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Like, Post, Share – The Power of Social Media in Campaigning

Report on the E-lection Bridge Academy in Johannesburg by Tanja Schreiner

„Young people are extremely important. And it is crucial to start things early in life”, Norbert Mao, chairman of the Uganda Democratic Party, emphasized during the first E-lection Bridge Academy in Johannesburg. Mao, who was a candidate in Uganda’s last presidential elections, started campaigning for the local student parliament early in his life.

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He often raced against competitors who had more money or were better connected than him but was victorious nevertheless, through catchy slogans or surprising moves. While doing so he has experienced for himself how – even in Africa - the media of campaigning changed in the last twenty years. Especially in the field of communication, Africa is a continent of constant change. The number of mobile phone and internet users increases with every passing day. Social media is experiencing a boom as never seen before – especially among young people. Now, for the first time, KAS Media Africa is focusing on the next generation of campaign leaders through the E-lection Bridge Academy.

Young Communication Experts

The four-day workshop brought together young experts in political communication from eleven African countries – Senegal to Kenya, Uganda to South Africa. The participants presented their parties’campaigning tactics and exchanged experiences while widening their expertise. A big emphasis was put on the development of their current technical challenges in campaigning. The workshop taught them how to use social media for campaigning, how to formulate meaningful messages and also how to design a radio advertisement.

Campaigning via Smartphone

Christian Echle, Programme Director of the Media Programme Sub-Saharan Africa, spoke about the opportunities and risks of social media in campaigning. It is certain that facebook and co. will continue growing the as the Internet and smartphones spread in Africa. In South Africa for instance, 75 percent of Internet users also have a facebook account. Now, the majority of the political parties in the region is not prepared for this, especially in Kenya which has a high political apathy among the youth. Social media is a particularly important medium to reach the younger generations, so the participants were asked to design their own social media campaigns and discussed their past experienced in smaller groups. Guest speaker Norbert Mao emphasized that campaigning can be successful even with a low budget, and praised the Ugandan participant: “My Media Advisor ran my whole campaign on an iPhone.”

Problems, Values, Solutions

Heather Thuynsma, who has worked on Hillary Clinton’s campaign, spoke to the Academy’s participants about communication strategies. This politics professor at the University of Pretoria, insisted they always pay attention to a target group’s specific structure and values in order to address them. A lively discussion on principles and honesty of politicians in Africa, Germany and the United States evolved. A similar subject was explored in the following session by Holger Haibach, Country Director of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Namibia and previous Member of Parliament in the German Bundestag. Under his guidance and with a lot of vigour and productive ideas, the participants designed their own communication concepts against a well-known problem in Africa: corruption.

Visiting Soweto

One of the E-lection Bridge Academy’s programme highlights was the visit to Soweto. At the Hector Pieterson Museum the participants was guided through the student uprising event in Soweto in 1976. At the Mandela House they learned more about the life of the former president and anti-apartheid-fighter. During the Regina Mundi Church guided tour the participants got to see a black Madonna and the only church window telling a political story. “A perfect experience with brilliant information and learning points from the South African history,” a participant summed up the sightseeing trip.

Now it is up to us to cook

Lively discussions, committed participants and excellent speakers, all contributed for the inaugural E-lection Bridge Academy being a great experience all around. For KAS Media Africa it was the point op departure to a longer-term tuition project for the next generation of African campaign leaders. “You have given us the recipe, now it is up to us to cook,” a participant from Kenya acknowledged. Up to the next Academy the young experts will keep in touch via a facebook group – true to the technology revolution.

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Christoph Plate

Christoph Plate bild

Director Media Programme Southeast Europe +359 2 942-4971 +359 2 94249-79


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