"We can’t lose hope."

E-lection Bridge Africa: Interview with Luke Tamborinyoka

Also available in Deutsch

It is the day after a summit of the region’s political leaders ended in Sandton, South Africa. Having successfully dealt with the buzz and the media hype, Luke Tamborinyoka enjoys the tranquil surroundings of a bakery in the quiet Johannesburg suburb of Dunkeld. The spokesman of Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (Movement for Democratic Change, MDC) unwinds with a bit of football talk before, once again, turning to politics. It is over a hamburger lunch that one of the most important, and bravest, political communicators in Zimbabwe becomes the most recent interviewee for the grilling that is the KAS E-Lection Bridge interview.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: How do you undertake any political campaigning in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe?

LUKE TAMBORINYOKA: It is possible. We had no access to any media in 2008 yet we were able to win that election. In 2008 we received no newspaper coverage and didn’t get a second on TV or radio, so it is a very difficult environment to operate in. However, 2008 gives us hope and allows us to remain positive that we can run a successful campaign and repeat that success next year.

Biography
Luke Tamborinyoka is the Head of Public Relations and Official Spokesperson for Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. He heads up the communication office of three individuals at the Movement for Democratic Change in Harare. Luke has previously held the position of Director of Information and Publicity for the MDC and was also the editor of independent newspaper The Daily News until it was banned by President Mugabe in 2003.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: How do you remain positive in light of the challenges you face?

LUKE TAMBORINYOKA: We can’t lose hope; we have done it before so we can do it again. We have to maximise our access to campaign resources and we must have belief that we can succeed.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Since the establishment of the coalition in Zimbabwe mobile phone use has expanded greatly across the country. What kind of role do you envision cell phones will play in your communications strategy?

LUKE TAMBORINYOKA: With the expansion of cell phone use across the country it is a serious option to look at in regard to our communication strategy. With many traditional modes of political communication closed to us we need to be able to look at other sources. We hope to be able to interact further with KAS Media Africa and mobile communication expert Gustav Praekelt in relation to their cell phone project “M-Dem” and its potential for use in Zimbabwe. We are also in the fortunate position that the ICT Minister in Government is an MDC member and the mobile companies are willing to provide us with user information to allow us to campaign this way. However, there are potential problems in regard to legislation that is still geared towards Zanu-PF and may cause some problems.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: How digital are you? How digital is your party?

LUKE TAMBORINYOKA: We try to be as digital as possible through the use of Facebook and our website. Our partnership with KAS has allowed us to believe we can do more to maximise our digital potential. There are only 3 of us in the Prime Minister’s Communications team so by working with KAS we are able to make the best use of digital communication, such as ensuring our digital media is up to date, and have been able to execute some of the ideas that have emerged from the campaigns in Germany. The next election will be driven by communication and a lot will depend on how best we can maximise this. After all, Zanu PF has two national newspapers attached to it while we have only in the last year managed to gain the backing of two independent newspapers. Also, I am fascinated by the potential of web channels like CDU.TV on YouTube. These give us the opportunity to reach younger people who are switching more and more from TV to using web TV.

About MDC
The MDC was formed in Harare on the 11th September 1999 and elected Morgan Tsvangirai as its President at its first congress on January 26th 2000. Established by a number of civil society groups and individuals, the party was designed to act as a true opposition to the Zanu-PF party of President Robert Mugabe. They went on to win 57 of the 120 seats in that year’s General Election. Following the 2008 election a regionally brokered power-sharing agreement was established that has meant the MDC have been in coalition with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party since February 2009 which has ensured a number of MDC cabinet posts.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: What could Germans learn from your experience with political communication?

LUKE TAMBORINYOKA: The need to be creative. We have been inspired by many of the international campaigns; however, while there are many aspects that we are impressed by, we are unable to undertake a lot of them in Zimbabwe. For example, the famous 2009 campaign poster featuring Merkel’s 1600 volunteers would be impossible to do in Zimbabwe. As political communicators we were especially interested in the candidate as a brand. That is something that it is very possible to do with our leader Morgan Tsvangirai and an area we must explore.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: The last question, as always with KAS E-Lection Bridge, is what is the next big thing?

LUKE TAMBORINYOKA: We don’t really know. Social media is evolving at such a rate we do not know what is coming next. Another platform will appear as we move away from conventional communication and media platforms. We must brace ourselves.