cleavages ranging from party identity, ethnicity, religion and historical context – the shifting socio-economic realities obscure these groupings. The bar is set much higher. Possessing struggle credentials and belonging to certain ethnic groups are no longer sufficient to guarantee a party or candidate’s victory.
With the changing demographic, increase in participation and evolving demands of a voter; the stakes in winning elections have been raised. The last decade has seen the rise of “big data” resulting in the use of data and analytics in running and managing campaigns. Most parties are looking at polls and public opinion data as tools to gauge their popularity and voter dispositions. While use of data is slowly growing, what to do after consulting the data remains a challenge. The absence of a pool of technical experts in Africa that can support the development of winning strategies has resulted in political parties defaulting to old tactics and tools used over time which are no longer relevant.
This weakness affects both ruling and opposition parties. In most cases, parties invest in billboards, placards, posters and adverts conveying messages that are largely disconnected from the voters. There is a glaring gap in terms of providing justification for why certain tools are used in a campaign. There are areas where rallies, door to doors, or whistle-stops work. However, most campaigns invest very little, if any, effort in developing a nuanced strategy that is context-specific and capable of connecting with a voter based on expectation and attitude.
The limited knowledge gap regarding how to develop a campaign strategy and what to look at has forced many parties and candidates to play it by ear and rely on practices used over time even though they do not work. The absence of a well-formulated strategy affects communication strategies and how a Campaign is funded and supported. In most instances you would have heard after an election, sentiments such as “we had so many rallies with large attendance but we are surprised we lost”. Voting is about numbers that ultimately turn up on poll day. The million-dollar question is are the people you are meeting during your campaign registered to vote? Will they come out and support you?
With an evolving and largely digitized media landscape, the necessity of developing a strategy is imperative. Candidates and political parties in Africa have, in some instances, borrowed expertise and tools from North America and Europe to support their campaigns. The tragedy is some of this expertise has been unsuccessful because of limited appreciation of context, voting attitudes, and campaign landscape. We contend that lessons can be learnt from North America and Europe who have grown the sector on running
campaigns. The North American and European experiences can, to some extent, be used to reflect upon and respond effectively to Africa’s context and political trajectories.
Shikamo is entering terrain of political campaigns boasting a network and pool of expertise with vast knowledge of the politics of respective countries, elections, voting attitudes, socio-economic environments, voting trends and deep knowledge of managing Campaigns. Our expertise enables us to deploy relevant tools to understand the problem and to prescribe solutions to address the context. We do not believe that there is a one size fits all approach to political campaigns, but we maintain that every approach must be anchored in sound strategy.