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This paper examines how political authorities communicate with one another and to their constituencies during democratisation conflicts in Kenya, South Africa and Serbia. By adopting a comparative perspective, it aims to situate the logics and practices of political communication in the broader political and socio-cultural milieu in which they originate and are deployed. It also discusses how narratives and ideologies inform the strategies deployed in the conflict, the role of old and new media as it emerges from both the interviewees’ expectations and experience, and what the gap between these two tells us about the transformations that ICTs are prompting in political communication:
- A common feature of the conflicts is that they are all seen as a contemporary reflection of underlying tensions and deep-seated frustrations rooted in inequalities and unresolved issues that predate democratic transition: the end of the Milošević’s regime in Serbia, Independence in the case of Kenya, and the end of Apartheid in South Africa.
- In each case, framing the past sets the stage for interpreting the current situation and building a vision of the future. The source of legitimacy of the parties involved in the conflicts is, in some cases, placed in transcendent values (such as Serbian identity, Christian norms, Ubuntu) or “the rule of law”.
- Democratisation appears as an unfinished process in the three countries, as the tensions between more authoritarian structures of power and institutions based on representative democracy are brought to the fore. Moreover, media outlets emerge as actors with their own agenda. Market pressures not only test the boundaries of quality journalism, but also force politicians and state authorities to compete for limited attention by using increasingly polarising tones and arguments.
The comparative analysis also offers a glimpse into the use of social media for mobilising supporters online and reflecting many of the themes in the mass media, including the reproduction of forms of patronage and political co-option, while also posing new questions about greater citizen participation and spaces for public authorities to ‘listen’ to grassroots constituencies.