Rural and underprivileged communities play a very significant role in determining election victories in Ghana. Over the years, the demographics have shown a good number of votes that people from rural Ghana add to the national tally in all the elections conducted in Ghana. With this fact in place, the two main political parties in Ghana, the NDC and the NPP have always dedicated a good number of pages in their election manifestoes, making promises that directly affect the lives of rural folks.
However, it is one thing making promises and another thing ensuring that the people who are promised get to hear what is promised them. Political parties have over the years adopted door-to-door campaign strategy, media advertisement and open campaign rallies among others to reach rural communities with their manifesto messages.
This year’s election comes with a unique challenge of a pandemic which may restrict open campaign rallies and also limit the extent to which door to door can be done in its proper ways of hugging, shaking hands and sitting close to voters to educate them on political messages. The traditional media and social media networks is what readily comes in mind to fill the gap in this campaign conundrum. However, the high levels of illiteracy and poor internet connection in the rural areas deprive people access to social media discussions and trends on such platforms.
Also, radio and television stations in the urban and peri-urban centers largely engage in discourses that meet the needs of the urban population. They subtly engage in content discussions that actually resonates with the challenges and the true need of rural communities. The few media enterprises that attempt to reflect rural issues often air at hours where most of these people will be busily engaged in their farms and livelihoods. In this situation, people in the rural communities often get deprived of information about political parties’ manifesto promises that touch rural lives and inspire hope in the people.
High profile politicians as part of measures to ensure that they get recognised by rural folks, and further paint the impression of belonging to the “commons”, occasionally pay campaign visits to selected electoral areas of deprived communities to share political messages with them. I have had the opportunity of attending such campaign rallies of the two main political parties at different events when high profile politicians like that of a presidential candidate or the running mate visited. From my cumulated observations in such experiences, three groups of people comprising of chiefs, party executives at the community level and the masses are the important stakeholders in such campaign visits. Yet, almost always one or sometimes two of these groups are often overlooked not in deliberate terms but for constrains of time.
Per standard protocol, the first point of call when any of such high profile politician enters a community will be to meet the chiefs and leaders of the community before proceeding to meet either the local party executives or the community folks or both depending on the schedule and the time available. My last experience yet of witnessing a high profile politician visit a rural community was in August, 2020 when Professor Jane Naana Opoku-Agyemeng, the running mate of the NDC visited the Buoku community in the Bono region.
After we heard of her coming and waited for several hours, she finally arrived at around 6pm and as protocol demands, she first visited the palace in the community. When she left the palace and set out to finally meet the teeming crowd who have been waiting for hours at the forecourt of the community’s cocoa shed, some things became obvious to note.
The people were tired of waiting and some of them needed to go back home to prepare for their evening meal. Some had even left before the professor got to the scene to address them. From the scanned environment, it could be hypothesised that, perhaps, only the NDC supporters and very few non NDC members could have been present at the event considering the time the professor delivered her message. The very message which was supposed to have been heard by all factions whether NDC supporters, other party’s supporters or floating voters ended up in the very ears which needn’t have to be convinced much by the message before they cast their ballot for the NDC.
The many floating voters who could have been swayed by the message to change their thumb’s trend in favour of the NDC had left for their homes after several hours of waiting. A similar situation happened in 2015 when Dr. Mahamud Bawumia, the then vice-presidential candidate of the NPP and his team visited another community within the same area to address the community folks for votes. It was obvious that out of the many ancillary communities they would have yearn to visit, they could only achieve few.
The question I pose while assessing this political problem is that; couldn’t there be any means adopted to reach the many in their homes, the farmers in their farms and the surrounding communities who need to hear these candidates speak at the mini rallies yet may not be present at the time of address. Again, is it not the case that those who are floating voters whom the political parties and their candidates aspire to court their attention might not be in attendance to such politically branded rallies for some obvious reasons. The solution to this rural campaign conundrum lies in the community information centers and more so, the community radio stations which are yet to be put into effective use for their potentials.
With these community information installations, politicians can use just a visit to send political messages to the many communities from a common ground. Politicians will be able to reach homes and activate ears that want to avoid their messages. Moreover, community folks will have the opportunity to hear in clear terms, the specific kind of messages sieved from the general political messages that address rural concerns. It is in the spirit of these observations that I write on how these information resources can be effectively use during political campaign period to send targeted messages that directly benefit the social life of the rural economy.
THE COMMUNITY INFORMATION CENTERS (HORNS IN THE AIR) AND COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS
The community information centers are community-based information medium run by private individuals who charge a fee for community communication services. The centers are a simply designed information transmission device made up of an electronic amplifier connected to two or more loudspeaker horns hanged on a pole over a roof. Individuals can send personal announcements or advertise their products on this medium at a fee charged by the operators. Again, it is the main community information resource center for mobilisation and public education. One other community-based media resource untapped to the fullest is the community radio stations in Ghana.
Community-based radio stations are frequency modulation media that transmit at a limited band spectrum within a specific geographical location. They are uniquely identified by their proprietorship and participation which in principle, are owned and controlled by the community. Thus, content production and financial engineering of community radio stations are highly influenced by the community they operate from. For the very few community radio stations in Ghana, it is on record that most of them are becoming more of commercial radio stations admitting adverts for charges due to financial sustainability challenges they face. However, there are few others who still maintain the core community radio mandate and still identify strongly with their communities. These few radio outlets can be used effectively to propagate targeted campaign messages on community basis at low cost for political parties.
These two identified information resources can provide a wide coverage for sharing policies that affects rural lives in a number of communities without having to visit those communities to physically campaign. It may as well complement immensely to the door to door campaign approach often adopted by polling station and constituency executives during election year.
The countless information centers are very visible in Ghana and can often be located in most communities at an average of a kilometer distance from two different community locations. Their wave transmission strength is limited, yet they can reach very far locations in the hinterlands depending on the time of broadcast, the power of the gadgets and the direction of the wind. Notwithstanding these prospects stated, there are also few challenges that limit the efficacy of broadcasting with the community information centers. Faulty equipment which causes breakages in transmission, noises that hinder smooth broadcasting, low quality of broadcasting gadgets which hinder the quality of sound and finally, power cuts that disrupt transmission among others. In spite of these few setbacks, the medium can still be useful to garner quality votes to the advantage of political parties if applied appropriately to capacity.
GUIDELINES FOR USING COMMUNITY RADIO STATIONS AND INFORMATION CENTERS FOR POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS
Political parties can extract and improve on the following guidelines if they desire to find the community information resource useful to their campaign activities. The under listed guidelines were essentially developed from my personal observations and experiences of living in the rural community. Political parties may do the following;
To start with, the entire country could be studied to assess the rural communities where these media of communication are highly effective and patronised. In such assessment, the party’s voting records or pattern in such areas could be critically reviewed to be able to track and target which communities should be given prime attention or what messages should be transmitted to the people in order to swing votes in favor of the party. Again, such initial assessment of communities may be important to address the most unlikely event of attempting to target the tens of thousands of electoral areas in Ghana. Such audacious attempt to cover a wide location may not be commendable but will be baseless in the sense that urban and peri-urban electoral areas do not need to be included in this type of rural focused exercise.
When the initial assessment and targeting are completed, the standard-bearer and the running mate who are the key personalities the voters would want to hear their voices articulate the message of the party, may visit the various communities’ information centers or the community radio stations to sell the party’s message. The difficulty, however, is expected of having to visit each community within an electoral area to address the people. Nonetheless, there is a way out to this challenge that I learned from the community I live. They call it “live feed”.
The dynamics and characteristics of communities in Ghana are such that about 10 kilometers away, communities within this zone are socially or economically related and know themselves too well. For instance, between Sunyani-Techiman high ways, there is the Nsuta community which is the major community cut out from the Techiman settlements. From Nsuta, the other lined up communities on that stretch like Saprokrom, Mampong, Bowohomoden, Nkrankrom, Amangoase, Mallamkrom, Ayigbe and Buoku share quality friendship and know themselves quite well.
They engage in friendly pastimes and attend events that involve members within this fraternity. The “live feed” phenomenon was observed from this relationship that often brought about community weekend football friendly matches where if a particular team went to a different community to play a match, a mobile phone call is placed to the match venue and someone will run a live commentary which is then carried live by the away team’s community information center and further disseminated to the rest of the community so they can monitor in real time how their team is faring in the game away from home.
With this community initiative, political parties can draw some immeasurable profits if any standard bearer or a running mate decide to adopt this strategy. They only need to identify a number of communities within the parameters that they will want their message to reach in real time. One community is then identified as a transmission venue within the list of communities earmarked to be addressed. The transmission venue is better placed if it is a community selected within the middle chain of the mainly linear community settlements along most of our national road networks.
From the transmission venue, the party’s message meant for all the other sibling communities could be broadcasted and carried live by the various information centers of the corresponding communities. With this innovation, political message can reach a wide coverage from a single transmission point in a rural community. A model of this strategy is presented in the infographic below;
As shown in the diagram, from a transmission point, the message in the voice of a presidential candidate could reach other communities directly via the information centers in real time. In an event where a community radio station is situated in any of the communities, similar approach could be used and the feed carried to the far-off communities via their information centers. With some of the enumerated challenges bedeviling the community information broadcast mediums, political parties may want to organise for a mobile transmission equipment that can augment and improve the transmission quality for clearer sound to communities.
These rural information resources can be used by presidential candidates or the running mate to address a number of rural communities simultaneously. The message content of such high profile address that recognise in mention, the list of communities, some opinion leaders and some development needs of the people in the various communities being addressed will ultimately win the heart of many. Such politically prudent communicative strategy is thought to bring the candidate and the party to the approval of the rural masses and to further demonstrate to them how the candidate and the party are familiar with rural issues. Development communication specialists often argue that deprived communities would want to be recognised by their national leaders, they would want to see the leaders come down to their level and share the dusty and bushy environment with them; address them by their names and drive them along to see solutions to their own challenges.
Through the help of constituency and polling station executives, the right message could be designed for the people. How and when to broadcast the message will also be highly advised by the same party structural executives. After addressing the communities, an electronic recorded copy of the message could be left with the information center and subsequently shared with all the communities that picked the live transmission. The copy could be played from time to time at the various information centers especially few days to the voting day. Also, an electronic downgraded version of the message could be made available to individuals who may want to put them on their phones and listen to it at their leisure, in the lorry parks, at the community centers, and at the tea drinking “boys boys” parliament. My experience with rural community life gives me a strong conviction that a good message with a takeaway mantra that resonate with the people will receive an overwhelming endorsement by the people and will run on their lips and minds for days.
Also, it is practical that this communication arrangement will work effectively and exclusively for only rural and remote communities where life is well organised with a certain degree of affinity. However, it may also not be possible for any political entity or a presidential candidate to reach every nook and cranny of all the communities that may be targeted or earmarked for this campaign strategy. In such difficulty, a message could be prerecorded in the presidential candidate’s own voice and sent to the communities where the candidate cannot visit in person so it will be played on the various information centers at a specified time closing up to the voting day.
This arrangement could be done for communities where the party already have upper hand and may not need much effort to win or swing voters in their favor. The language of communication in the message delivery should be native if possible, simple, clear and unambiguous since rural community members often get bored with complex political jargons.
Wining any election takes a campaign strategy that pay critical attention to the very tinny edges of a political complex whole. This year’s poll is undoubtedly premised on a lot of social issues that directly affect rural communities. With a lot of promises made by all the political parties on improving rural lives and the rural economy, it is also important for political parties to be concern with how these promises can exclusively get to the rural folks.
Decisive communication approach that integrates a plan for rural communities is surely the way to go to disseminate political campaign messages. Any campaign strategies that are crafted to only reflect urban settings is not only dangerous to a political course but also exclude a very important constituents of our political strata that forms the basis of every party’s grassroots organisation.