Social media or even mainstream media has since the submission of nomination papers, been flooded with campaign pictures. Impressive for both camps if the attendance of political rally is anything to go by, but a major concern for Public health. I cannot help but picture a scenario where one asymptomatic member on a campaign trail spreads Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) across the country country.
COVID-19 has claimed the lives of 320 thousand people globally and over 4.97 million cases of COVID 19 have been confirmed in 113 countries, territories and areas as reported by the World Health Organisation. Malawi has registered over 70 confirmed cases and 3 deaths due to Covid-19. COVID-19 is an infectious disease caused by a newly discovered coronavirus. There are no vaccines or treatments for COVID-19, however, there are many ongoing clinical trials evaluating potential treatments.
Stay home as much as you can, keep a safe distance, wash hands often, cover your cough and if you are sick call ahead is how we can prevent the spread and getting the virus. The current political campaigns in Malawi seem to have ignored parts of this advice which is worrisome. Is it possible to campaign and follow public health measures? Absolutely, and this is how.
Political parties can capitalize on mass media. Political parties can use the radio, bulks SMS, social media, and television among others to reach the people. 86.2% of Households in urban areas and 47.8% of Households in rural areas have a mobile phone. 8.57 Million are Mobile subscribers. Sending Bulk SMS in of campaign messages has the potential to reach over 8.57 million people in Malawi.
96.0% of Malawians listen to the Radio. 65.3% of Malawians own a radio. Malawi has 2 Public Radio Broadcasters, 7 Private and commercial radio stations, and 17 Community Radio stations. The use of Public, Private and community radio stations will ensure that the campaign messages reach every person in Malawi. Now more than ever is the time for political parties to push for the opening of the airwaves of MBC radio 1 and 2, and MBC TV because of their huge viewership and listenership. Secondly, because it is a public service broadcaster.
Malawi has 2.2 Million internet users and 540,000 active social media users. Pushing content on social media and the internet, in general, has the potential to reach over 2.2 million people.
Yes, the use of private media, bulk SMS and social media attracts a budget. But I would argue that it is less as compared to the budget that is currently being used during the whistle-stop rallies. It also calls for the need of Media and IT gurus to be part of your team, which Malawi is not in short supply of.
The second suggestion is the door to door campaign. The thought of a door to door campaign I have to admit can be defeating especially when you think of one person having to visit people from Nsanje to Chitipa. But that is not what I mean in this case. All the camps that are taking part in this campaign have structures from Nsanje to chitipa. Parties can use those structures and the people at all levels to do the door to door campaign. In this case, the people doing the campaign will move in small areas, which reduces the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from one district to another while scoring some political mileage.
The third suggestion is the small meetings of not more than 100 people. Are you kidding me? A meeting or not more than 100 people? How will that look on a picture? I believe the focus here is on the safety of the potential voter and not a powerful picture. This can be done if the parties still feel there is a need to have contact with people in a rally setting.
If we are not careful as a nation, the people might be reached during the campaign time with the whistle stops and the mega-rallies only to not vote because during the voting period they are bedridden or god forbid they have died due to COVID-19. Of what use then will the vote of a sick or dead person be to your political ambitions?