Apart from having the biggest number of presidential candidates in the history of the country, the forthcoming elections are also distinguishing themselves for unprecedented use of new social media.
The race is as hot in cyberspace as it is on the ground. Candidates Yoweri Museveni, Dr Kizza Besigye, Norbert Mao, Beti Kamya and Dr Bwanika are all using social networks such as Facebook and Twitter to mobilise supporters.
However, the DP leader seems to be heads and shoulders above all in the use of these tools. The use of social media in politics came to prominence in 2008 during the US presidential campaigns, where eventual winner Barack Obama was champion.
So far Mao, who has been likened to Obama because of his oratory skills, is the only candidate running a website entirely dedicated to the campaigns: www.norbertmao.org.
The homepage with the imposing picture of Mao has an active countdown to “Uganda’s new beginning” as well as links to his plans, donations and questions for him to answer. It also calls on the visitor to “become part of the dream” by joining “the Mao Team.”
There are also links to Twitter and Facebook with a click on the latter connecting you to his page where debate on various issues rages.
Very few Ugandans have access to the internet, 2.2 million out of a population of 31 million, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Of these, a few would probably vote.
Nevertheless, online social networking sites provide an alternative and easy way for like-minded people to connect with one another, share ideas and form communities. In this game where every vote counts, the candidates, or their strategists are leaving nothing to chance.
When Mao told this paper last week that he is the most popular candidate on Facebook, the feeling was that he was blowing his own trumpet. Well, every man thinks he has got the prettiest wife back home!
Then a visit to Mao’s Facebook page revealed a few things. At the last count, he had 10,860 “friends” and his page is most interactive with many supporters being part of it. In fact there is a post for every rally he addresses with pictures to boot.
“I think it will be a huge change 4 all Ugandans Norbert 2 be a Ugandan president 2011 pakalast,” says one supporter.
Other entries, picked at random, run:
DP Forever! Mao is the man to vote- we need generational shift.
I think we need a civilian president to prove that Uganda is moving forward in the realms of democracy.
Do it like Obama to have the last laugh Chairman Mao.
Mr. President, I’m going to write on your page every day until I see momentum in your campaign.
To those who ‘fought’, we say: Keep your past but let us have our future!
Another obviously humourous supporter urges voters to embrace Mao because he has a “ballistic” wife. Naomi is the only candidate’s spouse to have so far made news of her own because of her looks.
On the other hand, Museveni has four Facebook accounts on the last count. One has 747 friends, while another has 1,214. On one of his accounts, Museveni says:
“The struggle we are having now is to ensure that we get you employment”, while another reads: “We need to keep our traditions intact, put our poems in your songs so that they are not forgotten. We need those poems”.
The latter comment is next to a video of his rap song that seems to have resonated well with the youth. As a matter of fact, many of the youth visiting the site promise to vote for Museveni basing entirely on his song, which has also received a lot of hits on YouTube.
The more ingenious Ugandans have come up with accounts such as ‘Museveni Must go home’ and ‘Museveni must resign’ dedicated entirely to bashing Museveni and drumming up support for his loss in the 2011 elections.
One post reads: “I just wish, this guy M7 new how much i hate him, the NRM think they untouchable, they ve turned our economy in to their own, stolen, killed, and they wnt 2 come back. 2 finish what was pending.”
But the Museveni supporters are also giving as good as they are getting. One of the president’s admirers wrote “oh plz u pple leave museveni alone,jst let him be...u dnt kne da gold in him.nze ama museven i love u so much bse...hehe.lo”.
Besigye’s two accounts, which have 884 and 5,000 friends respectively, are lacking in terms of activity, although that is compensated for by his exuberant supporters. FDC’s homepage, www.fdcuganda.org doesn’t offer much apart from announcing that Besigye has been nominated.
Does anyone know Beti Kamya’s age? Although her Facebook page states that she is a widow and mother of two, the year of her birth is not mentioned. At least the Uganda Federal Alliance president does mention that “Ugandans, watch this space. This is going to be fire”.
There is also an out pouring of support for her candidature on her wall. Some of the postings read thus:
May the almighty God bless you in your political career. Wishing you success.
There you go!!! We are there for you! Beti, break the egg so that we eat the yolk.
We all know that infront of NRM is the Garden of Eden, behind them is the buried Uganda. Let’s dig it out!
Abed Bwanika’s latest posting by press time was of his first rally in Kyadondo. Jaberi Bidandi Ssali of the People’s Progressive Party, UPC’s Olara Otunnu and Sam Lubega, an independent, don’t have any links that this writer is aware of.
With the candidates having just 112 days to traverse the entire country, alternative platforms for campaigning, such as the internet and phone text messages, are bound to be a welcome substitute.
Sunday, November 07, 2010
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