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15.08.2005 Feature Article

NPP can overcome NDC propaganda

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ON Tuesday, President John A Kufuor put up what was described by this paper as a 'Good Show'. It was such a success of a news conference that his critics and supporters alike began wondering why he does not have more of those. His office can start by creating a 'Spin Room', similar to that sponsored by Spacefon at the Ministry of Information. So, on major issues the President can meet the press – but please not 165 of them and certainly not with all his 88 ministers in tow!

Two days after the 'Good Show', 'Shadow' President Prof John E Atta Mills holds his own news conference. His first three lines signalled this was going to be a pernickety of a target practice of indiscriminate firing: “It gives me great pleasure to have this opportunity to interact with you once again,” he told journalists. “This press conference, as many of you will recall, was scheduled to have taken place about two months ago. I'd had to defer it until this week when I decided I could no longer wait to speak on some matters that I know are of deep concern to Ghanaians.”

In his ill-advised mode to de-link his press conference from that which occurred two days prior, Prof Mills ended up saying much about nothing as he said little about a lot of things which he found wrong with the Kufuor administration but with no real punch as no matter was deeply dealt with. That, in Qanawu's view, is a wasted opportunity by a leader of a group that is progressively over-burning its propaganda combustion. Stuck in negative campaign mode, and because no time is given to constructive research on issues of national interest, they sound more like a party in opposition and less of a government-in-waiting.

All in all it was a sad display of a planned attack lacking focus. The thinking of the Mills camp was to make him respond, while assuming, at least in equity, the position of a shadow president and putting him a furlong or so ahead of his probable contenders for the NDC presidential slot. Ironically, during the Q&A, most of the relevant questions were capably answered by his potential main rival, John Mahama!

At least, since losing in 2000, Prof Mills has plied politics based mainly on, what one may call, base rate fallacy. The nothing-new emptiness of the Mills attack on Kufuor last week exposed the NDC game plan of mud-slinging, negative politics against the NPP. Exams leakages and the ¢3.5 billion loss of the Metro Mass Transport are all used as negative examples of NPP.

As seen in his past utterances and repeated last Thursday, Prof Mills was deliberately pushing onto the public domain, under the cover of his professed intellect, the logical fallacy that occurs when irrelevant information is used to make a probability judgment, deliberately ignoring empirical statistics or facts about the probability that are available. He was cherry picking bad news about the NPP and throwing it at the public to chew on. But, he did what Qanawu would describe as the Mankatah Syndrome: after neutralising your opponent, what next? What are you offering as the alternative?

“Even though President Kufuor now appears to have a problem with the word perception,” Mills said, “ the truth is that there is a perception that the President is afraid of Ms Yajzi's evidence and is therefore doing all he can to prevent her coming down to Ghana, which perception is now very pervasive, and for very good reasons too.”

But, what feeds this perception, the professor failed to add, is a clever and disingenuous opposition grand scheme to bombard the government and the public with lies and half truths to construct and shape a mountain of negative perception, line it with explosives with the hope that it would detonate and bury the NPP in the process in or before 2008.

Already the NPP has been overwhelmed by the avalanche of engineered negative perception. But, they can put up an effective counter attack. Their first task is to remember the all-powerful lure of perception. They must recognise that just about everyone in Ptolemy's day was convinced that the Sun travelled around the Earth. Therefore, the Sun effectively travelled around the Earth in Ptolemy's day – period. Really, it wasn't until by accident rather than design that Christopher Columbus travelled around the world. But, in multiparty politics you don't have the luxury of self-serving accident dependency. The Ridge residence of Rawlings and the Kuku Hill office of the NDC have combined to turn the so-called 'government-in-waiting' into a 'Promi' or Propagandamninisterium. Like the Nazis, the NDC believe in propaganda as a vital tool in achieving their goals. Adolf Hitler and some other powerful high ranking Nazis like Reinhard Heydich had no moral qualms about spreading propaganda which they themselves knew to be false, and indeed spreading deliberately false information was part of a doctrine known as the Big Lie. A common characteristic of NDC propaganda is in its volume – how often has CNTCI and IFC not been mentioned? NDC propagandists seek to influence public opinion by attempting to get their message heard in as many media as possible, and as often as possible. The intention of this approach is, first, to reinforce the perception of NPP corruption, etc, through repetition, and, second, exclude or “drown out” any alternative evidence. But, is this sustainable when the target is in substance delivering against this barrage of negative perception?

The plan now is for the NPP to play the victim, on one hand, and the hero, on the other. Consistently drum home the fact that your party has become a victim of an elaborate enemy propaganda. Feed into the emotional reserve of the people. And as you consistently play the victim, you relentlessly slip in floods of evidence to dispute the perception. Publicly admit as a weakness an inability to contain or match opposition propaganda. Use weakness as strength and win sympathy but engineer that process. The second part of this strategy is to spin your leadership credentials. Let the people know you are delivering. Play the hero to the people and a victim of opposition propaganda. This way you portray your opponents as mere spoilers.

Kufuor hit a nerve when he said his government was suffering from perception. This was confirmed inadvertently by his two-term opponent. Mills gave the NDC game plan away. He said, for instance, “… after Ms Yajzi had declared her intention to travel to Ghana at her own expense, we are informed that her Ghanaian visa has been revoked.” He knows this not to be true, yet he says it and finds an escape route in the next sentence. “I am told, however, that this has been denied by the Foreign Ministry.”

Now, is he denying the denial of the Foreign Ministry? No. He knows he could easily verify from his old pal and school mate at Legon, Nana Akufo-Addo. This is base rate fallacy. He is doing just what the NDC knows best – create a lie, tell it and keep on telling it. One of the chief architects of NDC propaganda, Ato Ahwoi, has on more than one occasion quoted Josef Goebbels uncited statement ostensibly to expose NPP propaganda but really to tell Ghanaians how well his party, the NDC, understands propaganda:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it…”

But Kufuor's version of Margaret Thatcher's Saatchi & Saatchi – Botwe & Botchwey – can take heart from the pro tem or unsustainability of an impervious, impious, imponderable and unconstructive stratagem as plain negative propaganda. Indeed, Goebbels added:

“… The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.”

The NDC game plan is to keep fuelling what is termed as the bandwagon fallacy, which seeks to influence public perception, first, thereafter hope to ride on the authority of the many, consensus gentium, using simple but emotive messages that can appeal to the gallery. It is a fallacy where something is 'proven' by stating that many or all people believe it but after you have defined the contours of believability.

For example, despite all the old allegations of corruption against the P/NDC officials, if you can get people like the Ahwoi brothers saying today that the NPP is corrupt over and over again, it gains consensus gentium. We all take it for granted that 13 is an unlucky number, since many people believe it to be. However, statistically 13 is no more unlucky than any other number. The bandwagon fallacy has become a pillar of NDC propaganda. It is a red herring and genetic fallacy that, frankly, the ruling party is struggling to deal with. During Jake's time at the Information Ministry, NDC consistently complained about NPP 'Spin' and it worked! It won the NDC sympathy and turned the NPP from offensive mode to defensive mode. But, it also showed that the spin was working. 'Spin' was originally an acronym, “Significant Progress In the News,” used by public relations specialists in Reagan's Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI) in the mid-1980s. SDI had come under criticism as technically impractical. 'Spin' was a public-relations attempt to counter these claims by issuing news releases showing steady progress.

The aim of propaganda is to influence people's opinions actively, rather than to merely communicate the facts about something. And when the NDC cites exam leakages, NAGRAT strike, petrol prices, etc to hit at the NPP, they are acknowledging that a message does not have to be untrue to qualify as propaganda. Essentially, it must generally contain partisan bias and fail to present a complete and balanced consideration of the issue.

The NDC and Mr Pratt and co, like typical propagandists, seek to change people's understanding through deception and confusion rather than persuasion and understanding. A typical example: Wednesday, on Joy FM Mr Pratt read this portion of a letter, dated May 20, 2005, to the MD of the IMF, Rodrigo de Rato, from Paul Acquah and Kwadwo Baah-Wiredu: “The (zero) ceiling on the contracting or guaranteeing of medium- to long-term nonconcessional debt was breached in August 2004 with a US$40 million loan from Nigeria to finance Ghana's participation in the World Bank-supported West African Gas Pipeline – a project of significant economic benefit to Ghana and the region. Expected financing for this project did not materialise, and the government could not make alternative arrangements in time to avoid a US$25 million penalty (0.3 percent of GDP).”

Clear reading of the above text shows that had Ghana not gone ahead to breach that pact with the IMF to take the nonconcessional loan from Nigeria, it would have incurred the penalty payable to its partners in WAPCO. Yet, Mr Pratt presented that fact to mean that Ghana has had to pay $25m penalty to the IMF! A powerful element of propaganda is that the leaders of the organisation churning it out know the information to be one sided or untrue, but this may not be true for the rank and file members who help to disseminate the propaganda. Importantly, for the activists, propaganda serves as false information meant to reinforce the mindsets of people who already believe as the propagandist wishes. For this reason, sustained propaganda is often only successful when aimed at people who are already sympathetic to the agenda. This process of reinforcement uses an individual's predisposition to self-select 'agreeable' information sources as a mechanism for maintaining control.

What this means is that, with a good plan, the NPP can stem the tide of propaganda influencing the perception of the non-NDC public towards the ruling party. Thus, look after your support base, prevent the opposition from polluting the minds of the floating voter and fight them on that detached voter base on merits and may the better party win.

The Statesman
The Statesman, © 2005

The author has 33 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: TheStatesman

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