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Côte d’Ivoire elections: On the campaign trail

By Haby Niakate in Abidjan
Posted on Saturday, 17 October 2015 15:43

Every potential voter is a target in a presidential election. And as election day fast approaches, each candidate is showing his own style and level of funding.

He is a mastodon that crushes everything in his wake

President Alassane Dramane Outtara’s (ADO) expensive communication strategy has propelled him far ahead of his opponents. Leaving no stone unturned, the president’s campaign managers have exploited every communications avenue available.

Long before the official start of the campaign on 9 October, everything in Ouattara’s camp seemed to have been planned and polished. Slogans are a serious business in Ouattara’s camp, and this year’s “Avec ADO” (With ADO) replaces the popular “ADO Solutions” used in 2010.

The Mastodon

But as ADO’s huge campaign machine rolls on, his rivals have much more meagre budgets. Their access to national and international communication agencies is limited. “We make do with the resources we have at our level,” says the campaign manager of one of the candidates. “Ours is artisanal, unlike Ouattara’s. He is a mastodon that crushes everything in his wake. We are still making headway, nonetheless.”

It is a David-and-Goliath battle that does not bode well for the Davids, who are struggling to keep up. Some of the candidates have already dropped out, like Amara Essy, who ended his campaign on 6 October.

Essy – whose campaign slogan “La Cote d’Ivoire retrouvée” (Bringing Côte d’Ivoire back) is reminiscent of a similar slogan used by the Tea Party in the United States – had a robust campaign programme complete with a logo, official photos, ingenious micro-marketing operations in the local media and even a campaign song. That was before he threw in the towel, claiming the election was rigged ahead in Ouattara’s favour.

Essy’s team held initial discussions with Océan Ogilvy, a well-respected and powerful communications agency. It is headed by Martine Coffi-Struder, an ex-communications minister and chairwoman of the board at Bolloré Africa.

Former prime minister and presidential hopeful Charles Konan Banny also talked with Océan Ogilvy about managing his party’s – the Coalition National pour le Changement – campaign communications. In the end, neither Essy nor Banny signed a deal with the firm.

We will let you know

Konan Banny, whose campaign has focused on criticising Ouattara’s government, is still struggling to make headway. Nonetheless, analysts suggest that if there is going to be a second round of the presidential vote, it is mostly likely that Konan Banny will face Ouattara.

Other candidates are looking abroad for inspiration. There is little doubt that the slogan of the candidate of the Front Populaire Ivorien, Pascal Affi N’Guessan – “Le Changement Maintenant!” (Change Now) – was borrowed from the 2012 campaign of France’s President François Hollande.

N’Guessan took over his party after former president Laurent Gbagbo was hauled off to await trial at the International Criminal Court. N’Guessan is a fixture of the Ivorian political scene but lacks his former boss’s charisma.

“For the time being, we are going to manage our communication internally. If there is a change, as in if we get better financial support, we will let you know”, says Marcel Gossio, N’Guessan’s campaign director.

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