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Uganda Decides | How Social Media Is Shaping The 2016 Presidential Race

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Posted November 14, 2015 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in The Roadmap to 2016 ~ 1,649 views

     

 A woman kissing President Museveni’s poster made rounds on social media this week

A woman kissing President Museveni’s poster made rounds on social media this week

This is not a terror alert. The President is on a desperate search. Gen Yoweri Museveni wants to meet a woman who was apparently photographed kissing his portrait.  For days now, one of the most trending photos on social media is that of a youthful woman clad in multi-coloured pants, eyes closed, kissing an innocent looking and smiling Museveni with his trademark hat.

His social media handlers like Sarah Kagingo have since circulated the photograph as evidence of a Museveni respected as an idol and hero to the post-1986 generation. In the same week, however, another video of the President’s interview with Kenyan journalist Jeff Koinange was making the rounds.

In the interview, the President, responding to a question on if he ever feels not appreciated says: “It doesn’t matter. I work for myself and my grandchildren and children.”

To the Mbabazi side now. Side by side with the Museveni video was a nasty audio circulated on various social media platforms of presidential hopeful Amama Mbabazi. The nastiest things are said of him, his wife Jacqueline, sister in law Hope Mwesigye, daughters Rachel Mbabazi, Nina Rukikaire Mbabazi, lawyers Severino Twinobusingye and Fred Muwema. The audio traces their past, paints their track record with a black brush, peppering it with wild and defamatory allegations.

Dr Kizza Besigye wasn’t spared. When he pulled an agreeably sizeable crowd in his home district of Rukungiri, photos of a mammoth crowd, possibly as huge as the London riots or Muslim pilgrimage in Mecca, made the rounds on Facebook and Twitter.

Everything looked and smelt Photoshop. Someone sat behind a computer, merged pictures and boom! Dr Besigye’s team pointed fingers at Amama Mbabazi’s, accusing them of trying too hard to paint their candidate as dishonest and exaggerating his support.

Hours later, the same photo of the exaggerated crowd was posted, this time with people dressed in yellow caps, T-shirts and flags, again, hitting at Museveni’s team. Fingers again were directed at 12th floor Crested Towers and Nakasero, the command centres of Mbabazi’s campaign. And then Prof Venansius Baryamureeba was brought in the mix. With a photo of him addressing about 40 children and a few adults on his first rally.

He was dubbed the new presenter of emiti emito, the age-old school children’s programme on WBS TV.  And on and on the battles on social media go, sometimes taking a disgusting twist.

There are several other examples we can draw. The house is on fire, and social media is the playing field for the fire fighters. You cannot afford to ignore social media in this campaign. This is what the actors from the various camps told this newspaper.

Mr Shawn Mubiru, the head of the digital desk at the Forum for Democratic Change, said: “Social media has turned out to be a very useful medium to rally the voters, especially the youth and the middle class.

Our party is using social media to communicate to our supporters and voters. Social media brings out the whole picture where the print and electronic doesn’t cover.”

The provisional National Population and Housing Census 2014 results indicate that a total of 78 per cent of Ugandans are below 30 years and 52 per cent below 15 years. There are 6.5 million Ugandans in the age group 18-30 years and these constitute 21.3 per cent of the population.

The Electoral Commission puts the number of registered voters at 15.2 million. This statistical reality gives social media a special place in the race for State House in an election where the youth, if they turn up and vote, could be the bloc that tilts the balance of the political scales.

Ms Josephine Mayanja-Nkangi, the spokesperson of the Mbabazi campaign taskforce, observes that social media, in its various shapes—Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube are an engine in her communications docket for the Mbabazi presidential bid.

“Social media is playing a significant role for us. The web is the biggest source of information and a key mobilisation tool. People have been daring Mbabazi to show his support so where are the mammoth crowds coming from?” Ms Mayanja-Nkangi says.

Mr Mbabazi, whose agility with technology dates as far back as his time as prime minister and before, oftentimes holding interactive online sessions, Ask the PM with journalists, is alive on Twitter so much that he replies direct messages as instantly as the need arises and updates his Facebook page and Twitter handle, with his campaign programme as frequently as before and after every rally.

Dr Kizza Besigye too has since picked pace and now uses Facebook and Twitter to thank his supporters and account to them for donations he gets on the campaign trail.

Mr Museveni’s official Twitter and Facebook accounts remain irregular, sometimes with updates coming after the event and usually with grammatical and spelling errors. The President, who enjoys the biggest following on social media, still has to put his social media house in order.

But the campaign is getting nasty and Mbabazi’s team has been accused of putting its hands in the sewers, picking and throwing mud at opponents, including Dr Besigye, who, under The Democratic Alliance letter and spirit, should be an ally for change.

Ms Mayanja-Nkangi, however, dismisses members of Besigye’s team pointing the finger at her group.

“People have written terrible things, but we try to focus and those supporters of Mbabazi who write terrible things against the opponent are not directly under us and certainly not working under our instructions,” she says.

She claims she is running “a decent campaign, to tell the voter there are options but this is why we think we are the best. We don’t have time for Besigye and Museveni’s people attacking us, that is juvenile. We know who photoshopped what but we can’t get there”.

Samuel Makokha Mangeni, a member of Besigye’s social media team, says: “I think social media will help greatly, especially in bringing on the younger voters, they love to be trendy and are always using their social media pages quite often.

Today, many people find information on social media as compared to newspapers. So, social media will be used to constantly pump information to that young voter who is undecided (and they are many), videos, graphics, news articles.”

He adds: “So far, the FDC is doing well; we are operating like guerrillas on social media, different people sending different messages, responding to critiques. We have also been lucky to be supported by some of Uganda’s leading bloggers like Peng Peng, Kakensa Ndugwa, Erycom. These have helped to push our message further.”

But there are some bruises as well. “We have suffered too, our opponents, especially are spreading all sorts of falsehoods both graphically and otherwise like when Mbabazi’s team photoshopped a Tanzania picture and claimed it’s Besigye’s rally then turned around and said we are the ones who did it,” Mangeni says.

Is this the road we are fast treading, hardly a month into the campaign?
Propaganda at its core can he described as “a mode of communication aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Although propaganda is often used to manipulate human emotions by displaying facts selectively, it can also be very effective at conveying messages”.

Dr Besigye’s team, for instance, seems to be better students of the lighter part of propaganda, using WhatsApp to circulate videos of songs that salute Besigye’s resilience, commitment to the struggle for change and above all, a people’s president.

Mbabazi’s team too has not slept on the job.

There is an assortment of videos of him pulling dance strokes from legendary American musician Micheal Jackson’s choicest, others presenting a Mr-do-it-all impression. Museveni’s songs or songs hailing him such as tubonga nawe are a click away on any of the social media platforms.

In Germany in the 1930s, according to online sources, “propaganda was in full swing and being used by Hitler’s advisers to call the German people to arms and spread lies about the Jews.”

One of the most famous artists behind Nazi propaganda was Hans Schweitzer, known as “Mjolnir.” The poster by Mjolnir, titled “Our Last Hope: Hitler” was used in the presidential elections of 1932, when Germany was suffering through its great depression and “Nazi propagandists targeted the German people who were unemployed and living on the breadline, and they suggested Hitler as their way out, their saviour.”

So throughout history around the world, propaganda is a component of every politician’s tool box. In 21st Century Uganda, where campaigns are at the height of technological advancement, offering a gazillion options, what we see today and what shall play out in days to come before the mid-February polls all but speak to the reality of the era we live in.

An era where every citizen is a journalist, an era where there are no legal gymnastics and boundaries to censure content and an era where on social media, the law of the jungle, as regards truth and accuracy, let alone fairness, reigns. How nasty can the campaign get in light of this? Watching the space.

Source — Daily Monitor


About the Author

Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.

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