Thursday, July 18, 2024

The watcher: The process of re-branding for a political party


By Aristide Bance

Let me take an excerpt from one of my favourite songs by Dr. Dre, the watcher off his 1999 album…..2001.

“ ‘Cause everywhere that I go
Ain’t the same as befo’ (The watcher)
People I used to know
Just don’t know me no mo’ (The watcher)
But everywhere that I go
I got people I know (The watcher)
Who got people they know
So I suggest you lay low (I’m watching).”

I chose to start with this because I feel that’s exactly how the former ruling party, the Patriotic Front Party (PF) that served the People of Zambia from 2011 to 2021. I like the usage of the word ‘serve’ as used by my brother Simon Mwewa Lane on his SML podcast. As a government, you are elected to serve and not rule. The humility in that word, ‘serve.’ While back to the topic at hand, the Patriotic Party (PF) is not doing a lot of watching but doing what they think they should be doing as a party that is now in opposition by providing checks and balances. While this is good, my opinion (and it remains mine) is that they are concentrating a lot of energy on things that are not pertinent to their existence. In the case of the lyrics, I can relate to them as a watcher as I have been watching and have not written an article piece in a while but here goes. I want to provide the Patriotic Front (PF) with some pointers on rebranding. I will also provide an example on how this has been done.

It is important to note that rebranding is a complex process, and its success depends on various factors, including the party’s internal dynamics, external political landscape, and the ability to connect with voters and this holds true with what we are seeing in the Patriotic Front.

When a governing political party loses power, rebranding becomes essential for the party to rebuild its image, connect with voters, and regain political relevance. The first order of business that the Patriotic Front (PF) did or as they claim was do an assessment of why they lost power. I hope that the assessment was truthful and should have set a course of corrective action and as my first strategy I cite:

Assess and Reflect: After a loss, it’s crucial for the party to reflect on the reasons behind their defeat and conduct a thorough assessment of their policies, messaging, and public perception. This analysis helps identify areas that need improvement and informs the rebranding process. As Patriotic Front goes around on media platforms and say, “yes, we lost of cadrerism, arrogance, commanders etc, but look we brought unprecedented infrastructural development.” While this statement is true, the issue here is the semantics, when you say something and you connect that first statement with the word ‘but’ you are in effect cancelling the first statement. It is still a sign of arrogance. Other statements like, “ yes, Patriotic Front had cadres, but we have apologised and the People of Zambia punished them by voting them out.”
Again, one can see that the Patriotic Front is non-repentant. Listen, Zambians are very forgiving people and not docile as many politicians have miscalculated, case in point, Dr. F.T.J Chiluba’s third term bid (M.H.S.R.I.P). What the Patriotic Front should have done and should be doing is going around the country and spreading a message of apology, in the same way they went around campaigning and in not a nice way de-campaigning the United National Party for National Development (UPND).

The second suggestion has to do with the issue of party leadership.

Party Leadership: Parties often consider a change in leadership to signal a fresh start. New leadership can bring new ideas, energy, and vision, creating a sense of renewal within the party. As I watched, Tuesday’s edition of the programme of Let the People Talk on the 13th June 2023, whose guest was Ambassador Emmanuel Mwamba who by the way I follow and enjoy his show, The Brief, was the guest. He said something regarding leadership and membership which was very well-put. A caller told him that the issue with Patriotic Front is the leadership and violence and PF should get rid of the old leaders. To which Ambassador Mwamba wisely replied, “ in a village you cannot get rid of all the old people, you still need them.” The Patriotic Front should systematically inject new and fresh leaders who will be advised by the older ones. This change may involve electing a new party leader or re-organizing the leadership structure.

The third suggestion revolves around how the party processes the idea of ideas.

Ideological Reorientation: Parties may undergo a rebranding by re-evaluating their core ideologies and policy positions. This reassessment helps the party align its values with the evolving needs and aspirations of the electorate. For example, a party may reposition itself as more centrist, progressive, or focused on specific policy areas. The Patriotic Front is a party that is Pro-poor. How can you project the message of being pro-poor? It is not a matter of just saying you are pro-poor. I believe three aspects regarding this killed the Patriotic Front:

1. Grassroots Engagement: The Patriotic Front lost this and that is why their 2021 defeat shocked and is still shocking them. They failed to demonstrate the party’s commitment to engaging with and listening to the concerns of marginalized communities, for example, Amendment Bill Act 10. People saw that, this bill was retrogressive and the intention of the PF was seen by many. On this, they actively failed to involve community leaders, grassroots organizations, and civil society in the policy development and decision-making processes. They didn’t show a genuine interest in understanding the challenges faced by the poor and didn’t actively seek their input in shaping their party’s agenda.

2. Transparent and Accountable Governance: Patriotic Front didn’t promote transparency, integrity, and accountability in governance. As much as the party claims that President Lungu communicated the party’s commitment to fighting corruption and ensuring that public resources are used for the benefit of all citizens, especially the poor. For example, the issue of the EUROBOND default. You see, the leaders of PF say that, Zambia was not the only country to default and the lousy excuse of COVID-19. The issue here should have been handled differently. After the default, the leadership should have come and informed the nation on the default and the way forward. The plans of repayments should have been one of their party campaigns but instead, PF chose to first show the creditors, we will not pay. How do you build confidence as a country that way. But anyway, the damage was already done because what made people angry lies with the fact that, while the country became the first country to default amid claims by government that we were broke, its own cadres were busy showing off millions of cash in Zambian Kwacha as well as American Dollars on various social media platforms. This made people livid as the majority of people were trying to make money. Some Cadres even went to the extent of burning American Dollars with fire which by the way is a Federal crime. Kindly look at that deeply and reflect and stop excuses of COVID-19.

3. Self-centeredness, greed and arrogance: This one is very unfortunate as it is still very evident in the party. The first signs of this reared its ugly head after President Sata died. (M.H.S.R.I.P). The PF members still go online nowadays and exhibit this trait. On the hot seat of Tuesday 13th 2023, former Kabushi Member of Parliament, Bowman Lusambo still goes around saying, “politics is for politicians.” His demeaner is still arrogant as when he was called to serve the People of Zambia as an MP. He speaks on and on and does not afford the interviewer a chance. The interview also implicates Mr. Lusambo who asserts that Police in Zambia are working under difficult conditions as they act on the basis of pollical office bearers’ instructions and he says he speaks from what he knows citing the current Home Affairs Minister Hon. Jack Mwiimbu. He implicates himself as having the knowledge that police officers acting because a political office bearer has instructed them to. Now, this makes Zambians confirm the actions of the Police officers under PF. Controlling what your party projects out there is important for rebranding. Mr. Lusambo may claim to be a political heavyweight but his lack of tact often exposes him. No one is born a politician in as much as he loves to compare people (Remember his remarks regarding President Hakainde’s political size (Wachepa sana) to that of President Lungu’s?). One thing I fully agree with Lusambo, is that President Hakainde can seek counsel from President Lungu on governance issues as he has experience. Another aspect that Lusambo commented on was the issue of the resignation of Mr. Mwanza. Another blunder…..all he needed to say was thank you to his brother and not go on by saying he should not have resigned publicly. The issues Mr Mwanza raised are pertinent to be discounted by Mr. Lusambo. Another sign that people in PF have not learnt anything. No tolerance for divergent views.

The third suggestion is on policy agenda.

Policy Agenda: Rebranding involves crafting a new policy agenda that resonates with the concerns and aspirations of voters. Parties may emphasize new policy priorities or revise their stance on certain issues based on public sentiment. Remember, my suggestion on apologies across the country? For instance, a party could shift its focus to climate change, income inequality, or healthcare reform, depending on prevailing public concerns. Running on the issue of unprecedented infrastructural development as PF is not enough and by the way, a government providing a road, a hospital etc is the mandate of the government and governments are elected to provide those and should not be used to bait the voters. As Africa, we should move away from this narrative. We appreciate what PF did for Mother Zambia and development is a continuous development, others should carry on. We should not have an incumbent government saying, elect us to finish developmental projects. That is nonsense! Development will not stop because, you are out of government. We are where we are because of previous governments. Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) built on what the United Party for Independence Party (UNIP) left and Patriotic Front (PF) built on what the Movement for Multi-party Democracy (MMD) did and the United National Party for National Development (UPND) will build on the PF legacy.

The fourth suggestion is on messaging and communication.

Messaging and Communication: It was sad seeing the resignation of Mr. Antonio Mourinho Mwanza from the once mighty PF. He highlighted a lot of issues and if the party is serious, they should really look into. Rebranding requires a fresh messaging strategy to effectively communicate the party’s renewed vision and policy positions. This involves crafting clear and concise messages that resonate with the target audience. Parties may employ new slogans, taglines, or catchphrases to reinforce their rebranding efforts. The same way Dr. Kambwili and Geofrey Mwamba went around the country mobilising people (Well, not to mince words, the northern blocks of Zambia), should be the same way they go around apologising and making people aware that PF is rebranding. The other issue that PF cannot evolve over is the issue of Edgar Lungu. On Tuesday’s edition of Let the People Talk on the 13th June 2023, as alluded to earlier, had Ambassador Mwamba as guest, a caller called and mentioned the issue that Edgar Lungu has been elected twice as per Constitution of the Republic of Zambia to which the Ambassador replied that the Constitutional Court had already ruled on the eligibility of Lungu and he is eligible. Now, this is one thing that the Patriotic Front doesn’t seem to see. Still stubborn as a donkey (No Pun intended)! One of the reasons, PF lost was because of their leader, please acknowledge this!!! Zambians simply rejected Lungu’s third stint in office via the ballot and they will do it again. Lungu’s leadership style of laissez-faire…..not saying or doing anything especially when things went wrong. A leader should be seen to be proactive. The Constitutional Court judges were intimidated and warned by Lungu not to stand in his way. Another reason PF lost was Lungu’s running mate, Luo. I hope your post-mortem analysis identified this. If you did not, then you are extinct as a party, we do not need an election to see you are finished and in fact, what elections will do, is to dimmish the PF numbers in Parliament. A good example of a proactive action is the action taken by South African President Mr. Cyril Matamela Ramaphosa in the second week of June 2023. As a Cholera outbreak is wrecking havoc in the Township of Hammanskraal, Mr. Ramaphosa went to apologise to the people an I quote:
“I want to apologise to all of you on our collective behalf, in this case, we will admit that we have failed you.” End of quote.
He said the constitution gave residents the right to have access to clean running water.
The government has since started the process of correcting this problem and I can assure you, Mr. Ramaphosa will not come and say elect us, we gave you clean water as he understands that he and his government are mandated to do so.

The fifth suggestion is on engagement.
Grassroots Engagement: Parties often rebrand by actively engaging with grassroots organizations and communities. This includes building partnerships with local groups, attending public events, and listening to the concerns of voters. Grassroots engagement helps rebuild trust and demonstrates a commitment to working for the betterment of society.

The sixth suggestion for the PF is on identity.
Visual Identity: Parties may update their visual identity, including logos, color schemes, and branding materials, to give a fresh look and feel. You say President Lungu has retired but you go around with vitenges with his face. It already shows a division. PF could make a new chitenge with Micheal Sata (M.H.S.R.I.P) and Edgar Lungu together holding hands as a message of solidarity and continuity (Suggestion). A visually appealing and modern design can help attract attention, signal change, and create a sense of unity within the party.

The seventh suggestion is on communication.
Communication Channels: Rebranding involves revamping the party’s communication channels to effectively reach and engage with voters. This includes leveraging social media platforms, launching a new website, and utilizing digital marketing strategies (Which the current government has allowed in that, PF members all have visual and radio reach and other opposition parties are holding press conferences like there is no tomorrow). Parties may also consider creating podcasts, hosting webinars, or utilizing other innovative communication methods. Although a party should be smart about this, you cannot be having members of a party issuing statements anyhow as is seen by PF. It already shows that once these people go for their convention, there will be ‘bloodshed’ as one can see the individual agendas.

In summation, the above provides a non-exhaustive list of suggestions for re-branding. A practical example of a political party’s rebranding is the UK Labour Party under the leadership of Tony Blair in the late 1990s. The party, which had experienced electoral defeats, rebranded itself as “New Labour.” This rebranding involved a significant ideological shift toward the center, embracing market-oriented policies, and focusing on issues such as education, healthcare, and economic prosperity. The party’s messaging emphasized a modern and inclusive vision for the country, appealing to a broader electorate. This rebranding strategy contributed to the party’s subsequent electoral success, allowing it to form a government in 1997 after a period of 18 years in opposition.

My parting words for PF are to evolve in terms of electioneering. Yes, the strategy by Michael Sata (M.H.S.R.I.P) worked for him but you cannot that to work for PF now. The electorates have evolved. Do not take Zambians as docile or not interested in reading. We all saw what happened in 2021.Tell the electorate what you will do differently and not what you have done. No one can take away what you did, hence tell us the people what you will do. Many events led to the defeat of the PF. Patriotic Front should not run with the narrative that, they lost power because people did not a choice of “better the devil you know than the angel you do not know” as the acting president Mr. Given Lubinda has used this phrase. Kindly look within and reflect. From what I am seeing, the post-mortem as alleged by PF has not done justice and as Mr. Antonio Mwanza said, there is no direction in PF. Shouts that PF is united shall be tested when they go to their ill-fated convention and we will come back to this article and say, the PF is not united.

As I continue…..being the watcher……..


    • UPND is dying fast though, receding into the 3 core provinces fast!! Should have waited until the big loss after the 2026 general elections!!

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