|Mr. Okudzeto Ablakwa, Deputy Information Minister|
The new brand of political strategy that saw Barack Hussein Obama emerge as Democratic candidate and ultimately President of the United States of America, thrives on a concerted effort to win public understanding of issues and problems confronting a nation and how such problems are being solved or are intended to be dealt with.
In modern politics, therefore, candidates, governments, government policies and programmes all have to be well branded, properly marketed and effectively communicated as though they were products on sale in a market populated by consumers who are collectively called citizens.
Once a government fails to brand itself properly and fails to effectively communicate its actions, policies and programmes, it is bound to fail in the same way as an organisation that fails to properly brand its products and poorly communicates with consumers would.
In the case of governments, the failure would emanate from the fact that policies and programmes that are in the interest of the citizenry and which are supposed to attract their support and goodwill may either not be properly understood or may be made to look bad by opposing political parties in the competitive political marketplace.
This is the situation the NDC finds itself in, which, if not addressed immediately could cost the party its second term prospects.
Since it took over power on January 7, 2009 the NDC, as a government, has pathetically failed in the area of communication and information management. The result has been the creation of a fertile environment required by the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), to market and brand itself as a better party, even against the backdrop of a number of cases on which it lacked the moral temerity to have an opposing voice.
The issue at stake is the management of government information and communication. So it is not a question of how many times government ministers speak to the media or respond to issues. If it were that simple, Deputy Information Minister, Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa would have succeeded in taking the Mills administration out of the current communication quagmire facing the government.
WHAT WAS THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY NDC INHERITED?
In January 2001, Ghanaians were told that the NDC had left a debt of 41-trillion cedis. For many, it was the first time of hearing a financial quotation beyond billions. Citizens were even made to understand the per capita debt of every citizen. Ghanaians were made to understand that the NDC bequeathed Ghana an economy that was almost beyond recovery.
Under the circumstance, an economic growth of even one per cent would have been a great achievement. That was how the NPP succeeded in getting the much needed public support and it was done so well that at the time, only die-hard supporters and of course, those who owed a great deal of “thank you” to the NDC for their sudden wealth could muster courage to publicly show their continued affiliation to the NDC.
On assumption of office in January 2009, the NDC unsuccessfully attempted to let Ghanaians appreciate the state of the economy it inherited. All of a sudden, officials and spokespersons of the NDC thought that all Ghanaians had become economists and so could appreciate what it means to say we have a debt equivalent to 15% of GDP.
The fact is that a 15% GDP debt meant nothing to the majority of Ghanaians. While the effort to let Ghanaians understand the poor state of the economy was ongoing with little success, the Finance Minister came out to say the economy was not in a mess.
The question for many then was: Who should we believe? That effectively marked the beginning of end of any goodwill that the government might have attracted on the basis of the disclosure of having inherited a dehydrated economy.
At a time when global economic giants like America, Germany, France and the rest had all been hit by a massive recession, the NDC’s communication duds continuously offered to the NPP the right atmosphere to accuse the eight-month-old Mills administration of having messed up the economy.
Due to its poor information management and communication, the current economic difficulties, which, at this time, could be reasonably attributed to the combined effects of the global economic crises and how the past government may have (mis)handled the economy, have become the creation of the eight-month administration of the NDC. If this is the situation just eight months into an administration, then we can expect to have a very unpopular government just by the second year of the NDC’s administration and a government that will, in the minds of voters, be unfit to handle the bread and butter issues of Ghanaians and therefore ought to be replaced by the fourth year.
CONFUSION WITH THE THREE-TIER COMMUNICATION STRUCTURE
The problems with the government’s communication management started with the convoluted nature of its communication set-up, made up of a presidential spokesperson, director of communications at the presidency, together with a minister of information and two deputies. Eight months into the administration, it is still difficult to tell which of the communication wings is in charge of what aspect of government business.
Who is in charge of communicating matters related to the Office of the President, such as communicating appointments by the president to the media/public? Sometimes statements to that effect are issued my Mahama Ayariga, the Presidential Spokesperson and at other times, it comes from Koku Anyidoho, the director of communications at the presidency.
As for the Ministry of Information, I am yet to appreciate the usefulness of its existence. For now, I still hold the view that that ministry has always been a propaganda machinery of ruling governments.
Once again, it is not the question of the number of people and designations involved in the government’s communication set-up that is the problem; it is an issue of management.
As a student of Communication and an advocate of well-planned, strategy-based proactive communications, I expected to see an elaborate communication arrangement in which Ayariga speaks only for the president, Koku in charge of matters at the presidency, the information ministry in charge of the broader government-public relations.
THE BNI SAGA AND THE NDC’S COMMUNICATION DUDS
If there has been any incident that has exposed the poor information management of the government, it is the recent actions of the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) that have culminated in a string of legal losses and generating a considerable level of negative public opinion against government.
The BNI may have stretched its boundaries wider under the NPP rule. During that period, the bureau did not only invite, arrest, detain and caution former NDC officials, they went to the extent of inviting former President Jerry Rawlings. I am not saying it was wrong for Mr. Rawlings to have been invited if there was the need for that. Due to what was a comparatively better information management by the then NPP government, the actions of the BNI were widely perceived as the execution of the usual official duties of a security establishment. Consequently, any complaints on the part of any invitees, detained or cautioned NDC officials, passed as just the usual mooing of bulls on their way to the slaughter house.
Eight years on, the NDC is back to power. We have the same BNI operatives and personnel in place with the exception of the head of the institution. Public support for the bureau is waning thick and fast at least among the less politically inclined in our communities. This is all because once again, the NPP appears to be smarter in their communication management than the NDC.
When the BNI started inviting people like the former Chief of Staff, Kwadwo Mpiani and followed it up with the prevention of Stephen Asamoah-Boateng a.k.a. Asabee and his wife from travelling, and the subsequent seizure of passports, the NPP smartly played the political witch hunt card and succeeded in getting the NDC to dance to its tune. This was when government officials started giving ad hoc, politically-clothed responses to NPP accusations on the BNI affairs, which were just aimed at politicising the actions of the BNI.
The success of the NPP’s politicisation agenda was crowned when the two deputy ministers of information, Okudzeto-Ablakwa and Agyenim Boateng, turned themselves into spokespersons for the BNI, explaining and rationalising the actions of the security establishment at all times.
Once government officials chose to speak for the BNI they appeared to be taking responsibility for the actions of the bureau and it became easier for any sane person to believe that government had a hand in the actions of the security set-up. If Asabee had been arrested by the police, would it have been the business of information ministers to speak for the police?
My advice to government is to allow the BNI to speak for itself rather than government ministers being the spokespersons of the bureau.
I expect my good friend Okudzeto-Ablakwa, henceforth, to direct the media to the BNI, for its officials to explain their actions. If the bureau doesn’t have a spokesperson, then it is obviously not in sync with modern practices and should, as a matter of urgency, search for and appoint a competent spokesperson, one as competent as DSP Kwasi Ofori of the Ghana Police Service. BNI actions should be explained by the BNI and not government!
The goodwill of the people for the NDC is waning and can only be saved through a proper information and communication management that will ensure a proper understanding of government policies, programmes, actions and inactions.
Until this is done, the NDC should forget of a second term in office. So where is all the seemingly scientifically-crafted communication strategy of the NDC that appeared to have overwhelmed the NPP during the 2008 campaigns?
Source: The Chronicle