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Exporting the Pledge for Peaceful Elections
June 22, 2016

Two women and boy holding up signs for #IPledgePeaceUganda (Courtesy of Cyrus Kawalya)
(Courtesy photo)

In the months leading up to elections, a dozen YALI Network members had the same concern about their respective countries: Would they have peaceful elections and, equally important, would people come out and exercise their right to vote?

Looking for a way to get out information about basic voting practices and to encourage peaceful elections, the Network members (four each from The Gambia, Zambia and Ghana), contacted Cyrus Kawalya, whose #IPledgePeaceUganda campaign gained widespread attention and was thought by many to have played a part in the decreased violence around that country’s elections in February.

Kawalya laid out for them the elements that had made the campaign successful: a combination of face-to-face interaction and social media support aimed at youth both in urban and rural areas. In Uganda, they had used a traveling stage that featured musicians and actors.

There, they all knew, was the problem: Kawalya and his team had found grant money from the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, support that likely would not be available to the Network members. Kawalya knew the money was important, but he also knew that much of what made #IPledgePeaceUganda successful had to do with strategy and forethought, knowing how to craft the right messages for the right audience and when to deliver them.

Together they undertook a low-cost project they called #IPledgePeaceAfrica that they intend to be adaptable to different countries.

Kawalya helped them break down the initiative into its two major components:

Social Media Content

#IPledgePeaceUganda used videos produced to professional standards, some of which ended up in regular rotation on television in the weeks around the election. This was in part because of Kawalya’s career in video production and his connections to Uganda’s broadcasting industry.
But Kawalya said that videos and audio messages uploaded to social media can also have big impact. The messages should:

  • Be no more than five minutes.
  • Use credible voices (elders in the community, religious leaders, local celebrities) who are not associated with specific political views.
  • Be direct in their meaning, never ambiguous or misleading.
  • Evoke an emotional response.

Face-to-Face Strategies

Live events in strategically chosen locations — places vulnerable to election violence and rural communities with little access to election information — were one of #IPledgePeaceUganda’s most innovative aspects. For #IPledgePeaceAfrica, Kawalya and the Network members adapted this approach, with suggested entertainment events that give opportunities for voter education, such as flash mobs, dance contests and peace concerts.

Live skits offer the chance to convey a message of peace while they entertain. Consider mounting skits that portray peaceful coexistence among people with opposing political views, family members that disagree about politics but agree on much more, and political parties with tribal diversity.

Kawalya emphasized that the success of a #IPledgePeace initiative is largely down to planning: consulting with local stakeholders in the areas where live events will take place and supporting them with advance notice and social media.