What Young Politicians Should Consider When Investing in Digital Political Campaigns in Africa

Politics
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Political campaigns have evolved over the years. Since the introduction of social media, we have seen more politicians using social media to connect with not only the constituents but have a global audience. This comes with benefits when it comes to politicians using the various social media tools as part of their engagement/ outreach strategy.

Although social media doesn’t guarantee elections wins, it does offer an opportunity for politicians and more so young politicians to crowdfund, share ideologies, manifestos and create brand awareness, these would have required a significant amount of money prior to the age of social media.

It’s nuanced across the global, each country has its own connectivity and reach.

In Africa, and more so in Kenya, Mobile and Internet penetration has increased over the years and is likely to keep increasing as the various telecommunication companies seek to make mobile data accessible to all by lowering the cost of data and internet-enabled mobile phones.  We have also seen the various telecommunication companies introducing products into the market that allow for cheaper data cost and phone cost, hence more people connected than ever before.

According to a 2020 Digital Trend Report, we have 22.86 million internet users in Kenya. It is important to state that years of double-digit year on year growth is behind us and that more moderate growth is what should be expected. Going forward the challenge is to sustain users on the various digital platforms.  Short-form video applications are one to watch, video consumption is rising as telecommunication companies reduce the cost of bundles. [1]The report goes on to state that Kenya doesn’t have it’s own “front page of the internet” like what we see in Tanzania with JamiiForums.com or Nigeria with Nairaland.com. These are websites that are specific to each country’s local lens- a public square. Reports like this give us insights into social media trends, which is important especially as more politicians are using these platforms to engage, crowdfund, and self-report on development progress on various projects. Beyond that, it’s important to know and understand the trends and how people, especially young people are interacting with various platforms for political commentary.

Online safety and social media regulations are conversations that activists across the digital space have continuously highlighted as an area that needs looking into.

An article by Nanjala Nyabola highlights the importance of regulation and that the US lens cannot be the only way to regulate. It needs to have a wider lens, a country-by-country lens. This is especially true with the recent activities in Uganda, India and the US. [2]

 Our research suggests the following gaps and opportunities:-

  1. Cyber Security Training- This is especially important for women politicians who are subjected to cyberbullying attacks more than male politicians. The internet needs to be a safe space for women politicians as it does present opportunities for them to benefit from various platforms. According to an article on the African Declaration rights website Trends of online violence against women in politics, it is evident that online bullying of women in politics acts as a deterrent and discourages women’s political participation and this infringes on heir political rights and process. We cannot deny or avoid the fundamental truth that this leads to underrepresentation in policy outcomes. All and any form of discrimination on the basis of gender, age etc, more so women should have equal access to use and space the internet:- social media. 
     
  2. Partnerships with Telecommunication Companies- Data suggests that we have a youthful population and as much as radio still is the “main source” of information, social media is on the rise. We see potential in partnerships that centre young politicians on digital platforms to gain visibility and a tool for documenting the experiences across different parts of Kenya. I.e. What is it like to run an urban campaign versus a rural campaign, further we can seek to better understand regions and the challenges and opportunities they present through documentation? These partnership opportunities look like booths where the constituents can log in for free questions, complaints and suggestions to the elective leaders. Public participation being done digitally, especially in an era of moderately rising internet connectivity and consumption.
     
  3. Lower campaign costs- Young politicians face financial challenges when running for political office. The cost of campaigns can be into the millions of Kenyan shillings and that isn’t accessible to a majority of aspiring young politicians with no political godfather or political party machinery. This presents an opportunity to reimagine new, innovative ways of driving down the cost of political campaigns as accessibility becomes more accessible and reliable. This has the potential to make political office attainable, and campaign costs not playing a role as a deterrent among other factors that deter young people from seeking political office. Support young and women politicians develop high-quality short-form videos to be disseminated across different platforms. This is a lot cheaper than advertising on traditional media e.g. TV, billboards etc.
     
  4. Regulation advocacy

It is important to note that social media is a powerful tool and one that is used in hosting and moderating political conversations. With such and much power we need it to be tamed and regulated. As stated earlier, we must make the regulation as local as possible. The US and other advanced countries cannot be the standard by which we regulate social media across different constituents. Politics is very country-specific and regulation must be country-specific also, to ensure fairness across the board.

[1] 2020 Digital Trends Reprts. A Nendo Publication

https://assets.website-files.com/59ad2221052e560001d6401f/5e6d1b8875d1aec5b09b469a_2020_Digital_Marketing_Trends_Report.pdf

 

[2] How should social media be regulated. Nanjala Nyabola

https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/2/11/how-should-social-media-be-regulated

 

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