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How to run an effective political campaign

As the Zimbabwean election season approaches, we once again contemplate Mthwakazi’s status, and we focus on the pro-Mthwakazi political environment. What is happening within this space or to be precise, what needs to happen? We seek to inform the campaign strategy of our political groups, particularly those that have expressed their intent to participate in the upcoming elections.

There are decisions to be made about our election participation. What do we hope to achieve from the participation? At this point there is no value in arguing on the political relevancy of participating in Zimbabwean facilitated elections; we need to agree to disagree on the value of participation and non-participation.

A word of warning to all Mthwakazi political organisations participating in the elections – do not pursue an ill-judged populist narrative; do not run a campaign that divides people and communities as governing a divided and oftentimes broken society is an improbable task. South Sudan with its unending inter-communal conflicts is testimony to that.

Back to business, we will define a campaign strategy as a deliberate, organised and goal-orientated effort to effect change. It is a proposed pathway to achieving political goals. What a campaign strategy is not, is an accidental manifestation, but an outcome of thoughtful planning based on informed understanding of who will vote for the candidate and why they will do so.

Drawing from the above paragraph, we need to prepare ourselves to run an evidence-based campaign strategy. We need to carry out scientific research to help unearth objective statistical data that will inform our campaign.

Who will vote for us and why would they do so is a critical question. Identifying who we are trying to reach will help inform our campaign strategy. More importantly, it informs how resources should be used effectively and efficiently. We are not naïve to think everyone will vote for us, neither is it necessary for everyone to vote us for us to secure victory.

We need to be realistic with what can be achieved. Grandiose and improbable expectations will lead to costly failures, despondency and risk setting the Mthwakazi agenda back for many years. A call for caution must not be viewed as a call for our organisations to lower their standards/ expectations but advising organisations to identify objective aims and set realistic targets for the coming election.

What is described as Zimbabwe national politics is an elaborate and deliberate system of rewards to ethnic Shona people. The system is not inclusive of ethnic and racial minorities who will not sacrifice their identities.

This blog has previously argued that within the current political context in which social identity, and not policies determine election winners, Mthwakazi as a region plays little to no influence on presidential outcomes, but we can and must influence who become our local representatives in parliament.

The choice is evident, our representatives will have to come from pro-Mthwakazi organisations. Pro-Mthwakazi must not be confused with the anti-Shona far-right politics that many Mthwakazians do not subscribe to. Pro-Mthwakazi is a legitimate political agenda that seeks to bring Mthwakazi citizens at the forefront of decisions impacting their lives.

Now that we have determined who should represent us, we need to identify our vote target before addressing what the campaign will look like. We will start with strategies of identifying our vote target. Social science tools will be handy in identifying the relevant population groups for our campaign.

It is vital that we establish these three categories: our candidate’s base, their rival’s base and the undecided voters. Results from the 2008 and 2013 harmonised elections will help us allocate our electorate into the three categories identified above and help us identify our target vote.

An overview of previous elections indicates that voter turnout has tended to be low in Matabeleland and even lower among young voters. Another factor of note is that the electorate have tended to vote for the main Zimbabwe focused organisations, and we are not ignorant to the fact independent candidates and the Alliance Khumbul’ Ekhaya (AKE), the only Mthwakazi focused organisation to contest elections recently did not perform well.

Campaigns in Zimbabwe and much of Africa do not require a lot of financial investment compared to say, the USA. However, we still need to spend some money. The Mthwakazi idea needs better marketing. Focus groups will be essential in the marketing of the project. The medium of communication needs to be extensive and effective; social media platforms and software applications have shown their effectiveness in recent USA elections.

Social media risks are well-known now, unwanted infiltration by opponents being the major one; this calls for the professionalism of the whole campaign. We need a team of strategist managed by the best we can find who will manage the social media handle, advise and monitor the quality of door-to-door campaigns.

For this election we may be chasing shadows, but we still need to be professional in our political matters. It is vital that going forward, we market a Mthwakazi empowerment project, and clearly separate it from anti-Shona extremism. This is the right time to start devising our campaign strategy.


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