Editor's Comment

New communication strategies required

SKYROCKETING COVID-19 cases and the number of deaths recorded so far dictate a new normal in the way life activities are conducted across all spheres, and politics is no exception.
If COVID-19 is to be brought under control, there is need to ensure that no stone is left unturned in adherence to set regulations.
It also entails re-strategising on the way activities across all spheres of life are conducted, especially those that involve more social interactions.
Advice by some University of Zambia (UNZA) lecturers for politicians to come up with safe means of interacting with their constituents this period is not only timely but inevitable under the circumstances.
Under the current circumstances where COVID-19 cases are increasing at an alarming rate, it is expected that politicians should come up with a new modus operandi.
As we head towards the August 12 elections, it is expected that our politicians will want to reach out to the electorate to explain their manifestos, especially when the legal campaign period is announced.
Our health experts have indicated that COVID is here for a long haul, which means it may go right into the campaign period. With the inevitability of holding the elections as scheduled, it is expected that politicians should start re-strategising on how to reach their supporters.
That means abandoning the traditional way of campaigning through huge physical rallies that may endanger lives of their supporters.
At the stage we are at, we do not need health experts to tell us the prevalent rates and the severity of the pandemic.
We have so many people within families and communities affected by the pandemic.
Among those affected are also public figures, including politicians and government officials.
For instance, among the prominent people affected include National Assembly Speaker Patrick Matibini, ministers of Lands Jean Kapata, Home Affairs Steven Kampyongo, and Copperbelt Minister Japhen Mwakalombe, among others. This is how serious the situation is.
A number of pronouncements have been made to restrict social gatherings and businesses which are considered to be high-risk. Zambians should take personal responsibility on this matter. This disease will be ended not so much by medical experts but by the behavioural change of people. And the guidelines are basic – wear a face mask, wash hands regularly, sanitise, keep social distance and avoid unnecessary travels. It is as simple as that.
Cabinet also recently released a circular advising the civil service and all employers to adopt shifts and virtual means of working to prevent further spread of the disease in workplaces.
Similarly, as long as COVID-19 is around, politicians should adopt other ways of reaching out to voters with their campaign messages.
UNZA lecturer Biseck Phiri is right in saying: “Technology alone such as the use of Facebook to reach people may not work. So, it is best that political parties start thinking outside the box of how to market their messages without compromising people’s health.”
Political parties will do well to devise a totally new communication strategy with a shift away from traditional physical rallies but still reach all voters regardless of geographical location.
Political parties need to find multifaceted strategies that incorporate different mediums of communication.
While social media may be an effective tool for reaching out to those in urban areas, it may not be appropriate for far-flung rural areas with internet connectivity challenges.
Political parties will do well to invest in public address systems mounted on vehicles and bicycles as advised by professor Phiri.
These will enable political parties to deliver their messages into people’s homes without any physical interaction.
Political parties should also make good use of both print and electronic media to send out campaign messages.
The media teams in all political parties should rise to the task to ensure that, despite COVID-19, their messages are effectively delivered to the voters.
Even in the midst of COVID, political parties can still effectively deliver their campaign messages without endangering lives.
This only calls for a bit more of thinking outside the box.

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