Political communication in East Africa: An introduction
For a long time, the role of media and communication in African politics was relatively neglected. This neglect can, as Leila Demarest2 argues, to some extent be explained by the authoritarian turn that took place in many African countries after independence and the tight control of state governments on the press, as well as violent repression of dissenting voices. As Bruce Mutsvairo and Beschara Karim have shown in their edited volume on political communication in Africa3, the introduction of constitutionalism in many African countries following years of colonial subjugation was expected to play a leading role in determining the destiny of party politics. As many African countries democratised, liberalisation made communication all the more important in the political domain, and many saw newly-gained press freedom as one of the best instruments to put lingering authoritarianism under pressure. Also, of increasing importance across the continent was the role played by technology in influencing political processes. Studies show all the same how media’s role in elections, political processes and decision making varies within an affiliation of emerging democracies and long-standing dictatorships4. Therefore, we argue, it makes sense to ‘zoom in’ and have a closer look at political communication in one specific region, namely East Africa to which this special issue is dedicated. In this introductory article we give an overview of political communication research in general and the three – or four – ages of political communication, before tuning in to political communication in East Africa and the presentation of this special issue’s articles.