In our sequence of letters from African journalists, media and communication coach Joseph Warungu appears to be like at why colors and symbols are so essential within the pursuit of energy in Africa because the continent gears up for an election season.
Bear in mind crimson crimson wine? No, not the stuff in a bottle that lets you unbottle your emotions.
I am speaking about Crimson Crimson Wine… one of many largest cowl hits by the British reggae group UB40. It reached the primary spot within the UK and the US in 1983.
Thirty-seven years later, Crimson Crimson Wine will need to have a number of resonance for Ugandan pop star-turned politician Bobi Wine.
The MP, whose actual title is Robert Kyagulanyi and who is never noticed with out his signature crimson beret, needs to run for president within the forthcoming elections.
However Bobi Wine is now seeing crimson after the electoral fee banned his Nationwide Unity Platform social gathering from formally utilizing the color within the elections, saying one other social gathering had claimed it.
The facility of color and symbols in electoral campaigning can’t be underestimated in African international locations.
“The simpler the image, the higher it’s for events to succeed in out to their voters. A few of them suppose that it’s good to have an emblem that individuals affiliate with hope and life on the finish of the day,” says Dr Isaac Owusu-Mensah, a senior lecturer within the Division of Political Science on the College of Ghana.
He makes use of the 2 major events vying for energy in Ghana’s December election for example.
“The opposition NDC social gathering has an umbrella, and the interpretation is which you could be below the shade of the umbrella, particularly in troublesome instances,” says Dr Owusu-Mensah.
“The governing NPP alternatively has the elephant, which is large. They will bulldoze no matter downside you might have in your method. When you find yourself in bother, simply go below the elephant and you’re good.”
‘Crimson is for all times’
Dr Mshai Mwangola, a efficiency scholar in Kenya, says within the West colors appear to have much less symbolic that means.
For instance crimson is related to the left-leaning Labour Celebration within the UK however with the conservative Republican Celebration within the US – and British Conservatives share blue with the US Democrats, who’re liberals.
“Right here in Africa, folks know that these colors are filled with that means… we’re very subtle in studying political discourse, in a multi-layered, multi-faceted method,” says Dr Mwangola.
These meanings are additionally learn within the nationwide flags of many African international locations the place there was a freedom battle and other people died, akin to Kenya.
“Crimson symbolises the blood that was misplaced; black normally symbolises the folks of the nation and inexperienced is tied to the atmosphere or land that they fought for,” she says.
This can be a view shared by Dr Owusu-Mensah.
“Crimson is an important color for political events right here. The NPP have the crimson, blue and white. Whenever you go to NDC, in addition they have crimson, white and inexperienced. Senior members of the events will say that blood is crimson; it implies that that there’s life within the color and the social gathering due to this fact has life.”
Symbols achieve significance even the place none is meant.
In assigning symbols to the 2 opposing sides within the 2005 constitutional referendum in Kenya, the electoral fee went out of its option to discover fundamental benign ones that may not give both facet undue benefit.
Africa’s election diary
The fee selected two fruits which are generally obtainable – an orange and banana. However Kenyans nonetheless learn that means into them.
The marketing campaign noticed all method of political wrestling, with hilarious claims about what a banana might do to an orange and vice versa.
Ultimately the oranges received and the government-backed referendum was rejected. The bananas misplaced.
The political grouping that was victorious in that ballot adopted orange because the title of their new political social gathering.
In the present day the Orange Democratic Motion (ODM), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is the primary opposition social gathering in Kenya.
‘Witchcraft’ symbols banned
However not all symbols are welcome in an election as we noticed within the 2018 ballot in Zimbabwe.
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The Zimbabwe Electoral Fee (Zec) banned a complete host of issues from candidates’ logos, together with some animals and weapons.
You possibly can have a gun in your brand however not a cheetah, elephant or leopard.
In its knowledge, Zec maybe knew that there are various elections in Africa which are received not by the poll however by “juju” or witchcraft, in any other case generally known as rigging.
So cobras and owls – related to sorcery in Zimbabwe – had been on the banned record.
The watermelon is a juicy and scrumptious fruit. However in Kenya it has sinister political connotations: a politician with out concrete rules – inexperienced and exhausting on the skin and crimson and mushy on the within.
She or he is to not be trusted. So, you will not discover a marketing campaign poster with the watermelon image.
Dr Owusu-Mensah argues that symbols are so highly effective, they typically exchange the candidates’ precise id.
“I simply got here from a constituency in northern Ghana the place we interviewed respondents about who they are going to be voting for within the coming elections. About 95% of them simply used an emblem of both the elephant or the umbrella. They by no means talked about the title of the social gathering or candidate.”
When rising up in a village in central Kenya, I at all times thought our long-serving MP’s title was “Tawa” that means lamp in my native language.
That is as a result of the lamp was his image in each election. When his entourage swept by the village, the whole space could be full of chants of “Tawa! Tawa!”
However I have to admit, his lamp was quite faint: it didn’t illuminate our schooling and well being challenges. It didn’t carry electrical energy to the world or enhance the roads that had been impassable within the wet season.
Dr Mwangola agrees that whereas we’re excellent at getting the that means of colors and symbols in Africa, we fail by not following by.
“We as voters, don’t return and maintain the candidate accountable to the symbols. If somebody had the image of a lamp or he was the axe, tractor or the lion, I not care. We do not even maintain political events to the symbols.”
The Ugandan authorities totally understands the ability of symbolism. A yr in the past, it designated the crimson beret as official navy clothes that might land members of the general public who put on them in jail. Although Bobi Wine appears decided to disregard this ruling too.
Dr Mwangola believes Bobi Wine could have chosen crimson as his color to symbolize anger to counter the yellow of the governing NRM social gathering, led by President Yoweri Museveni who’s searching for a sixth time period in workplace.
“Yellow is sunshine and pleasure. The opposite guys are saying: ‘No, we’re offended!’… it has been countered by the crimson of ardour and dedication,” she says.
“Yellow is about prosperity, however the crimson is saying: ‘Prosperity for who?'”
If Ugandan voters do certainly see crimson come January, Bobi Wine could also be sipping crimson wine from State Home but.
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