Politics and the Power of Design


While in Nairobi earlier this month, my brother and I were discussing the plethora of campaign posters covering pretty much every available surface in the city. 

This March, for the first time, Kenyans will be voting for 6 different seats – President, Governor, Senator, MP, County Representative and Women's Representative. The presidential candidates are well-known but the feeling I got from most people I spoke to is that, they don't know the people running for some of these other offices, let alone what they are proposing to do for us.

My brother joked that he might indeed make his decision based on who has the best designed posters! Jokes aside, we can't ignore the power of visual media when it comes to politics. Some people get it wrong - I saw a candidate's poster with a portrait, name and slogan but conspicuously missing the office that the candidate is vying for! Other people get it wonderfully right.


Inaugurated just this week, President Barack Obama is a guy who clearly appreciates the value of good design. In the run-up to US elections, I would often peruse his Facebook fan page to ogle the graphics and get caught up in the Obama fever!

Design history is littered with examples of political propaganda from across the world and politicians across our continent have too been creative with design. Unfortunately, elections in my part of the world tend to be more popularity contest and less about real policy. As such, political communications materials of choice include anything that a candidate's likeness can be placed on. Choose something practical like a khanga and, voila! Doubles as a bribe gift.


Cynicism aside, I have a certain professional respect for people who market themselves and their message well and, in a way that does not insult our intelligence. Let's hope that more of our politicians will rise to the occasion.

[Side note: in my opinion, proclaiming that you can still run the country while on trial is NOT rising to ANY occasion.]

For more information on Kenya's upcoming elections, visit the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission website.

Images: top image, political posters in South Africa; Obama campaign graphics via Facebook; Bush vitenge in Tanzania; Zitto Kabwe campaign khanga in Tanzania


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