Connect with us




In our series of letters from African journalists, media and communication trainer Joseph Warungu looks at why colours and symbols are so important in the pursuit of power in Africa as the continent gears up for an election season.

Remember red red wine? No, not the stuff in a bottle that allows you to unbottle your feelings.

I’m talking about Red Red Wine… one of the biggest cover hits by the British reggae group UB40. It reached the number one spot in the UK and the US in 1983.

Thirty-seven years later, Red Red Wine must have a lot of resonance for Ugandan pop star-turned politician Bobi Wine.

The MP, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi and who is rarely spotted without his signature red beret, wants to run for president in the forthcoming elections.

But Bobi Wine is now seeing red after the electoral commission banned his National Unity Platform party from officially using the colour in the elections, saying another party had claimed it.

NPP elephant symbol an and NDC umbrella symbol in Ghana


The easier the symbol, the better it is for parties to reach out to their electorate”

The power of colour and symbols in electoral campaigning cannot be underestimated in African countries.

“The easier the symbol, the better it is for parties to reach out to their electorate. Some of them think that it is good to have a symbol that people associate with hope and life at the end of the day,” says Dr Isaac Owusu-Mensah, a senior lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the University of Ghana.

He uses the two main parties vying for power in Ghana’s December election as an example.

“The opposition NDC party has an umbrella, and the interpretation is that you can be under the shade of the umbrella, especially in difficult times,” says Dr Owusu-Mensah.

“The governing NPP on the other hand has the elephant, which is big. They can bulldoze whatever problem you have on your way. When you are in trouble, just go under the elephant and you are good.”

‘Red is for life’

Dr Mshai Mwangola, a performance scholar in Kenya, says in the West colours seem to have less symbolic meaning.

For example red is associated with the left-leaning Labour Party in the UK but with the conservative Republican Party in the US – and British Conservatives share blue with the US Democrats, who are liberals.

“Here in Africa, people know that those colours are full of meaning… we are very sophisticated in reading political discourse, in a multi-layered, multi-faceted manner,” says Dr Mwangola.

These meanings are also read in the national flags of many African countries where there was a freedom struggle and people died, such as Kenya.

“Red symbolises the blood that was lost; black usually symbolises the people of the country and green is tied to the environment or land that they fought for,” she says.

This is a view shared by Dr Owusu-Mensah.

“Red is a very important colour for political parties here. The NPP have the red, blue and white. When you go to NDC, they also have red, white and green. Senior members of the parties will say that blood is red; it means that that there is life in the colour and the party therefore has life.”

Symbols gain significance even where none is intended.

In assigning symbols to the two opposing sides in the 2005 constitutional referendum in Kenya, the electoral commission went out of its way to find basic benign ones that would not give either side undue advantage.

Africa’s election diary

  • Guinea: 18 Oct
  • Seychelles: 22-24 Oct
  • Tanzania: 28 Oct
  • Ivory Coast: 31 Oct
  • Ghana: 7 Dec
  • Central African Republic: 27 Dec
  • Niger: 27 Dec
  • Uganda: 10 Jan – 8 Feb 2021

The commission chose two fruits that are commonly available – an orange and banana. But Kenyans still read meaning into them.

The campaign saw all manner of political wrestling, with hilarious claims about what a banana could do to an orange and vice versa.

image copyrightAFP

image captionKenyans had fun with the fruit symbols chosen for “Yes” and “No” sides of the 2005 referendum

In the end the oranges won and the government-backed referendum was rejected. The bananas lost.

The political grouping that was victorious in that poll adopted orange as the name of their new political party.

Today the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, is the main opposition party in Kenya.

‘Witchcraft’ symbols banned

But not all symbols are welcome in an election as we saw in the 2018 poll in Zimbabwe.

You may also be interested in:

You could have a gun in your logo but not a cheetah, elephant or leopard.

In its wisdom, Zec perhaps knew that there are many elections in Africa that are won not by the ballot but through “juju” or witchcraft, otherwise known as rigging.

So cobras and owls – associated with sorcery in Zimbabwe – were on the banned list.

The watermelon is a juicy and delicious fruit. But in Kenya it has sinister political connotations: a politician without concrete principles – green and hard on the outside and red and mushy on the inside.

He or she is not to be trusted. So, you won’t find a campaign poster with the watermelon symbol.

Dr Owusu-Mensah argues that symbols are so powerful, they often replace the candidates’ actual identity.

Joseph Warungu

J Warungu

When growing up in a village in central Kenya, I always thought our long serving MP’s name was ‘Tawa’ meaning lamp.
That’s because the lamp was his symbol in every election”

“I just came from a constituency in northern Ghana where we interviewed respondents about who they will be voting for in the coming elections. About 95% of them just used a symbol of either the elephant or the umbrella. They never mentioned the name of the party or candidate.”

When growing up in a village in central Kenya, I always thought our long-serving MP’s name was “Tawa” meaning lamp in my local language.

That’s because the lamp was his symbol in every election. When his entourage swept through the village, the entire area would be filled with chants of “Tawa! Tawa!”

But I must admit, his lamp was rather faint: it did not illuminate our education and health challenges. It did not bring electricity to the area or improve the roads that were impassable in the rainy season.

Dr Mwangola agrees that while we are very good at getting the meaning of colours and symbols in Africa, we fail by not following through.

image copyrightAFP

image captionUganda’s President Museveni dressed in “joyous” yellow when he was last on the campaign trail

“We as voters, do not go back and hold the candidate accountable to the symbols. If someone had the symbol of a lamp or he was the axe, tractor or the lion, I no longer care. We don’t even hold political parties to the symb

Up Next

Asteroid that may hit Earth day before US election is ‘not big enough to cause harm,’ Neil deGrasse Tyson reassures earthlings

Don't Miss

Bolivia election: Voters head to polls for presidential race

Click to comment


NASA discovers WATER spread out across Moon’s sunlit surface





The US space agency confirmed it has found indisputable proof of something that was previously considered impossible – “massive hydration” of the Moon’s sunlit surface by water, that still only exists as separate molecules.

NASA announced that its latest study has helped to resolve the mystery of whether water exists on the Moon once and for all. It is not that claims about the discovery of water on Earth’s natural satellite have never been made before but, until recently, the scientists were not entirely sure if it was really water they were talking about.

Now, thanks to the space agency’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA), this issue is finally clear. An infrared camera of SOFIA’s telescope mounted on a modified Boeing 747SP aircraft has detected a specific wavelength unique to water molecules while surveying the Moon’s surface. The study results were published in Nature Astronomy.

“Prior to the SOFIA observations, we knew there was some kind of hydration,” said Casey Honniball, the study lead author and a postdoctoral program fellow at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “But we didn’t know how much, if any, was actually water molecules – like we drink every day – or something more like drain cleaner.”

Even more surprisingly, the scientists were able to discover some unusual concentrations of water in the Clavius Crater on the Moon’s sunlit side, where water was not expected to even exist in principle.

“Without a thick atmosphere, water on the sunlit lunar surface should just be lost to space,” said Honniball. “Yet somehow we’re seeing it. Something is generating the water, and something must be trapping it there.”

Also on
The Moon is mysteriously rusting despite lack of air & liquid water

A possible explanation suggests that water could be carried to the lunar surface by meteorites. Another one says that hydrogen brought by the solar wind could mix with oxygen-bearing minerals in its soil to form a substance called hydroxyl and later turn into water as a result of micrometeorite bombardments.

The data collected by the researchers suggest that one cubic meter of the lunar soil in the crater could contain roughly an equivalent of a 12-ounce (355 milliliter) bottle of water. Still, do not rush to declare the Moon’s surface “wet” just yet since even the sands of the Sahara Desert contain 100 times more water. The scientists also say that water molecules are so spread out that they cannot form even ice particles, not to mention liquid water.

Possible explanations for water molecules’ existence on the sunlit side of the Moon include possibilities of them being hidden between the soil grains or even embedded in tiny glass beads created by micrometeorite impacts.

As important as it could be for science, this discovery is unlikely to be of any use for NASA’s more practical goals that involve potential extraction of water from the Moon’s surface to be used by astronauts and processed into hydrogen fuel. The water molecules are just not abundant enough to be effectively used, Honniball admits.

Also on
A habitable base in space? Russia’s Space Agency believes humans could one day live on Callisto, Jupiter’s second largest moon

Fortunately for NASA, another study, which was also published in Nature Astronomy, says that future Moon explorers could potentially collect ice from what its authors call “mi

Continue Reading


Militant reportedly blows himself up at checkpoint in Turkish city near Syrian border (VIDEO)





One militant has been killed in a suicide bomb explosion in Iskenderun, and another is being hunted by Turkish security forces, authorities in Hatay province, just across the border from Syria, said.

A video posted on social media shows gunfire that preceded the explosion on what looks like an urban street in Iskenderun, which the Turkish media identified as Fanar Street in the city’s merchant district.

“Two militants were spotted at a checkpoint in Payas district. One of them blew himself up after clashing with police,” Hatay Governor Rahmi Dogan said in a statement on Monday evening. “The operation to capture the other terrorist is underway.”

Payas is a town just north of Iske

Continue Reading


Mexico considers enlisting UN help to repatriate pre-Columbian artifacts from foreign museums





President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico is mulling the idea of appealing to the United Nations for help in getting back native artifacts predating the arrival of European explorers that are held in museums abroad.

“I am seriously considering presenting an initiative in the United Nations for the return of these heritage pieces to their original villages,” Lopez Obrador said during a news conference on Monday.

Displaying the artifacts in European museums is an enduring relic of “colonialist policy,” argued the president, commonly known as AMLO.

Also on
US Congress members accused of trying to BLACKMAIL UK into returning Elgin Marbles to Greece

Earlier this month, AMLO reached out to European museums with a request to borrow the pre-Hispanic artifacts, so they can be displayed next year at the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the destruction of the Aztec Empire by Spanish conquistadors. The Spaniards largely destroyed the empire’s capital, Tenochtitlan, after a siege in 1521, building Mexico City on the ruins and decimating the indigenous population.

The European institutions, however, were not quite eager to send the artifacts back to Mexico. While some museums have not responded to the request yet, others cited various technical reasons to turn it down. Vienna’s Weltmuseum, for instance, refused to part with the feather headdress said to have been worn by Aztec Emperor Moctezuma, insisting that the piece was “too fragile” and therefore cannot be moved.

Also on
India tells Oxford museum to hand over ‘stolen’ 15th-century bronze idol

In addition to seeking the ancient artifacts, Lopez Obrador has also spearheaded a movement calling for Europeans to apologize to the Indigenous peoples of the region. Earlier this month, he sent a letter to Pope Francis, urging the pontiff to apologize for the crimes during the conquest of the Americas in the 16th century.

“The Catholic Church, the Spanish monarchy and the Mexican government should make a public a

Continue Reading

Facebook Trending

You May Like

Black Lives Matter