Event Reports

Our story, our message - our votes?

by Markus Brauckmann

E-lection Bridge Africa: South by Southwest in Namibia

Cross-border exchange occurred everywhere. Political communication in Africa was the topic of conversations in the seminar room, during the coffee break, even in the shuttle to the conference building. That’s how it happened at the KAS E-lection Bridge Africa: South by Southwest, which took place on April 18-19, 2012 in rural Namibia. The regional event with participants from six African countries was organised and conducted in close cooperation with KAS Namibia under the direction of Country Representative, Holger Haibach.

The foundation’s regional Media Programme Sub-Sahara Africa has been working increasingly in the field of political communication since the end of 2010. These bilateral and regional measures are combined under the banner of ‘E-lection Bridge Africa’. At the request of the regional players, the meeting in Namibia focused on the public image of their political activities. The original English title of the event was thus very fitting, Political Branding & Advertising: Our Story, Our message – Our Vote?

KAS Media Africa invited two renowned experts to share their knowledge and experience. Stephan Garbe, a creative agency owner from Hamburg, can look back on a long list of successful election campaigns in Germany at the state and federal level. He currently advises the CDU of Lower Saxony and its top candidate, Prime Minister David McAllister, with a view to the elections in January 2013. The American professional, Heather Thuysnma, also brought a high degree of competency to the discussion. She is involved in political communication both theoretically, teaching at university, as well as practically, for the US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2008.

The participants were selected jointly by KAS Media Africa and the respective KAS country offices, and came from Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Kenya and Tanzania. They largely represented the democratic partner parties of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the region. The main topics were carefully chosen ahead of time, so that they could be exactly suited to the needs of the target group.

To emphasize the regional approach, a political communicator from the region went first. Conrad Mwanawashe, from the crew of Zimbabwe Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai (MDC), presented a newsletter which regularly informs the people in the country about current activities and key topics. As Mwanawashe explained, the newsletter is particularly important in Zimbabwe, ruled by autocratic leader Robert Mugabe, since very few channels of communication are otherwise open to Tsvangirai and the democratic MDC to convey their political message to the people. One woman who hands out the newsletter has even been arrested.

Next, under the heading ‘What We Stand For?’ Heather Thuynsma spoke about images, messages, and perceptions in political communication. Four points were central to her thoughts: a) the clear definition of party interests, b) using emotional speech to create a real connection to the voters, c) the division of the constituency into different target groups, i.e. farmers or youth, in order to do justice to their specific interests, d) the importance of speech as a tool for political communication.

During the first afternoon, Stephan Garbe took the participants on an inspiring tour through various campaigns in Germany, including the successful state election of Ole von Beust in Hamburg. Particular attention was paid to the CDU’s 2009 federal election campaign, which led to the re-election of Chancellor Angela Merkel. Garbe was one of the key players in this campaign. For the participants from Sub-Saharan Africa he demonstrated how short & concise slogans ease communication with the voters, how the visual effort dominates the campaign’s perception, and how the focus on the top candidate is exercised. Perhaps his most important point: It takes courage, ‘to sometimes break the rules in order to be successful.’ according to the expert from Germany.

At the beginning of the second day, Heather Thuynsma and the regional participants took a practical approach to dealing with the slogans and logos of the represented organisations. Key factors such as word choice, colouring, symbols and cultural codes were examined closely. The goal was to identify chances, risks and perspectives for the political partner parties.

Later on, the international expert worked an ambitious perception analysis of one’s own and the opponent’s positions, based on the example of the 2004 US presidential election between Bush and Kerry. A so-called ‘campaign grid’ allows a closer examination of 2 pairs of questions: What Bush wants people to think about Bush? What Bush wants people to think about Kerry? What Kerry wants people to think about Bush? What Kerry wants people to think about Kerry? Each participant filled out the appropriate bracket for his party/country. The results deviated from the participants’ usual strategic thinking. Sometimes it was even striking, but in every case inspiring and enriching.

Stephan Garbe collected these thoughts on content and then arranged them in an organisational framework. Adding to the discussion, he introduced the idea of a timeline which goes backwards from election day. When will the team be assembled? How will the tasks be divided up? How to prepare the candidate? When do which resources have to be available? Who will manage these processes? These and other questions were covered extensively. The focus was on the final phase of a campaign, against the backdrop that more and more voters only decide last-minute.

In the concluding feedback session the participants praised the regional approach and stressed how valuable it is to meet political communicators from the region and to learn about best practice models. Rarely does one otherwise have the opportunity to look beyond one’s own four walls.

The next E-lection Bridge Africa event will take place at the end of May 2012 in Tanzania. Markus Brauckmann, director of KAS Media Africa: ‘The participants did a wonderful job. Our work in the field of political communication is well received by the players in the region. In this spirit, we would like to further develop the successful umbrella brand, E-lection Bridge Africa.’

Contact Person

Christoph Plate

Christoph Plate bild

Director Media Programme Subsahara Africa

christoph.plate@kas.de +27 11 214 29 00 +27 11 214 2913
E-lectionbridge Africa switsch / Medienprogramm Sub-Sahara