From the Editor’s Keyboard

In Africa, the use of technology will play a critical role in election campaigns

31 January 2017 at 07:24 | 1392 views

In 2017/18, African countries such as Kenya, Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Liberia will hold general elections, and the use of technology will play a critical role in deciding the outcome of these elections.

By Angela Collings, Guest Writer.

The introduction of Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) into the electoral process is generating both interest and concern among voters, as well as practitioners across the globe.

Most electoral management authorities use new technologies—ranging from basic office automation to more sophisticated data processing tools—with the aim of improving the electoral process. Every year, new technologies and tools are introduced to the market.

The substantial growth of mobile technology and mobile devices have brought empowerment to people, and social media is now being used as a critical tool in an election campaign. This newer medium needs to be better understood, however, in the context of mobilisation and how it changes the relationship between the electorate and the politicians.

Radio and television have traditionally played substantial roles during an election period because of their ability to communicate messages to the masses. The advent of mobile technology, however, has changed this paradigm of communication. Now citizens are more connected to one another and to the events in their country and thus closer to government. Social media is the real paradigm shift as it allows citizens and government to communicate back and forth. This has many consequences, both positive and negative for candidates and how they manage their election campaigns.

So how exactly has social media changed political campaigns? Here are four principal ways in which social media advertising has changed politics:

Campaigns are investing more in digital. It costs much less than traditional advertising and has other benefits.

Campaigners on social media can get their message across to many readers quickly and easily, and allow two-way communication to happen. In this way the potential voters feel heard and can raise their concerns during the election process.
Social media has created greater accountability. Voters can hold the candidates accountable for everything they say online. This creates greater transparency, which is often sadly lacking in election campaigning.

Social media drives action—at the click of a button, money can be donated, polls completed, petitions signed, and RSVP’s sent.

Technology can be used to support winning election campaigns—mass-scale information gives political candidates an understanding of what exactly drives public opinion at any given moment. State-of-the-art platforms can be developed to refine messaging, deploy effective direct marketing campaigns and engage voters in new and innovative ways—creating a competitive and winning edge.

According to the Atlantic Council, Africa’s youth bulge “reinforces the opportunity for economic growth that is gaining attention and foreign investment—a reality that other emerging regional and global powers, including China, India, Brazil and Turkey, have already begun to seize.”

Africa’s youth—the most vulnerable segment of the population—suffers from systemic poverty, high unemployment, lack of education and high disease rates. Unemployment is one of Africa’s most pressing issues—60% of the unemployed are between the ages of 15 and 24.

Africa’s youth are often used as pawns in the political game by veteran politicians. Commenting on the role of youth in African politics, Jesse Masai, the Kenyan politician said: “the youth are leaders of tomorrow but tomorrow never seems to come.”

Africa still has a long way to go to secure youth rights and remove barriers for younger political candidates. The youth will remain the continent’s greatest asset but in order for these nations to continue along the path of political and economic development, future leaders must be developed and the youth must continue to become invested in the political future of their countries. Technology, in particular social media, can play a significant role in this development.

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