Disclaimer: Technically, I am a member of ANT :-). Having decided to roll up my sleeves and officially join a political party a year or so ago, I opted for ANT and duly signed up using their mobile app. The simple reason for my choice was because it was the party that I felt was most aligned with who I am and what I aspire to.
As I mentioned in the FDC manifesto review, I was eager to compare FDC’s manifesto with ANT’s because of their somewhat tangled shared history. Quite interestingly, I only got hold of ANT’s real manifesto shortly after publishing the first batch of reviews (NRM, FDC and NUP). The document that I had initially studied while assuming it was the manifesto was actually the party’s “Transformation Agenda”. But I had, for a long time, scoured the party’s website and mobile app for a document with “Manifesto” in its title in vain. To be honest, speaking as a party member, it has been a bit frustrating to see the party neglect digital channels in a campaign where these channels were supposed to play a starring role. Like I mentioned in my disclaimer, I signed up using the mobile app. However, I was immediately disappointed to see how little content there was on the app then. I was similarly disappointed to see how little content there was on the party website and also how little there was by way of “calls to action” (CTA) for members and well-wishers. I doubt anyone checks the volunteer sign-ups for instance which is one of 3 CTAs on the site (the others are donation and newsletter sign-up links). Many ANT supporters are a bit frustrated by the lukewarm campaign the party has run and these issues are symbolic of it. Over the course of the past 3 months, I’ve been checking the mobile app for updates and there were none. This is what I mean by lukewarm – at a time when keeping members engaged and energised via all available channels – we digital natives were starved. Anyway, this is supposed to be a manifesto review and so I’ll write about the membership experience another day.
Having got the real manifesto rather late, I have nonetheless managed to go through it. And, just like the FDC one, I was hugely impressed. The aesthetics aspects (layout, brand alignment, consistency etc) of the document are impeccable and so the first impression is extremely positive. Just like FDC, this manifesto was written to be read and not just tick off an obligation on a campaign checklist. If these documents were available as printed books (I guess some are but I haven’t seen any yet), the ANT and FDC ones are the two I would readily pay for. I must say some of the orange accents of the ANT branding and overall posh/slickness remind me of the Go Forward campaign of 5 years ago – I really hope the ANT campaign will fare much, much better!
The document features 2 columns which is an interesting layout decision. Some people prefer that kind of layout (and it is famously used by, among others, most Bible editions that I have seen). Whereas I prefer a single column layout for physical books and digital content on medium and large screens (laptop), I think 2 or more columns are much friendlier on mobile devices. It didn’t really bother me but it did stand out when I dived into the content. Lastly, just like FDC, the graphics are great and they complement the text content well. If there’s any aesthetic criticism to be made, it would be that the chapter headers don’t stand out clearly enough (the text is rather small and the surrounding purple highlight block seems to overshadow it instead of just providing contrast). But this is really a minor gripe.
Aesthetics aside, what really matters in a manifesto is the content. And again, on this, I have to commend ANT. It is really a well-written document (with negligibly few typos) that makes its points with clarity and thoughtfulness. It opens with messages from the party’s flag bearer (Gen. Mugisha Muntu) and leader (Hon. Alice Alaso) and so it isn’t a one-person show like the NRM’s. Uniquely, compared to the rest, it also features a list of acronyms which, in a way, shows the thoughtfulness earlier alluded to. Unlike the other parties that categorised the content of their manifestos into focus areas or pillars, ANT opted to present all their manifesto items one by one. However, at 50 pages, they are presented succinctly enough to keep you engaged from cover to cover. The entire manifesto is sprinkled with lovely quotes which I thought was a nice touch.
Something worth noting as well is that the manifesto presents the party’s “Aspiration” and “Philosophy” statements at the very start, just inside the cover page. Again, it is small touches like these that convey a sense of thoughtfulness that doesn’t come through for some of the other parties’ manifestos. It appears that the author(s) of this one recognise that the manifesto is, first and foremost, a party marketing tool and not just a list of campaign promises. The two statements as well as the “Background” serve to educate the reader as to what the party is and its origins.
In terms of pledges, the ANT pretty much covers the standard areas. As I lamented in this series’ introductory post, our current level of development demands that all parties pledge simply to govern better. We’re not yet at the point where ideology influences parties to present highly specific strategies designed to make the “better governance” happen. Rather, we are at the point where just stealing less or ensuring half of the kids who start P.1 get to S.4 would present a massive leap forward. Therefore, all the parties are obliged to present pretty much the same issues. ANT lists them starting with Governance, Economy, Natural Resources, Education and Health through Infrastructure, Foreign Relations, Local Governance to Science, Techonology and Innovation. (This is not an exhaustive list). Just like the FDC, ANT has a chapter specifically dedicated to the COVID-19 recovery agenda. I find it rather interesting that some parties don’t present a specific agenda for handling the impact of the biggest crisis to afflict the globe in decades.
However, despite the similarity in content, the tone and presentation of the arguments in each manifesto serves to distinguish between the party. Where the NRM overwhelms and almost suffocates one with sheer quantity and a rather dry academic writing style, the FDC conveys passion and conviction. It is a true reflection of their brand image as a firebrand, passionate entity. On the other hand, the ANT manifesto conveys a feeling of hope and earnestness. The writers didn’t dwell much on decrying the current situation but rather stuck to explaining what they intend to do much better than the present regime. As a result, the tone is surprisingly upbeat yet it doesn’t leave one with any illusions that all is well at the moment. Picture an extremely soft-spoken and polite person calling for a revolution and you’ll start understanding how I felt on going through it. Something else that I picked from the ANT manifesto is that they tried to indicate without saying it out loud that the post-Museveni era is very close and they expect us to be thinking about that as we cast our votes. At the end, I was left wondering whether a concerted effort based on that kind of messaging would have helped sway some M7 diehards.
In addition to the presentation, it is also interesting to note the little things that get included in each manifesto that represent unconventional thinking. For example, I was really impressed by FDC’s inclusion of a specific promise to lookout for single mothers. Similarly, it is awesome to see ANT openly pledge to tackle cruel and degrading cultural activities such as child marriage and FGM. I don’t care how attached to culture you are – FGM is just plain wrong. Period. There are other items like linking pledges to the SDGs, promises to engage the Diaspora (also mentioned by the NUP and FDC), improving disaster response and tackling misuse of small arms.
On the flip side, I was a bit disappointed by the Science, Technology and Innovation section which is a somewhat generic to-do list on 2 pages. The list is decent but on reading through, I got the sense that the writers didn’t put in as much thought as the other sections.
On balance, I think the ANT manifesto is a really good document and I encourage you all to read it. Especially since it is short enough to read in a reasonably short time :-).
Regarding my curiosity about how it would stack up against the FDC’s, I was rather amused to see that each of them reflects the character of the respective organisation quite well even though the overall thrust in terms of promises and pledges is rather similar (save for the FDC’s proposal for a transitional government). Is either better than the other? If I was an umpire, I’d probably call a narrow win for the blue corner although a draw wouldn’t necessarily be an injustice to either side. But that doesn’t matter. What matters most is that they are both compelling alternative visions for our country by very credible entities and they tower heads & shoulders above the rest of the opposition in terms of party platform. I really hope the electorate evolves to the point where these documents (and debate based on them) actually impact their choices. And where the same electorate, having based it’s decisions on these visions, actually proceeds to hold the vision-offerers to account based on the promises therein .
As an aside, as an aviation buff, it was amusing to see the choice of plane used to illustrate the section on air transport (Domestic and Continental Flights). The MD-12 was McDonnell Douglas’ proposal for a double decker plane to compete with the Boeing 747 back in the eighties/nineties. However, it remained a concept on paper and it was never developed given the company was already struggling at the time. Curiously, the computer rendered picture features Boeing’s logo even though the project pre-dated Boeing’s acquisition of McDonnell Douglas by a few years.