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Monday, August 14, 2017


In the last few weeks there have been three important votes taken on the continent.

Neighbour Rwanda went to the polls last week. Predictably President Paul Kagame won the election with consensus figures.

On Tuesday this week South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma faced down his critics in his eighth no confidence vote in parliament, winning but not coming through unscathed, prompting the BBC to cheekily declare that he was now on his ninth life.

On the same day Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta stood for re-election, running against perennial contender Raila Odinga in an election that many pollsters said was too close to call.

"In each case the incumbent came through. And in each case we were taken by “surprise”. But we shouldn’t have been surprised...

In the case of the Rwanda Kagame’s hold on power seems not to suffer from the attrition of time. It was a different case in South Africa. While Zuma continues to confound the critics, this time a court ruled that the vote should be by secret ballot emboldening some of his own party members – about 30, to vote against him.

On Wednesday Kenya’s Independent Electoral and borders Commission (IEBC) had ruled that they would announce the final result next week. This came after Odinga announced that the IEBC’s system had been hacked after initial results streaming in had Uhuru firmly in the lead.

At the time of writing this column with 1,000 of the 40,883 polling stations’ results yet to be announced the IEBC website reported that Uhuru had crossed the eight million vote mark. Raila was at about 6.6m votes of the 19 million registered voters.

Except in the Rwanda case, in the other two votes the thought was widely entertained that there maybe an upset.

"Clearly we got suckered by the media or the loudest voices on social media....

In Kenya results showed that both houses in Kenya – the national assembly and Senate will be controlled by Uhuru’s Jubillee party overturning the majority that Raila’s ODM held in both houses. A situation Raila has not challenged so far, but which lends credence to a fair and square Uhuru victory.

It is a development we have seen in Uganda since 1996. The media and now social media, is a useful ground to occupy but actual work on the ground is more important. Proof that not enough work has been done on the ground shows up in the parliamentary numbers.

It seems because we have not learnt the lesson we continue to take the class.

The opposition in all these cases, except Rwanda, manage to create a perception that the incumbent is weak and on their last legs, only to suffer “shock” defeats when the votes are tallied. The defeats are often comprehensive enough that it is difficult to sustain the rigging narrative.

Either because resources are in short supply or a lack of willingness to do the work needed to create a genuine groundswell of opposition to incumbents – or both, the opposition takes to the media and now even more, social media to create the perception that they are credible, strong and able to upset the applecart.

"The strategy seems to be, if we create a perception in the public that we are winning, this perception will lead the public to vote for us. A kind of feedback loop between cause and effect...

Either they are not executing the strategy very well or it doesn’t stand up to rough and tumble of real time politics. Either way the result is the same.

A worse crime is that they begin to believe their own press.

In South Africa the opposition called upon the ANC MPs to vote with their conscience and not the party. They hoped that the secret ballot would convince enough of them to break ranks against the party and Zuma’s presidency. They were left to put a positive spin on a loss, that while it may have weakened Zuma in the perception of the press and social media, still left him firmly in charge of Africa’s largest economy.

The point is, in politics, as in many other aspects of life, hope is not a strategy.

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