Black or White? Unveiling the Psychological Tactics of Colors in Chad’s Referendum

2023 pyschological chad referendum chad thumbnail eisa1 transparent democratic governance in africa

Drawing on the symbolic connotations associated with black and white, both in terms of color and social implications, a German TV license campaign using the slogan “Ich seh’ schwarz” – “Ich weiss!” offers an apt introduction to the psychological tactics used in the choice of white and black colors in the context of the upcoming Referendum in Chad.

“Ich seh’ schwarz – Ich weiss!” is a slogan on the German Radio Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) and the fee collection center for German public broadcasters Gebühreneinzugszentrale (GEZ) campaign card, aiming to encourage users to pay their TV license fees. To this end, the card is named “Die Postkarte für eine weisse Weste” (The postcard for a white West), giving positive attributes to the color white – purity, honesty, payment of fees, while attributing the opposite connotations to the colour black – equating watching TV without paying with theft and dishonesty. The advert depicts two men looking at each other. The white man states that: “Ich seh’ schwarz” (I see/ watch black), meaning in this context that he does not pay the TV licence. The black man states that: “Ich weiss,” (I white) meaning in this context that he pays his fees.

2023 pyschological chad referendum chad eisa transparent democratic governance in africa

The use of colors in a referendum goes beyond mere aesthetics, carrying significant psychological implications capable of influencing perceptions and guiding electoral choices. The upcoming referendum vote on the 17th of December in Chad vividly illustrates this dynamic. In this context, “Yes” is associated with the color white, while the “No” is attributed the color black. The referendum poses the question: “Do you approve the draft constitution submitted to you, which enshrines the unitary form of the State?” A ‘YES’ vote will mean acceptance of the constitution enshrining the unitary form of the State. A ‘NO’ vote will mean rejection of the unitary form of the State. Should this happen, the referendum law provides for the organisation of another referendum on a constitution establishing the federal state.

The “No” camp believes that the “Yes” camp, endorsed by the government, strategically chose the color white. White is traditionally associated with values such as peace, purity, and stability and therefore evokes positive emotions among voters. They employ the symbolism of white to convey a vision of a harmonious and conflict-free future. Simultaneously, black is interpreted in its darkest aspect, exploiting traditional associations with death, mourning, and suffering. Analysts suggest that the objective is to instill fear in voters, compelling them to choose the perceived security of white.

2023 pyschological chad referendum chad eisa1 transparent democratic governance in africa

In a clever counterpoint, a “No” supporter contemplates shaping the No-campaign around an antinomic interpretation of the color black. Their visual message, conveyed through posters and slogans, will redefine black, symbolizing pride in the struggle against white oppression. He bluntly states that:

“the underlying objective behind choosing white and black is to capitalize on color symbolism, influencing voters in favor of white by evoking values such as peace and purity, while exploiting the fear argument. Black, on the other hand, will be depicted in all its darkness, aiming to evoke somber and sinister sentiments among voters. This approach, though cynical, proves to be a strategic error. It is imperative to reverse this trend in our favor.”

Against this backdrop, the ‘No’ supporter comments that “historically, the color black has always symbolized the African struggle against white oppression. The slave trader, the colonizer, the imperialist, were white. Black, on the contrary, is the color of our skin, a source of pride for Afro-Americans who proudly proclaim ‘Blacks are proud.’” Building upon these fundamental premises, the commentator believes firmly that the No camp which is in favor of federation possesses compelling arguments for a successful campaign. He believes that the rallying cry ‘Don’t take the black ballot!’ should be countered by a simple and direct response:

“…if we choose the ballot corresponding to our skin color, Black, we are resolutely opting for federation, a path that will liberate us from enduring oppression. This choice is not merely a matter of color but an affirmation of our identity and our determination to transcend the chains of oppression.”

This shift in the narrative has transformed black into an emblem of resilience and pride, transcending the initially projected negative connotations. It constitutes a suggestive campaign program that can change perspectives and destabilize the psychological strategy of “Yes” proponents. Far from instilling the expected fear, the color black can mobilize pride and a desire to resist oppression. “As was chanted by Afro-Americans in the past, “Blacks is beautiful.” If black is recognized as the intrinsic color of Africans, rooted in their history and struggle, the semantic shift in color symbolism has the potential to profoundly alter the trajectory of the referendum campaign. The choice for “No,” anchored in black pride, may ultimately prevail, leading voters to reject the psychological manipulation of “Yes” and favoring an antinomic interpretation that has transformed black into a powerful symbol of resistance and pride”, said the commentator further.

While the “Yes” camp launched a vast movement from the first day of the campaign that will sweep across the country, it is now up to the “No” supporters to enter the fray with their program, in order to inscribe the December 17 referendum as a compelling example of the power of colors in collective psychology.

Dr Kadi Pierre Sossou is the Country Director for EISA’s Chad office


This blog post was made possible by the financial support of the European Union under the Grant Agreement No. NDICI AFRICA/2022/435-927. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of EU.