BY now Basotho and the whole world are aware of the Revolution for Prosperity (RFP)’s stunning electoral victory at the 7 October 2022 where they crushed the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and other established parties on their way to securing 56 out of the 79 constituencies.
It is common cause that despite its infancy, the Sam Matekane-led RFP, which was only formed in March this year, was a breath of fresh air with its sleek, well-oiled election campaign which was quite unlike anything ever witnessed before in Lesotho.
The message itself was simply that Basotho needed change; the nation could not go on with successive kleptocrat governments which had emptied government coffers for their own benefit while failing to revive the failing economy, abject poverty, rampant crime and host of other social ills.
Although simple and effective, the RFP message was often delivered in style. Glamour and glitz were the defining words of RFP rallies. Everything was meticulously arranged- from leaders flying in their helicopters to campaigns and giant screens with state of the art speakers to ensure that even those furthest to the podium still heard and understood the message. No cost was spared- from the campaign posters- to the simple catchword “Moruo” which aptly described what the RFP was all about- wealth creation and revival of the national economy.
Although the people were disgruntled and desired change, this was not the only reason for the RFP’s resounding success. Mr Matekane had a clear vision to win power and he worked hard to achieve it. Apart from his allies in the party, he had contracted a capable political advisory team who worked hard behind the scenes to achieve the RFP’s stunning success that is visible for all to see.
This week, the Lesotho Times (LT) Editor, Herbert Moyo, tracked down Glen Mpani, the Managing Partner of Shikamo Political Advisory and Campaign Services (SPACS). Based in South Africa, Shikamo is a consultancy firm working throughout the African continent providing much needed politically consultancy services to political parties, including Mr Matekane’s RFP.
In this interview, Mr Mpani discusses his consultancy’s role in the RFP’s ultimately successful election campaign. He also shares his experiences of Lesotho.
LT: Please tell us about yourself and your organisation.
Mpani: I am a Harvard-trained Campaign and Political Risk Advisory expert with over 18 years of expertise in running and managing political campaigns, political risk advisory, policy formulation, and building networks of stakeholders and governments across Africa.
Shikamo Political Advisory and Campaign Services (SPACS) is an advisory firm that was set up in May 2017. The firm was set up on the backdrop of my lessons from working on politics and governance on the African continent. A critical lesson is the centrality and importance of political parties in shaping leadership, policy and political culture.
Sadly, despite their importance; political parties remain underserviced and ignored entities yet they play a critical role in determining who governs, how they govern and their policies. In setting up Shikamo, I sought to improve the capacity of political parties, politicians and governments to improve supply and delivery of public good to their constituents. In most instances, the failure of political parties and governments to deliver is attributed to unwillingness. Yet a big elephant in the room which is often ignored is lack of capacity and incompetence. Shikamo plays a critical role in providing advisory to state and non-state actors on how to navigate the political terrain, how to formulate and implement policy as well as understand and manage the interests of different actors.
We also specialise in running effective campaigns. We use our expertise in understanding the mindset of a voter -how and what influences who they vote for and how to shift their disposition. At the centre of what we do is data. We invest a lot of time in our baseline to assist us in crafting an effective campaign strategy. Our agenda is professionalising political campaigns. Our vision is to be the first port of call for all politicians, political parties seeking a mandate to run public office. The expertise of SPACS is drawn from a highly-skilled network of experts across Africa.
LT: What is the nature of your work? Which countries have you worked in? How do the conditions in the countries compare or differ?
Mpani: Our major work is mainly around election campaign management. We also conduct political communication, crisis and reputation management, leadership training and change management. Our focus is on candidates and political parties in running and managing campaigns to increase chances of electoral victory. To deepen the knowledge base and expertise we have partnered with the Film and Media Studies Department at the University of Cape Town to offer an Executive Course on Running and Managing Effective Campaigns. We believe this sort of training affords practitioners and political parties an opportunity to retool and plan their campaigns.
Shikamo also provides services such as media relations, stakeholder mapping, and social media management. However, because of the sensitivity of our work, we are not at liberty to say who our clients are. Our work is largely dependent on the context in which we are working, so we do not have a one size fits all approach. Each country is different and because we are an organization that runs data-driven campaigns, you will find that in all the projects that we carry out our approach is different.
LT: How did the idea and eventual agreement on working with the RFP come about?
Mpani: The RFP was a new kid on the block, with individuals who had never been involved in politics. So, the appetite to listen; the appetite to provide Shikamo with room to provide advisory services was high because they needed to get into office. Also, we were dealing with a leader whose background is in business. Because of his background, he had the ability to consult and to listen to advice. They (RFP) also quickly embraced the idea of using data, of developing a strategy, implementing a strategy and following it up rigorously. I think that is something we can say is unique about the RFP project.
LT: Those in the know regard you and your organisation as the brains behind the RFP’s successful election campaign. What is your take on this? What exactly was your role in the RFP’s campaign?
Mpani: The success of the RFP was due to a combination of factors, chief among them, the fact that the party was new, with individuals who had never been involved in politics. The appetite to listen, learn explore new technics and strategy was very high. It is always a problem for Shikamo working with politicians and parties who have been in the game for a while. They always default to old tactics and very often the appetite to learn and give room to Advisory is next to none. In contrast, Mr Matekane provided Shikamo with room to assist. His capacity to listen, follow guidance, his deep humility and respect for our team was an attribute that my team and I will always treasure as we have not experienced it in our professional life.
The other attribute is the brand of the leader. He had already won the hearts of many Basotho because of his work in the past. This made it easy to package and sell him. Lastly the leader quickly embraced the idea of using data, in developing a campaign strategy, and following it up rigorously. The leadership embraced a numbers-driven campaign, which was a game changer that forced each candidate to interact with branches, document followers and track if they were on the voters’ roll. It also helped in mobilising these targeted numbers to go out and vote.
As we celebrate the victory of RFP and our role. It’s importance to emphasise that we brought in the technical expertise required to ensure that the campaign was run like a well-oiled machine, we also have to recognise the fact that this would not have been possible without the leadership of the party who were willing to listen and to work with us and the campaign team that worked tirelessly to implement the campaign strategy.
It would be remiss on our part not to mention the RFP Secretary General (Nthati Moorosi) who constantly interacted with us and played a key facilitatory role. We were also able to take advantage of the context in which Basotho needed a new leader from outside the usual political fray and Ntate Matekane was that person. He had done a lot of groundwork through the numerous projects he has carried out in the country, making it easier to sell his candidature and that of his party.
LT: How did you find Lesotho’s political landscape when you began your work?
Mpani: I think one of the things I would say about the political landscape is that Basotho are used to changing governments over and over again. This was an advantage. Secondly, they have been shifting their allegiance based on who they think is offering them the best. Thirdly, we came into an environment where citizens were generally tired and had lost confidence in politicians. So, the nature of the candidature of Sam Matekane was a breath of fresh air. He does not have any baggage but he has a wealth of experience in working for the benefit of society. Also, the political climate was open to contestation and this made it possible for RFP to make inroads in setting up structures for the party and run an effective and proper campaign. Moreover, the media environment allowed for all players to have equal access to the media.
LT: Now that Mr Matekane and the RFP are in power, what words of advice would you give them?
Mpani: I have the greatest respect for Ntate Matekane – my work with him in the past four months has been a joy for me and my team. Interacting daily at odd hours just affirmed our faith in his commitment and passion to make a difference. At times you work with a person and you question why they are running for public office. With Ntate Sam, every interaction was a humbling experience. His ability to humble himself and accommodate every member of my team and our never-ending demands was refreshing.
I have no doubt that Basotho are very lucky to have Ntate Sam as their leader and he will deliver. His only challenge might be if the people around him betray him and don’t embrace his vision and agenda. I am sure that if he maintains that attitude of surrounding himself with competent people, getting the best expertise around him, being able to follow up and effectively implement what he will have committed; and continuously and consistently consulting people, he will definitely succeed.
LT: What is next for you? Where do you see yourselves in the next five years?
Mpani: Shikamo is growing beyond the individuals that have worked on the project since its inception. We started as a small team of three in 2017. To date, we have 16 people working on multiple projects across Africa. We are getting more experienced personnel on board who are injecting new ideas and ways of working. We are embracing modern methods of running campaigns for example using Artificial Intelligence, Game Theory and data in planning and executing our work. Shikamo is growing we are proud to provide value-add to corporates, individuals, political parties and those who want to get into office; also providing the best, sought-after advisory on the continent. The future is pregnant with opportunities and we are ready for them.