Book: How To Win Elections In Africa: Parallels with Donald Trump
Publisher: Farafina (Kachifo Limited)
Publication Year: November, 2017
What are the stakes elections are built upon? How much power does the electorate really have? Where do politicians get it wrong? These are some of the questions Chude Jideonwo and Adebola Williams’s How To Win Elections In Africa attempts to answer. The book aims to explore the candidate-voter relationship within the context of political campaigns on the continent and beyond while deconstructing the notions of what matters in the journey towards securing public office.
Riding on the back of two successful electoral campaigns in Nigeria and Ghana, it is hard to resist the allure of proclaiming assertively that StateCraft Inc.’s founders have authored a timely book on the contiguous forces required to disrupt civic engagement and influence the outcome of elections one way or another, but this proclamation may run into the mischief of heedlessness that fails to recognise itself as such, due to the anodyne nature of its conclusions.
By virtue of its title — which was without doubt intended to furnish credence to some degree of expertise on the subject it explores — there is a sense of adventure, of scales falling off unseeing eyes, and lemmings walking atop water; that sustains incentive for page turning. Like most how-to books, it tries to resist, but falls under the weight of distilling complex issues into attenuated theories, backed by confirmation bias.
The authors seem to have a vibrant affair with cliches, references, and broad overgeneralisations — returning time and time again to preferred narrative tropes; delivering common insights as if they were mind-blowing revelations. Yet, they approach the topic of politics and electoral campaigns with an optimistic practicality that has proved infectious.
Consider the take on the issue of the extent to which legacy matters in today’s political structure, where they opine: “When people uniformly detest the political and governance establishments, participation in that consensus leaves you guilty until proven innocent. The new are not innocent, but they get the benefit of the doubt.” In analysing the importance of the economy to a candidate’s chance of retaining, or legitimately seizing political power, they eschew the strict explanations of what economics is (or is supposed to be) in favour of an investigation into the legitimacy of elite consensus, as well as the disconnect between what is empirically known and what is seen or heard about power sharing and control. Hence, it is difficult to fault the reality ensnared in statements like “It is about the economy yes, but for many people the economy is a symbol for what they consider a debate about fairness — whether they are right or not.”
Although, there are moments when How To Win Elections In Africa shifts from its casual copy and paste parallels with Trump and Breast campaigns, to a more locally balanced arc — like the impact of technology on electoral development. “Save for social media and financial services, many African economies are not yet significantly affected by the truly transformative effects of the technology much of the world is already familiar with,” write the authors. “And it certainly hasn’t affected the way our political parties do business, the way our governments are organised and operated and the way that cultural conversations and debates are resolved,” they concluded.
While I cannot claim that the reading of this book has unlocked any fresh perspectives on democracy, the struggles of nation-building, the changing scenery of information revolution, or the essentials of successful politicking, it may serve us well to hearken to these open secrets trumpeted by those who have had a direct hand in helping nations achieve electoral change.
This achievement is the tone, if not the substance, that gives How To Win Elections In Africa, a sense of witnessing an epiphany. Essentially, Chude Jideonwo and Adebola Williams have curated a self-aggrandising cluster of references; their experience managing successful electoral campaigns in Nigeria and Ghana, along with some data, formed the views they presented in this book. This contributed to the lasting feeling of finding an insufficient narrative in the texts beyond the simple parade of the times.
Due to the accomplishments of StateCraft Inc., the appeal of this book will indubitably resonate with those seeking political office. However, citizens, social engineers, strategists, and other stakeholders must contend of their own accord, or with the help of this book, with the issues plaguing the political process by constantly redefining the terms on which they will engage with the system; and harnessing their enormous social power, and factors under their disposition in bringing down institutions that do not work for them, in favour of (seemingly) better alternatives and emotionally appealing solutions. Like the authors of this book, in their usual fashion, presciently note, “this journey has only just begun.”
Precious Arinze is a girl gone to woman too fast, and a freelance writer in her spare time, which is all the time.