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Changing times

Sarah Bomkapre KamaraNovember 26, 2012

Politics is changing in Africa, reflecting the growing role played globally by modern information technology. Campaign strategies are also changing in a bid to attract more young voters.

Sierral Leone'sPresident Ernest Bai Koroma throws soccer balls to supporters Photo:Tommy Trenchard/AP/dapd)
Ernest Bai Koroma Präsident Sierra LeoneImage: dapd

Ernest Bai Koroma is hoping to be confirmed in office as president of Sierra Leone but just weeks earlier he seemed more interested in football. During his campaigning for the November 17 election, he frequently wore a tracksuit and tossed footballs in the air to his supporters. This earned him the nickname "World's Best."

Footballs for votes

“The young people were equating him with Lionel Messi and Ronaldo,” Leonard Balogun Koroma, the president's national campaign coordinator, told DW. "The nomenclature was so attractive particularly with the youths,” Balogun Koroma said. "That is why the party decided to adopt it as a campaign slogan."

Young people are increasingly becoming targets for African politicians because they make up the highest percentage of the population in many countries on the continent.

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni addressing a 2010 rally Photo/Ronald Kaabubi)
Yoweri Museveni's rap became a sensational hit in UgandaImage: AP

Hip hop star

Just a year ago, another African president decided it was time to actively woo young voters. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda became a chart topping star overnight after his rap message to young people was mixed with hip hop beats. The song “You want another rap” topped the play list on Uganda's radio stations and at night clubs.

“The main target I will say is the young and educated who understand what is going on,” Jerry Sam, project coordinator of the Ghana-based African Elections Project told DW. His organisation monitors elections and media coverage across the continent. When young people get the message, “they can go home and explain to their family and siblings," Sam added.

"It is the youths that have access to Internet and understand the tools involved,” Sam says. Social media for example have become an attractive meeting point for Africa's youngsters.

'Facebook president'

President of Nigeria Goodluck Jonathan ©Jonathan Rebboah/Wostok Press/Maxppp France,
Goodluck Jonathan seems ever present on Facebook.Image: picture alliance / dpa

In response politicians have started abandoning formalities to join the social media bandwaggon. Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria is dubbed "the Facebook president". He boasts over 700,000 'likes' on his page. He even announced his candidacy for the 2011 elections via Facebook.

For others, an attractive website is the first choice.

"Mobile phones and Internet connectivity makes politicking easier in Africa,” says Kenyan political analyst Dr. Carey Francis Onyango. Nowadays “it will be strange if you don't have a website as a politician in Kenya.”

One example is the colorful and sophisticated homepage of Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga which contains frequently updated social media elements. “This is Kenya's moment” is the first greeting that catches your eye when you open the page. “Using technology is also an easy and convenient way to reach people,” Dr. Onyango says.

Three young African men Photo: Alexander Göbel
Young people are actively being wooed by African politicians.Image: DW

Techno - campaigns growing

Nicco Mele is an American pioneer in the integration of social media and the Web with politics. “Technology and the Internet are not just a source of power for the politicians but also for the voters,” he says. And technology is continuing to change.

“When I started using technology for campaigns, there were no smartphones, there were no online videos,”Mele recalls.

Being able to access information helps voters make decisions on polling day and so it is no surprise that more and more politicians are coming up with new strategies to try and influence those decisions. Some opt for hip hop, others try to become a social media star, or even Lionel Messi. Whatever they choose, they all have one goal in mind – to win votes.