By the time of writing this column we were still waiting for the justices of the Supreme Court to make an appearance. But by the time you read this the Supreme Court would have made its ruling on the Amama Mbabazi petition against President Yoweri Museveni’s February 18th election.
From a communications point of view this has been a first-of-its-kind campaign the amount of resources in cash and time invested in shaping the candidates message has been unprecedented.
In my mind there were actually two elections, the elections in the media, particularly on social media and the election conducted by the Electoral Commission (EC).
There was dichotomy in the message. There were messages for and against a Museveni re-election.
The Museveni campaign found themselves caught on the back foot wherever they turned. Being the “defenders” so to speak, it was always going to be that the Museveni campaign was going to be guilty until proven innocent.
"The anti-Museveni strategy seemed to have been a simple one – discredit the Electoral Commission, the police and all government institutions, promote the narrative that a rigged vote is in the making and then finally downplay the successes and highlight the deficiencies of the NRM administration...
They had a strong media presence fuelled by an urban, youthful elite, who have known nothing but the Museveni administration and are opposed to it by a combination of unmet expectations, disgust at endemic corruption and creeping feeling that change for change’s sake is an acceptable outcome and let the consequences take care of themselves.
The NRM, while trying to highlight the progress the country has made over the last three decades, seemed content to mobilise for the nearly 300 rallies their candidate addressed and have a talking presence on the popular talk shows on Radio and TV.
The net effect of these and all other strategies employed by the antagonists was a 60 percent victory for Museveni at the polls.
A return to the drawing board for the opposition is imperative – they can huff and puff about all manner of things, slander the EC, police, the courts and burglars all they want, but in the still of the night when all the chatter has gone down some hard thinking, specifically about messaging has to be confronted.
The NRM too know that they cannot rest on their laurels. They are no strangers to elections having battled through the last five. Things have changed since 20 years ago in 1996.
"For one, communication technologies and accessibility are improving at a remarkable rate. Secondly, according to the final census results released last week less than 50 percent of the population was of voting age. In the next elections this figure will jump to 55 percent. And finally, during the next election the urbanised population will have grown to about 26 percent from the current 20 percent, assuming urban populations continue to grow faster than the general population. Urban population grew at double the three percent national population growth between 1991 and 2014...
The implications are obvious. A more technologically savvy, more urbanised voting population will mean NRM will have to tailor its communication better for the towns, whose indifference they have been able to shrug off in each of the last three elections, because their numbers were in the rural areas.
Elections have always been about the message and the effectiveness of delivery. This election has shown, if not emphasised that, for a ruling party they cannot afford to waffle on their message, to do so means the holes will be exploited and filled by every hare-brained conspiracy theory under the sun.
"Relatedly and more worryingly, this election has made true the old say that the lie will be half way around the world before the truth can lace up its running shoes...