13.02.2008 Feature Article

Combining slackness and activism as campaign strategy

Combining slackness and activism as campaign strategy
13.02.2008 LISTEN

Elections are about the right organisation, the right leadership, the right vision, the right programme and the right strategic communications. For an incumbent, the first task is in marketing your achievements for the electorate to continue buying your leadership. For the opposition the first task is in marketing the incumbent's weaknesses in the hope of putting the electorate off the incumbent's political ware. The trouble is in seeing the first task as your only major task.

Qanawu's one major concern was how best the New Patriotic Party could go into Elections '08 preaching a message of continuity and change. The issue is one of campaigning on the achievements of President J A Kufuor's government but at the same time being able to set a new agenda which can persuade people that it would not be business as usual.

This may mean, in brutally frank terms, associating the campaign with all that is positive since 2001 and attempting to discreetly but loyally distance yourself from any actual liabilities, which are natural with every incumbency. Once that is done, play back the record of the opposition when they were in your position and tear apart their future programme by portraying them as a group that cannot be trusted because what stopped them from doing same in the past.

Akufo-Addo appears to have found a way round this tricky situation by saying that the challenges that President Kufuor faced in January 2001 will not be the same that he will face in January 2009. Thus the application of different skills and tools may be required.

Qanawu's worry was over when he got a sneak preview of the draft manifesto for the National Democratic Congress. If that is what the NDC intends to present to the electorate then it is as radical, refreshing and innovative as an Akan chief dancing the kete. The NPP could easily present that document as its manifesto and still stand accused of offering nothing new to what Ghanaians have gotten accustomed to in the past eight years.

A common theme of the NDC draft manifesto is to cursorily identify challenges, blame them on the NPP and say the NDC will tackle them or strengthen the institutions responsible; and all this has been achieved on paper without offering the voter much by way of change.

You may revive their campaign theme of 2000 - Continuity, without attracting any adverse publicity from Koku and Ama, because that is simply what the draft document says. What the NDC manifesto recognises, when read in totality, without expressly saying so, is that ignoring the achievements chalked by the country under their opponents since 2001 is a dialectical impossibility.

Ghanaians have heard serial encore of the NDC diagnosing every ill under this government. But, they would be mightily disappointed if they expected hints of the New Utopianism in the alternative that the NDC is representing. The left of the NPP could certainly do with a utopian vision to see it assert itself in the 21st century.

But, those waiting for such a move may be better off squinting to look beyond the Mills-led faction to see Nduom's Convention People's Party.

This manifesto, if finally launched, would expose the NDC as a group that sees revolutionary change in society possible only through violent upheavals. In the year that Ghana earned her independence, renowned sociologist Rex Harper defined a revolutionary change as "that kind of social change which occurs when the basic institutional (ie legally enforced) values of a social order are rejected and new values accepted." There are no persuasive hints in the manifesto of an industrial revolution, S & T revolution, agricultural revolution, etc in the party that has spent the last seven years concentrating on looking for holes rather how to plug them if given the mandate.

There's a new thought that fits the NDC well. It is called Slacktivisim. It involves wanting to feel good with the minimum of effort. A typical example is sitting in your office and issuing press statements against your opponents or sitting at home and signing petitions on the internet.

James Harkin, a cultural commentator specialising in social trends, sees it as the most shameless manifestation of slacktivism, the twenty-first century ghost of the mass movement politics which shook the twentieth century. He calls slacktivism, "the ultimate in easy-to-do, feel good politics." And, the problem with it is that its methods are indistinguishable from simply doing nothing.

The NDC has simply made slacktivism their campaign strategy. Research work is done on raking dirt, and identifying all the traditional political weaknesses that an opposition party procures for its armoury. The problem with slacktivism as the main method of campaigning is that the slackness aspect of it actually prevents you from actively presenting alternatives. It works on the slack principle that negative propaganda can serve well as a staple diet for victory.

Slacktivisim is described as a lazy haemorrhaging of the two words 'slacker' and 'activism'. It is the counter-intuitive idea that radio-phone-in warriors, ghanaweb bloggers, and media mercenaries can somehow change voters' mind and change government without putting so much of an organisational structure in place and coming out with alternative policies that represent bold, realistic, radical change – hope that people can believe in; change that people will be inspired enough to embrace.

Simply put, the NDC has been turned into an effective organisation of slacktivists who prefer to propagandise from the comfort of their mobile phones or computers.

Qanawu believes there is something that we all recognise but are yet to come across a manifesto that seeks to address this. This is the sociological paradigm of Ghana's development journey. The attitude thing and how to address it. Sociologist, Dominic K Agyeman, writing in 1996, says he believes Ghanaians are capable of seeing the light ahead of us.

With this he was referring to the psychological challenge identified by J B Danquah in his 'An Epistle to the Educated Youngman of Akim Abuakwa'. J B, an enlightened traditionalist/nationalist wrote in 1928 that "In all this there is nothing that necessarily compels us to permit the shackles of an outworn civilisation to prevent us from seeing the light ahead of us…" We need to wear a new kind of attitude to neutralise the development paradox of adverse continuity and change.

Like the ancient Greek thinkers, the NDC sees no direct significance in the changes that seven years (time) under the NPP has brought into the lives of Ghanaians (human affairs). Yet, Qanawu cannot but subscribe to Aristotle's view that catastrophes sooner or later wipe out all civilisations. In the same vein voting the NDC back may wipe out all the gains of the years.

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