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02.05.2009 Political

When the “Honourables” became “Gangsters” and “Criminals”…

When the “Honourables” became “Gangsters” and “Criminals”…
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“The usage of language is rarely a pure act of communication-Pierre Bourdieu”

Last week witnessed two major events that have once again opened the discourse of Language and Governance in the politics of Ghana. Tuesday 28th April and Wednesday 29th of April 2009 witnessed the pendulum of accusations of “Gangsterism and Criminality” swing between the NDC and the NPP.

This article will not discuss the veracity of whether NDC is “presiding over a government of Gangsterism” or the past NPP government was “a state of criminals and looters”. I will limit the frame work of this article to the discourse of language and governance in our democratic dispensation. It is appalling to note how people we address as honourables could descend so low to address each other with unprintable words.

Norman Fairclough (2000) in his book 'New Labour, New Language' explored the importance of language in post-modern democracy. He observes that, language has become more important in post modern democracy due to social changes which have transformed politics and governments. One important part of these social changes is the 'new relationship between politics, government and the mass media'. The language of political leaders is now recognized as a crucial factor in political success or failure.

Pierre Bourdieu's (1991) in his book “Language and Symbolic Power” observes that, the official language of governments is embodied and institutionalized within the state from which it gains its authority and which it in turn reinforces. Bourdieu further explained that language in not simply to produce grammatically correct sentences; they must be listened to (i.e. heard) and recognized as acceptable in a particular field (i.e. acknowledged by the receiver as legitimate) where the speaker has the right to speak in a particular context/situation. Thus the usage of language is rarely a pure act of communication.

Michel Foucault (1994) in his book 'Power and Subjectivity' discusses how language could be used to create a balanced and accountable governance that will be acceptable to all- A system of governance he termed as 'Govermentality'. Foucault called for the promotion of new sets of power relations which is championed by objective communications. Foucault concludes that this new power of language when properly used can create as much acceptance from the citizens as power holders may wish for, it can stomach any political turmoil and shelter itself behind any threat that it will perceive.

President Bill Clinton could get away with having affair with Monika Lewinsky, due to multiple of reasons (which includes economic, social, cultural, etc). However chiefly among these reasons is the language used by Clinton in his address to the American people on the issue. If Clinton had appeared on television and answered the question on the Lewinsky affair, with 'I have had a sexual affair with Monika Lewinsky and anybody who has a problem with that can go to hell', the outcome of that event would have been different.

Tony Blair's government getting away with “sexing up” the dossier on Iraq's WMD could chiefly be attributed to the power of language- A skill that New Labour has creatively mastered. In both cases it is evident how language has been used to create much acceptance as wished for by the political leaders, it also stomached politically explosive situations and shelter it self behind any threat. The language of both political leaders has been a crucial factor in political success.

When it comes to the use of language in governance both NPP and NDC exhibit deficiency in mastering the art of using language to covey their message without resorting to insult. I'm not an expert of linguistics but I know that both the NPP and NDC need to learn the use of language in politics, and Norman Fairclough's book “New Labour, New Language” could be one of the text books. The buck of misuse of language does not stop at Samuel Okudzeto, but must pass on to Koku Anyidoho, Tony Aidoo to name few in NDC. In NPP we could easily pick people like Asamoah Boateng of “kokonte” fame, Kennedy Agyepong, inter-alia. What baffles me is that, these politicians are addressing each other as “GANGSTERS” and “CRIMINALS”, but do expect us to address them as “HONOURABLES”. I rest my case!

Adamu Abdallah Awudu, MA (Planning and Urban Design)

Email: [email protected]

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