Just over a month ago, DTA presidential candidate McHenry Venaani made headlines for a three-night stay in the Ombili settlement, ostensibly to better understand issues facing the poor. What struck me was how people in general, and newspapers specufically, reacted to his stunt.
On August 8, New Era wrote that unnamed critics thought “the politician’s action is in bad taste. Posing for photos –including one in which, depite being flamboyantly dressed, he is seen pounding mahangu — and posting them on social networks is viewed [again, by whom exactly?] as a publicity stunt to secure votes in the upcoming elections”
The same day, Sun went straight for the punch with the headline: “Sceptics question Venaani’s ‘publicity stunt,'” citing Phanuel Kaapama and Rosa Namises, both of who called it an opportunistic move.
It perplexes me that this was treated as some sort of revelation. Of course it was a stunt. Venaani is actually running a campaign here; naturally his goal is publicity. But what baffled me is how the newspapers didn’t seem to think about his target audience. The media reports critiquing him seemed — implicitly or explicitly — informed mostly by Namibian Twitter. But that’s not necessarily the people he wanted to convince. I wonder if it occurred to the journos that he was appealing to the people close to where he was staying, rather than political commentators and young professionals on twitter?
SUN briefly considered whether “the poor will buy into it.” So naturally, they asked the political commentator they were interviewing on what he thought poor people would make of it. (“Kaapama said it’s a good attempt, but it won’t generate a significant impact”)
Out of several days of news coverage, I only found one article — in The Namibian — which asked a local resident:
One of his neighbours, 20-year-old Nehemia Andreas, said he was impressed by the politician’s initiative. Andreas said the only way to know people’s grievances is when you give them audience. “You cannot know someone from a distance.” He said thatpoliticians do not really know what it is like to live in such poverty. “We have been asking him questions, and he would listen attentively to each of our contributions. We informed him of what we want, what our interests and needs are, the kind of Namibia we want to live in,” said Andreas.
Of course us twitterati, with cynicism as our default mode of looking at things, dismissed this as a cheap stunt, even tasteless or offensive. But that has no bearing on how well it does in winning Venaani votes, which was the goal here. It seemed most of the media missed the point.