South Africa

South Africa, Politics

Op-Ed: Coalition Politics – using a Band-Aid to dress a cancerous wound

Ideology, dialectics and/or historical materialism alone cannot win you 21st century elections or even modern information wars for that matter; 21st century electioneering is now a complex multidisciplinary programme that others study and research for a long time. By ANDILE NGCABA.

Functions, organisational structure, political engineering models and the centricity of the electorate in modern political campaigns are very different from the last century.

Gone are the days of community sampling, billboards and television ads. The application of complex analytical tools and deep research capabilities underpin modern political campaigns. Behavioural science and psychological warfare are also pertinent skills when running these campaigns. Modern-day electioneering requires that a successful party must collect data every second, minute, hour, day, week, month and year, from a range of internal, external, structured and unstructured data sets. The data needs to be geo-fenced and categorised in such a way that the measurement of sentiment, its impact whether negative or positive on an issue, can be analysed using big data-machine learning tools and complex algorithms.

There is no way that you can assume that voters will always vote for you – not so in the 21st century. This could have been the case in the last century when information flows were not as instantaneous or pervasive. Everything that is happening offline is converted online in real time and disseminated extensively. As we enter the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), there will be no difference between online and offline – time and location will be irrelevant in terms of access to information.

It was in the 20th century when people or families would gather around the television for 7pm news bulletins to understand the world around them. In that era people had limited information about political, economic and social environments and the information received was often outdated before it was received. Today, through social media, the lives and lifestyles (public and/or private) of politicians and other leaders (be they business, religious, community-based, etc) are laid bare.

There is no place to hide in the digital era. The most important thing to understand in the digital era is that the internet does not forget, neither you can delete, what is online or what has been written in a computer or mobile phone. The DELETE button does not work. It is there mainly to give you a sense of comfort. Similarly, a user’s search footprint or history cannot be deleted. This is the nature of the information age.

This is the 21st century, the age of social engineering, social media, data analytics, information warfare, the internet, behavioural finance, economic manipulation and high frequency trading. It is possible to apply social and political engineering tactics to influence how people vote or don’t vote. There are many recent cases that provide such proof points. For example, data science is now the main tool to analyse, plan and prepare political campaigns, often providing close to 99% accurate predictions on election outcomes.

A useful analogy to illustrate the changes that we are experiencing is that of modern warfare, where the use of topographical maps and a compass instead of modern satellite positioning systems and mobile network triangulation, to determine the best route from point A to B, would be futile and result in certain defeat, no matter how progressive your ideology. If you were to use Katyusha rocket launchers in the age of sonic or HAARP (weather changing weaponry) you will not win the war. Similarly, in the modern information wars there is a concept called “follow the money principle” used extensively in electioneering. By leveraging the interconnected nature of modern global financial systems the movement and relationships between people and/or money can be tracked. This information is then used in many countries that hold regular elections as a serious topic of debate in domestic and geopolitics.

It is evident that a critical requirement for successful elections is access and analysis of data. “Door to door” campaigning alone, in the age when our new voters use social media and chat rooms focusing on specialist topics, will not be effective in securing votes.

The question to be asked is how do you fight elections without “clever blacks” such as data scientists, actuarial scientists, social engineers, behavioural analysts? To illustrate this point, below is a link to some of the analysis done on the US democrat presidential nomination race that Hillary Clinton ultimately won.

Does this apply to South African voters? Some may argue that South Africans are unsophisticated and our people are not as active on the internet as you would find in the US or other developed societies – mind the gap. South Africans are as sophisticated and tech savvy as any other population in the world. South Africans are on the cutting or bleeding edge of digital. Below are some few examples:

  • There are 13-million monthly users on Facebook in SA;
  • There are 325-million geo-located tweets in 2015 in SA and this number will exceed 500-million in 2016;
  • There are more than 15-million WhatsApp users in SA;
  • There are 66-million mobile phone connections and about 22-million of these are smartphones. Over 1-billions SMSes are sent across the mobile networks every month; and
  • There were 9-million YouTube downloads in 2015.

These platforms are conducive to subliminal manipulation or remote viewing of any political campaign. Radio, TV and print media simply regurgitate social media content, well after the fact. Add to this projections that social media use cases will double by the 2019 national elections with person-to-person, machine-to-machine and person-to-machine social media networks being the order of the day.

What was evident was that the data analytics conducted by the CSIR represented an accuracy correlation of 98%. Why? The probability that they use big data analytics is very high. Fill rates of stadiums pre-elections will not give you a true picture of voting patterns in wards, with communities of interest and models to use in designing political engineering and campaign strategies. Even regression analysis and/or correlations are seldom used today, due to their limitations on predictive outcomes and because of the existence of big data algorithms and Artificial Intelligence capabilities.

The ANC, as the ruling party, won 53.91% of the total 2016 municipal elections votes (both Ward and PR votes which totals 16.1 million votes), for illustrative purposes 4% is approximately 1.2-million votes (based on IEC statistic of 29.9 million total valid votes cast – both PR and Ward votes). This gap is going to make the 2019 political contest a geopolitical affair of note.

Key demographics that need to be considered are: (i) our urban population is above 62%; and (ii) young people below the age of 35 years comprise 67% of our population. These young people are as trendy as any other global urban youth.

All modern information, trade wars, electioneering, the Cold War between Russia and the neo-conservatives, and even the Arab spring are conducted on social media. The growing negative sentiment expressed against the movement on social media is a major concern and this trend is growing very fast. However, the petabytes or even exabytes of negative data can never be deleted online. Try using Google Analytics, natural language processing tools or use DuckDuckGo and create word cloud maps using this negative data. The picture that will emerge is scary. This avalanche of sentiment and data cannot only be changed online, it requires a fundamental change in the offline environment. It is growing every minute and every hour. No search analyst or Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) techniques can turn this situation around. Someone who is 16 years of age in South African today will vote in 2019 national elections and someone who is 13 years of age today will vote in 2021 local government elections. These young people are digital natives. This is the data they find online. No public TV news, print media reports, public speech or rally or door to door will change them except what they will experience online i.e. on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, We-chat, Google etc. Their relationship with the internet and social media is very different to someone who is over 30, let alone 60 years old. To further illustrate the viral nature of news and information dissemination, in 2016 it takes less than two hours for something negative to reach two-million social media users. In 2018 this will take half that time to reach three times the number of social media users. As indicated above, the internet does not forget.

This reality calls into question the political branch structures or models developed in the late 19th century as the Bolsheviks were organising workers and peasants against the Tsar.

We, therefore, have to question the effectiveness of such structures in the 21st century and go back to the original question of why they were created in the first place.

Ideology, dialectics and/or historical materialism alone cannot win you 21st century elections or even modern information wars for that matter; 21st century electioneering is now a complex multidisciplinary programme that others study and research for a long time. There is an extensive body of literature on the subject that has been developed in the last 15 years readily available online.

21st century electioneering is a science

Of course, electioneering science cannot work without geopolitical soberness. Also, electioneering science must be located within current geopolitics where global reserve currency and gold reserve economies are at loggerheads. Electioneering must be understood in the context of World War III and the availability of nuclear missiles and the New World Order. Important, electioneering science must be understood in the context of the current cyberwars. Over and above the challenges listed earlier, 2019 will be very different if there is a global economic downturn that may be triggered by the rumoured Deutsche Bank $50-trillion derivatives that are under water.

Apart from existing and emerging domestic complexities, the next three years will see the geopolitical and economic environment influencing the 2019 national elections in South Africa.

So what does this mean for a political party’s electioneering machinery? First, it cannot be outsourced because it is valuable intellectual property and differentiates a party in order to capture as many votes as possible. The picture that has been painted above points to the enormous complexity required by modern electioneering machinery. Second, it takes many years to build this IP and cannot be established on the eve of elections.

A modern sophisticated political engineering strategy backed by electioneering science is the only way – without it, your guess is as good as mine.

In management science there is a concept called active inertia. Inertia, in physics, is associated with Newton’s first law of motion and can be described as the property of matter that causes an object to resist a change and persist in its current trajectory. Active inertia is a phenomenon where organisations (political and otherwise) consciously follow established patterns of behaviour even in the face of dramatic shifts in the operating environment. The effects of active inertia can be quite devastating for political organisations that need to make the transition from either liberation movements or governing party to a new-age political entity that appreciates the rapid pace and sophistication of the new socio-political environment that is driven by social media.

Let me use Donald N Snull’s words and contextualise his theme in a political environment. There are four key drivers to active inertia:

Strategic frames or mental models become blinders. Mental models help leaders answer questions such as “what are the aspirations of our people?”, “how do we create value as an organisation?”. The answers to these and other critical questions quickly turn into assumptions that leaders take for granted and rarely test against reality.

Processes stop being a means to an end and become an end in themselves. Leaders focus so much on the “how” that they forget the “why”. This is particularly problematic when the environment changes and the existing processes do not deliver the expected results.

Relationships become shackles. Relationships with partners, funders, employees, members, alliances etc can be detrimental to the organisation when the environment changes. Too often, organisations actively prioritise these once-important relationships to the detriment of the organisation in the new environment.

Values turn into dogmas. In time of extreme success what was once inspiring values only finds legitimacy in precedence and misplaced descriptions of culture and tradition. Culture and tradition are no substitute for discipline.

The electioneering of the 21st century is a discipline and must be treated as such.

As Albert Einstein said, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is….”

Chemotherapy is the only proven way to solve cancer today. Band-Aids will not be good enough. DM

Andile Ngcaba is the founder of A-Labs, an internet and cyber research platform focusing on robotics, artificial intelligence and big data.

Photo: People stand in a queue to cast their vote during the municipal elections in Alexandra township, Johannesburg, South Africa, 03 August 2016. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK


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