Event Reports

African election campaign experts learning from each other

Sixth E-lection Bridge Africa in Ghana

Election campaigns in Africa have gone through a rapid process of professionalization. Just a few years ago many parties still structured their campaigns around one “strong man” as the main argument for voting for them. Today, campaigns revolve around a multitude of topics and people.

Poor-quality posters have been replaced by modern websites; potential voters are contacted through Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Although still rare, the democratic replacement of a ruling president – as it last happened in Nigeria – has come to be the reward for a successful campaign and less as evidence of which party handed out more free lunches to the people.

E-lection Bridge Africa, an annual workshop format developed by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, reflects this change. With over 50 participants from 15 African countries it is one of the biggest conferences for political campaigning on the continent. For its sixth edition, the experts on election campaigning came together in Accra, Ghana. Local parties have been in campaign mode for the past few months as the country is holding presidential elections in November this year. The delegates thus had a chance to witness the campaign preparations of the NPP, the biggest opposition party in Ghana.

It quickly became clear while talking to NPP’s presidential candidate Nana Akufo-Addo, the campaign manager Peter Mac Manu and the party’s general secretary John Boadu that political campaigning in Ghana is very similar to its European counterparts. It is the party’s declared goal that all candidates should have been in direct contact with all members of their constituencies at least once, to sample political affiliations and adjust their campaign strategy accordingly. The strategy is just like Barack Obama’s ‘nano targeting and data mining’, but in an African context. The party also had some new ideas when it comes to fundraising: Ghanaian kiosks sell cellular recharge cards with the candidate’s portrait, a fraction of the purchasing price going to the party as donations.

Apart from campaigning in Ghana, the three-day conference also analyzed and discussed election campaigns in seven other African countries. Members from the opposition parties in Tanzania and Uganda gave clear accounts of how difficult it is to run an election campaign in countries under authoritarian regimes. It is all the more impressive that both, the Forum for Democratic Change in Uganda and CHADEMA in Tanzania, secured a considerable increase in votes in the recent elections. An outstanding example from West Africa was presented by the participants from Benin, where the independent candidate Patrice Talon, who actively involved civil society in his campaign, managed to win the office of the president.

As in recent years, the program would not have been complete without the involvement of Dr. Klaus Schüler, General Manager of Germany’s ruling party CDU. The mastermind behind German chancellor Angela Merkel’s last three election campaigns had the participants’ full attention when he spoke about advantages and disadvantages of ‘negative campaigning’. Schüler made it clear that the kind of aggressive negative campaigning as practiced in the US and several African countries often poses dangers to one’s own campaign and can create and worsen fault lines within societies. Rather than demolishing the opponent with personal attacks, he advised the campaign professionals at E-lection Bridge to focus on a factual level and strive for a slight ironic undertone when delivering negative messages.

Adding to Klaus Schüler’s input were colleague Holger Haibach, who manages the process of party reforms within CDU headquarters and Reinhard Schlinkert, chief representative of Infratest Dimap. The latter showed how pollsters and projections of election results can contribute to more democratic elections in Africa. Election monitoring by independent polling firms is especially outlawed by governments who are suspected to have repeatedly manipulated results – in some countries, exit polls are even illegal. All participants in Accra agreed that countries should support institutions such as Infratest Dimap in Germany and allow for an objective analysis of election results.

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-lection Bridge Africa KAS Media Africa