By Nteranya Arnold Sanginga and Tetsekela Michael Anyiam-Osigwe
On the 11th of December 2020, over 300 boys in the town of Kankara, in Katsina state, northwestern Nigeria, were abducted during an armed attack at their all-boys Government Science boarding secondary school – a place that is supposed to be a secure environment for children to gain the tools and knowledge needed to pursue their future aspirations.
A gang of armed gunmen on motorcycles reportedly stormed the school on Friday evening. In the midst of the chaos that saw the attackers and security forces exchange open fire, hundreds of students fled and hid in the surrounding forest. While some students managed to escape and 17 have been rescued so far, at least 300 are still missing. Although there is some doubt over who the perpetrators of the attack and kidnapping are, Boko Haram, a radical Islamist terrorist group operating in the region, claimed responsibility.
Meanwhile, the Katsina state government has ordered the closure of all schools in the region and launched a rescue operation. A lingering question is whether efforts will be both effective and sufficient in retrieving the abducted boys, and preventing another abduction from occurring in Katsina or neighbouring states.
According to the Global Terrorism Index (2019), Nigeria is the third-worst nation prone to terrorism, with no improvement since 2017. This is despite having an annual defence budget that is the highest in the West African region. What happened on the evening of the 11th of December is a devastating example of the consequences of a security sector characterised by this irony – seemingly resource-rich but still ill-equipped to manage Nigeria’s security realities.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time Nigerians have experienced such devastation within this decade. The abduction of schoolboys brings back harrowing memories of the abductions of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok, Borno state and 110 schoolgirls in Dapchi, Yobe state, in 2014 and 2018 respectively. Most of the girls are yet to return. These events occurred in different states, but the same circumstances were still very much at play: the scourge of insurgency and armed banditry and the inability of the Nigerian government to put in place a robust security architecture that can, if not eliminate, at least contain, the chronic state of insecurity.
The need to effectively address the underlying socio-economic shortcomings that continue to motivate young men to opt into armed banditry and insurgency remains a primary challenge for Nigeria. Although Boko Haram’s leader, Abubakar Shekau, released a video claiming that the terrorist group was behind the attack, witnesses alternatively attributed responsibility to a group of bandits, who are active in the region where ransom kidnappings are commonplace. Regardless of whoever was behind the attack, what is clear is that disenchanted Nigerians – mainly young men – have become vulnerable to recruitment into what is now a multilayered network of terrorism and organised crime – operating at the local, national, regional and global levels. For many, this should not come as a surprise. Nigeria just entered its worst recession in three decades, but the socio-economic challenges that have left many people in abject poverty and with no viable prospect for future opportunities – circumstances ripe for recruitment into these networks – have long characterised lived realities in Nigeria.
Complicating this already precarious situation was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this year, which saw an increasing number of Nigerians without basic necessities. Eye-witness accounts from the schoolboys that escaped reveal that the gunmen were asking for money and phones and even broke open lockers to take soaps, creams, milk and biscuits. In fact, whilst the President’s Office has revealed that ransom demands are now being made by those responsible, others have suggested that the perpetrators have also sold some of the boys to Boko Haram. Clearly, the motivations for the Kankara kidnappings were more opportunistic than religion-centred. This monetary element at the centre of the abductions suggests that socio-economic inequalities fostered enough grievances to mobilise violent crimes for profit.This is not the first time, and unfortunately, might not be the last time an attack like this occurs if Nigeria does not prioritise structural challenges, especially the lack of basic social amenities and meaningful job opportunities, as primary public policy concerns.
Concurrently, the immediate concern of confronting the present reality of insecurity requires a robust security architecture in order to ensure that attacks like the one in Katsina, Yobe and Borno states do not become commonplace. Complex security situations and the possibility of unexpected attacks like these require the implementation of long-term policy and infrastructure to not only equip security forces with superior military capacity, but to also create effective deployment strategies that identify and monitor existing and potential security hotspots. It also requires effective awareness campaigns for civilian populations, especially in rural communities, in order to effectuate community-centered collaboration such as community reporting and informing as part of the strategy to contextualize and prevent attacks.Though it is important to acknowledge the previous efforts and attempts at confronting the terror of Boko Haram and other forms of organised crime groups, the fact that these groups can confidently repeat a near parallel act of violence and abduction demonstrates the importance of demanding, designing and developing policies, strategies and security structures with the purpose of longevity. Reactive policies and strategies, like post-attack rescue operations, only provide some use in responding to these situations. They do not dispel structural weaknesses, such as under-developed security infrastructure, which allow for groups like Boko Haram to thrive.
Beyond Nigeria, the Kankara kidnapping is yet another unfortunate incident that makes demands for African leaders and institutions to begin to take more seriously the danger to children in areas where there are renowned rebels, militia or violent groups, even more urgent. Nigeria is certainly not alone in witnessing children being placed directly into violence whilst convening at educational institutions. In the past few months alone, children in Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo have faced similar situations. In August, armed militia attacked Congolese examination centres in Haut-Uélé and Sud-Kivu provinces, where final-year female students were raped and hundreds of students were forced to flee from their school premises respectively. In late October, gunmen also raided a school in Koumba, southwestern Cameroon, killing at least 6 children. On a continent where education is arguably the main pathway to securing better futures for African youth, it is imperative to ensure that security strategies incorporate a needs assessment element that visibly targets threat management surrounding educational institutions. This is especially more significant given that African countries remain signatories to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – specifically SDG 4 – which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” by 2030.
This may be difficult to achieve in the current climate, but these are not impossible undertakings if there is an active commitment to increasing both intellectual and economic investment into the process and implementation of transformative policies on local, national, regional, and even continental levels.
With this in mind, how then can Nigerians demand that their leaders bring back the boys, and by extension bring stability and security? How can Africans join this call to action so that leaders across the continent can also pursue integrative and transformative measures with long-term impacts on national and regional stability?
It is important to note that this article was written on 17 December 2020, prior to the announced release and return of the abducted boys. Whilst this is a welcome development, there needs to be more transparency regarding the negotiations that facilitated the return of the schoolboys, including what exactly informed the speed at which the boys were retrieved – just less than a week after their abductions – especially in light of the girls who are still missing six years on from the Chibok kidnappings. At the same time, the state government needs to address the uncertainty regarding just how many schoolboys were released and just how many were abducted in the first place. Beyond this immediate need to offer clarity to all stakeholders involved, including the parent of the schoolboys and the general public alike, the Kankara kidnappings must spur on the long-overdue renewed focus on the still-missing Chibok girls and the efforts that are being made (if any) to establish a proactive early warning system and a robust security infrastructure to both prevent and respond to possible similar attacks. Thus, the core of this article still stands true – African states, Nigeria included, must move beyond reactive security policies to combat terrorism and establish peace. Instead, more proactive, cross-cutting and long-term policies and actions on national, continental and international scales are called for, in order to maintain peace across time.
Ethiopia is at war within its own borders, Uganda is experiencing its worst unrest in years, and Nigeria is implementing a dishonourable campaign of retaliation against innocent citizens who dared to speak up for the right to not be killed indiscriminately. Once again, a leadership deficit threatens to destabilize our fragile democracies as we attempt to reconcile the past with the future. Military dictatorships and autocracies were characteristic of an era long gone when the voices of citizens were subordinate to the wills of strongmen. And even if those years were uncomfortable, they were deemed perhaps necessary in order to birth a future devoid of needless bloodshed.
There was a promise of a better tomorrow, the dawn of which appeared to arrive in Ethiopia in 2018 when the fresh-faced Abiy Ahmed manoeuvred through the murky political waters of Ethiopia to emerge as Prime Minister. For 30 years, Ethiopia had maintained a tricky balance in its ethno-regional political dynamic that relegated smaller voices to the background and allowed an imbalanced coalition to thrive. Surely, it was only a matter of time before the militarily agile Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took over again in some form, but Abiy Ahmed had an ace up his sleeve. In a seemingly coordinated move, he disbanded the very coalition that brought him to power and presided over the launch of a new political party that eliminated the biggest threat to his dominance.
It appeared to be a masterstroke except that the TPLF was not going to fade away quietly. In a country that is as ethnically divided as it is distrusting of the other, the TPLF became an active volcano that could erupt without warning. And it did – after nearly two tenuous years of reported covert attacks, Abiy’s government delivered what became the death knell. In any ordinary nation, there would be some merit to the announced postponement of national elections in the midst of a global pandemic that had infected millions, but Ethiopia is no ordinary nation. This is a country that turns off the internet at will, kills journalists who are considered dissenters, and maintains one of the most sophisticated spy networks of any nation on earth. In Ethiopia, trust is premium. Therefore, there was no basis for the TPLF or any other group to assume that the postponement of elections was anything other than a ploy by Abiy Ahmed to illegitimately extend his government’s tenure. Chaos was inevitable.
So what should a Noble Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister do to stabilize a nation on the edge of conflict? What would be expected of a leader who presided over the calming of decades-long fraught relations between his nation and its closest neighbour, Eritrea? Anything but the deployment of the military within its own borders, you would say, but Ethiopia is not that simple to understand. Having traded words heavily and each party having accused the other of illegitimate actions bordering on treason, a Nobel Peace Prize was not going to be the answer. Uncommon leadership would be, yet it was not forthcoming.
Could Abiy have done more to prevent conflict? Could he have de-escalated tensions arising from the north with a recourse to dialogue over the blasts of rockets? Could he have governed in a more inclusive manner, so as to minimize the potential for a political eruption? As difficult as it might seem, the answer has to be yes. In politics, there must be no impossible situations for which the only recourse is conflict. That is the eternal burden of political leadership – setting aside all counter-arguments to pursue peace at all cost. But if Abiy would have followed this path, he would have found no role model in Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari.
The events leading up to the latest #EndSARS protests in Nigeria did not receive the widest attention, but they have gnawed for decades. Police brutality seems to be par for the course in most countries, but it takes a different dimension in Nigeria – an under-trained, under-resourced and under-motivated public security outfit collides with a disgruntled youthful generation determined to forge economic independence on its own terms in an underperforming economy caught in a global pandemic. Nigerians have never trusted the Police Force and decades of blind eyes turned by public leaders to the plight of the Police have done nothing to help. Policemen are left to fend for themselves from the proceeds of their daily street harassment campaigns, and that’s just how it goes. Equip a special tactical unit with the mandate to stop and search supposed criminals and you ignite a ticking bomb. The Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) had been an uncontainable menace for years, and their excesses only got worse by the day.
Allegations of harassment, extortion, rape and indiscriminate murder trailed its officers nationwide, so what should have been the response of the Buhari-led government in the wake of yet another round of protests by frustrated citizens? Empathy, you would say. There was the semblance of it for a minute when the disbandment of SARS was announced, but as in Ethiopia, trust in politicians comes at a premium in Nigeria. The longer the protests went on, the shorter the fuse burned in the corridors of power. In the blink of an eye, a curfew was announced, the military was deployed, innocent protesters were killed and the lies kicked in. The twists and turns in the public statements issued by the government of Lagos state, the leaders of the army and the incompetent federal ministers who addressed the media would confuse Sherlock Holmes, but the focus here is on President Buhari.
Could he have done more to calm tensions with protesting youth before the crisis escalated? Could he have vehemently addressed the excesses of police officers and committed to speedy reforms in a manner that demonstrated genuine empathy for citizens? Could he have spoken as the father of a nation when he belatedly took to television to commiserate primarily with the few police officers who had lost their lives? By demonstrating disdain for his people and launching a vendetta against the brave souls who dared to expose his administration’s failings to the world (including CNN), he appears to be following in the footsteps of a man who has ruled his own nation since just after Buhari’s military regime came to an end three and half decades ago. One could say that Major General Muhammadu Buhari who orchestrated the military coup that brought him to power in 1983 was an inspiration for Yoweri Museveni who did the same in Uganda in 1986, and now the favour has been returned.
Uganda under Museveni has descended dramatically from a seeming economic miracle to a place of terror for dissenters. Much has been documented about Museveni’s tactics of stifling free press, quashing opposition political movements and repeated constitutional amendments to guarantee his never-ending hold on power. After signing the 2017 Constitutional Amendment Bill that removed the age limit on eligibility for contesting the presidency, he effectively guaranteed that he could rule the country for the rest of his life. One of the people determined to forestall that possibility is popular musician turned parliamentarian, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (known as Bobi Wine). Having suffered numerous arrests, physical torture and endless harassment by state security forces, Bobi Wine’s campaign for the presidency in 2021 has energized his base, sometimes beyond the boundaries of logic.
When Bobi Wine’s motorcade rolled into the streets of Luuka in eastern Uganda on Wednesday 19th November, it was decidedly igniting a violation of the government-imposed cap of 200 people at political rallies. With hundreds flocking after his vehicles while he raised a fist through the roof of his car, he appeared indomitable. That was until security forces swooped in and arrested him for the second time this month. The ensuing violence across the country has left more than 37 dead and several injured. It was only the latest turn in a political battle for the survival of democracy in Uganda.
However, while aggrieved citizens have argued that the cap on public gatherings is an attempt to stifle political opposition (and it may well be so), there is no justification for Bobi Wine’s refusal to encourage social distancing at his rallies. When people have been aggrieved for generations, it is understandable that defying public directives could be seen as an act of political liberation in itself, but the standards are higher for a person who aspires to the highest office. If Bobi Wine would one day lead Ugandans, he may well start shedding the toga of “ghetto president”, and demonstrate respect for public health guidelines. The stakes are higher now.
Africa’s leadership deficit has been the bane of our democratic progress to date, and it threatens to retain a stranglehold on our future. If Buhari and Museveni are guaranteed to not rule forever, could we look to Abiy Ahmed and Bobi Wine for better leadership? Could we expect that a new class of politicians would emerge who demonstrate not just competency in governance, but respect for human rights, care for the lowest class of citizens and decency in public dealings? Will there be a time when leaders do not indiscriminately mobilize the military against citizen uprisings as we have seen in Ethiopia, Nigeria and Uganda this month? Will there ever be an African leader who is skilled at de-escalating conflict? Will that day ever come?
The year 2020 has been marked by an endless stream of protests in all corners of the world, and African countries have had more than their fair share. In a year that will forever be defined by the COVID-19 pandemic and the call for social distancing, there have been multiple reasons for agitated people to defy logic in favour of mass gatherings. From the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA to the 18-month long protests in Hong Kong, and the recent outbreak of demonstrations in Belarus, no region of the world is being spared. In Africa, the #EndSARS movement against police brutality in Nigeria has ignited passions, just about the same time as the #ShutItDown protests against femicide took off in Namibia. In DR Congo, protests have ranged from opposition to an electoral commission appointee to demands for justice against historic murders and rapes. In a year when we are supposed to be distancing from each other, why are citizens so determined to take to the streets in large numbers?
Firstly, nearly every national constitution guarantees the rights to free movement, free assembly and peaceful protests. The 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights adopted by the United Nations equally provides international endorsement for the rights of people to demonstrate peacefully. While some countries are known to place arbitrary bans on public gatherings or to employ various means for de-legitimizing protests, public demonstrations remain the primary medium of choice for aggrieved citizens across the world. Yet, in spite of the prevalence of protests, what starts out as peaceful hardly ever ends as such. So what exactly makes protests dangerous?
It is not uncommon for peaceful protests to turn bloody when people who gather for legitimate causes find their ranks infiltrated by others with more violent instincts. Things might turn violent when the first person hurls a stone at a building or attempts to damage a vehicle; or when tyres are burned on a street or when protesters form barricades to deny other citizens free movement. Very often, the presence of law enforcement agents on the streets tends to aggravate protesters, and counter-protests have also been seen to upend peaceful movements. Images of bloodied protesters and torched buildings routinely flood our timelines, and the use of social media serves to spread even more angst among people. So when protests become violent, who is to blame?
It is conventional knowledge that one of the hardest things to achieve on earth is mob control. American legal scholar, Cass R. Sunstein wrote in 2009 “…when like-minded people get together, they often end up thinking a more extreme version of what they thought before they started to talk to one another.” In essence, people who were already agitated get even more aggravated when they find others who share their anger. Collectively, they might be unstoppable, except when confronted by a more powerful (read: violent) force. This inevitably sets up a battle royale with law enforcement officers who often resort to dispersion tactics including use of tear gas, water cannons and live ammunition. In the ensuing tussle, innocent lives will be lost and some will be permanently maimed. Peaceful protests hardly ever end as they begin.
One of the most devastating dimensions to street protests involve the hijacking of legitimate causes by hoodlums and political elements. No one can really tell how or when strange individuals get in the mix of peaceful protests, but it is a common phenomenon to notice a more violent streak emerge from within the ranks once a protest has gone on for a few days. Very often, these hoodlums resort to theft, rape, vandalism of private vehicles, looting of shops and burning of public property. In the case of the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria, the aftermath of the largely peaceful protests was a completely different set of nefarious activities which resulted in the burning of private business, banks, police stations, mass transit vehicles and even the king’s palace!
So if street protests pose such a threat to personal health and public safety, are they any good? Do street protests achieve any valuable outcome?
The first thing about street protests that must be understood and accepted is that they are designed to make life uncomfortable for everyone. Street protests are not the same as a peaceful procession. A protest by nature takes over public space to draw attention to a cause – it is inevitable that this results in untold discomfort for some. There will be other civilians whose lives and businesses are impeded; there will be children who might have to miss school days; and there will be public officials who find themselves caught in crosshairs. The goal of nearly every protest is to generate attention, so any form of media coverage becomes a win for the people, and a source of discomfort for public officials who often become determined to quash the movements. Street protests also raise the alert levels in law enforcement agencies which have still not learned many tactics for de-escalating tension. So, can anything good come from a set of coordinated actions designed to create discomfort?
The answer is yes. If properly managed, actions on the street need to be accompanied by a set of clear demands that are tabled to public officials, either by representatives of the protesters or by parallel comrades. The combined forces of street agitation and boardroom negotiations tend to deliver better results than street protests only. Most public officials appear to be incapable of responding appropriately to public demonstrations that are not spearheaded by known and credible leaders, so the more responsive administrations are often keen to engage with the leadership of the agitators to end the protests while the concerns are addressed privately. As expected, these overtures are often dismissed because of the breakdown of trust between governments and citizens. It is the absence of dialogue that almost always leads street protests to turn bloody.
So will there yet be street protests in the final weeks of 2020? Definitely! Protests will carry on into 2021 and beyond, because we still do not have alternative avenues for channelling public anger and demanding change. Will these protests turn violent? Most of the time, yes. And this is because law enforcement agencies are not properly trained in de-escalating tension and because there will always be hoodlums who seek to hijack legitimate causes for personal agendas. Will governments become more responsive to public protests? That is the unresolved question. There are a handful of emerging public leaders who are showing understanding of mob psychology and who are swift to demonstrate compassion. Public leaders who are quick to show up and address protesters have a better chance of de-escalating conflict, while reticent leaders who prefer the show of force are likelier to promote violence by their actions and inactions.
If street protests are here to stay, the big question is how can we guarantee the safety of lives and property while demanding our rights? That is the big question.
The author, Faith Abiodun, is Executive Director of Future Africa
You might have heard it said that politics is a dirty game; politics is for the corrupt; and nothing good ever came out of politics. Your parents may have drummed it up into your head as a young kid, or you may have picked it up by yourself, just scrolling through the headlines. You may have friends who are utterly brilliant and passionate about social change, but who will not move an inch towards the public sector. Or maybe that is you. Why do young brilliant Africans avoid politics altogether, and can that be changed?
Here are three reasons:
They do not know how it works.
This is perhaps the biggest problem of all. Growing up anywhere in Africa, you are socialized to equate political involvement with rowdy legislators, assassinated opponents, flouted rules and corrupt old men (and sometimes women). The image of politics has been so tainted that we perceive the whole system to revolve around crass electioneering campaigns and poor governance, with the same cycle repeating itself continually. But it is more than that. The true job of a government is to create an enabling environment for all citizens and entities to thrive. This is mostly achieved through legislation, policymaking and regulatory functions. Yes, all of these avenues are opportunities for corruption to happen, but there will be no incentive for corruption to end unless young brilliant (and ethical) Africans begin to approach the public sector with more determination.
2. They are consumed with the private sector.
Growing up, many people dreamed of achieving success in the private sector, primarily because the images of success that are promoted through the media are either those of entrepreneurs or corporate executives. At the very best, some of us dreamed of becoming “the president”, but we quickly abandoned those ideas in primary school and focused on pursuing corporate careers because…well, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey….you get the point. The more consumed we are with chasing corporate success, the less we are focused on that other massive aspect of our lives that needs fixing. Maybe we can do both?
3. They believe it is a long game with insufficient benefits.
This might be the trickiest to demystify. Looking at the current political climate in Africa, hardly any young person is thriving. It just does not look cut out for young, brilliant (and ethical) Africans. The space appears to be dominated by old folk who have access to all kinds of resources, so much so that a young person who was not born into a political family will be better off squashing their dreams of having any impact in the public sector.
Given these challenges, it is necessary to outline how our lives are affected by politics before imagining what a solution can be.
Firstly, public policy shapes the world of business. As much as we might see these two sectors as contradictory, with one being a haven from the other, they are actually more inter-twined than we want to admit. The key policy decisions that govern the operations of the private sector are decided by the public sector — tax policy, inflation rate, employment policy etc. The private sector is not so private after all.
Secondly, the private sector funds the public sector. All that money that politicians embezzle, much of actually comes from the private sector. Contrary to popular belief, governments do not generate employment — at best, they create the necessary enabling environment for private sector players to generate employment by creating new enterprises and growing existing ones. By getting more people employed and generating taxes through the productivity of those private sector players and the few functioning state-owned enterprises, governments are enriched to carry out their functions.
Thirdly, decisions made in the public sector affect everyday life. From transportation to healthcare, education to immigration, all the key decisions that govern everyday life are made by “those people” whom we are so desperate to avoid. How comfortable then are we, leaving the biggest decisions about our lives to people whom we will not trust with our personal finances or our family’s safety?
So, how can these change? What needs to happen for more young, brilliant (and ethical) Africans to consider public sector careers?
Take civic education mainstream.
The best civic education that most of us received might have been a module in primary school and nothing further since then. If children and young adults are not taught about the responsibilities and privileges of citizenship, and the necessary functions of the public sector to govern daily life, they will be left to pick up fragments of that information from mainstream media and social media. And there is such a critical role for the media to play — rather than simply reporting on poor performance of current leaders, media professionals can do a better job of educating citizens on how things should work. The more informed we are, the better choices we make.
2. Get more credible public sector leaders to write and speak about what they do.
Looking from a distance, it will be hard to imagine that anyone in politics is competent or moral. The voices of negativity have dominated our public spaces so much that it becomes nearly impossible to imagine that there are credible humans in the corridors of power. How to change that? Get more public sector leaders to write and speak about what they do. They may write columns in newspapers to explain the critical functions of governments and the individual roles that they play; or they may publish posts on their social media pages or blog on sites like Medium.com. The more images of credible leadership to which we are exposed, the greater the desire grows in young people. After all, that’s how we learned to admire Steve Jobs and Bill Gates.
3. Democratize public sector internships.
This could be a true game changer. In the United States, university students are able to apply for internships to work at the US Congress, either as an assistant to a Senator or a Representative, or a member of their research team. And here’s the interesting part — they do not need to know anyone! Making public sector internships available and accessible creates a viable pipeline of future public sector leaders, or better informed citizens at the very least. There is nothing better than introducing young people to the core functions of a government early; the returns could last for a long time.
So what role will you play in shaping the future of the public sector in Africa?
The author, Faith Abiodun, is Executive Director of Future Africa
It is election season in Africa once again, and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) reports that no fewer than 23 African countries will be conducting elections in 2019, ranging from Local Government and National Assembly elections to the Presidency. Countries like Tunisia, Senegal, South Africa, Nigeria, Malawi, Mozambique, Libya, Namibia, Mauritania, Algeria, Guinea-Bissau and Botswana will be holding presidential elections, and there’s evidently so much at stake for the continent.
Of all the interesting incidents that accompany elections, there is always the emergence of new players into the political spectrum, each hoping to win or gain national recognition in the worst case. It can be argued that there is very little to lose in launching a political campaign as a newbie, except the candidate is deploying personal resources without building a significant political base to have a true fighting chance of winning, but that is ultimately a choice to be made by the electorate.
However, most citizens tend to treat unfamiliar faces in politics with a very healthy dose of scepticism, even when they have no love for the political dinosaurs who have dominated public spaces for all of their lives. So, why do people find it hard to rally behind new entrants into politics?
Here are five thoughts that dominate the minds of citizens:
Do they belong to a recognizable political party?
As much as we despise politicians who belong to the ruling and dominant political parties because we believe they are the root of all our problems, we still give the side-eye to the new politician who knows that they have very little chance of securing a ticket on the platform of a dominant part and then settles for creating their own New African National Party (NANP). Without mincing words, no one will recognize NANP on the ballot, so …nope. We’re not going to vote for them.
South Africa’s Mmusi Maimane has earned national recognition in relatively short time because of his rapid rise in the Democratic Alliance. Source: https://bit.ly/2s9FXUj
Do they have enough money for the campaign?
Let’s be honest, elections are very very expensive, so when a new candidate emerges, it is a very fair question to ask how they intend to fund the election. Who is paying for radio and television adverts? How are they going to afford billboards, street posters and branded vehicles? If they’re going for a presidential campaign and need to travel across a country with members of their team, how are they going to bankroll endless flight tickets and hotel stays? At the least, will they have enough to produce branded t-shirts and caps for their supporters? Is it all starting to look a little too much for Mr/Mrs Newbie?
Central African Republic presidential candidate Agustin Agou waves to supporters during a campaign rally. Compared to other presidential campaigns, this looks really weak on funding. Source: https://yhoo.it/2CQ6MTN
Do they have a proper national base or just a few fans?
So, most new entrants into politics tend to be people who have worked really hard to earn their name in a small sector and who have been encouraged by a few fans to launch a political campaign so that they can do as much good for the local government, state/province or country. Very often, Mr/Mrs Newbie is cautious because they just want to do good, but you can’t say no to the fans, right? So, they launch a campaign. But the real question that potential voters are asking is “Does anyone else know this guy, or is it just me?” Knowing that citizens in African countries tend to speak hundreds of languages, and localize politics, it is a fair question to ask if this new entrant can really connect to citizens across a country and gain enough fans all around, not just in a few cities.
Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta can pull crowds like this. Source: https://bit.ly/2Ew9dfZ
No one knows if they will actually be better than the current crop
What is it they say about the devil you know? As much as we want to see “change” and “hope” and “new beginnings” and all the other campaign slogans that politicians bandy around, are we really willing to take a chance on this fresh face that has never been tested? Citizens tend to say things like “all politicians are thieves, so this one will be exactly like all those who have come before him”. For presidential elections that tend to have 4-5 year terms at minimum, are people really willing to take a chance on an unfamiliar face?
Several election campaigns in Africa are driven on sentiments so citizens vote based on hope rather than clear policy proposals. Source: https://bit.ly/2Qr2d5V
“I cannot waste my vote on somebody who has no chance of winning”
Now, this is one line that is consistently thrown around by people who have next to zero intent to even vote in the first place. The concept of the “wasted vote” is built on the assumption that every vote cast for anyone other than the top two or three candidates is inconsequential since it will not make the race at the top more competitive. So, what is the incentive to register, stand in the hot sun for hours and eventually cast a vote for someone who has very little chance of winning? Never mind that democracy is about participation, it is just that much harder to convince a sceptic that that “wasted vote” actually has value.
In 2017, Diane Shima Rwigara launched a presidential campaign in Rwanda where it could be argued she had no chance of winning. Source: https://bit.ly/2LTh9sX
So, there you have it! The road to political relevance is filled with so many potholes for anyone who was not born in a presidential palace or whose godfathers do not currently roam the corridors of power.
What other reasons have you heard for not voting for a newbie in your country? Are you planning to vote for a newbie in upcoming elections in your country? Share your reasons.