Fri, 06 Jun 2008 Feature Article

‘How Different Is The GNP?: An Analysis of A Presidential Speech’

‘How Different Is The GNP?: An Analysis of A Presidential Speech’

Denial, Anger, Bargaining and Despair. Experts prescribe that a political organism would usually go through these four stages before it is recognized by the electorate. Of course, recognition is only the initial step in the long, tortuous political journey that actually begins after the victory speech has been delivered. Therefore, it fits perfectly into the scheme of things that some smart politicians arm themselves with both victory and 'loser' speeches in the run up to fiercely contested elections. It is not clear whether the Ghana National Party has gone through all four stages as a political organisation; what is clear is that it would be on the ballot box in December 2008 as the newest addition to the 14 political parties that have received certificates, the very latest being the 'Christ-centred' New Vision Party of Prophet Daniel Nkansah.

Unbeknownst to me, I have been enjoying a rather beneficial association with the Ghana National Party for about a year and a half. Not too long ago, a Ghanaian gentleman based in California, wrote to tell me that he has been reading my poor words and would want me to critically assess problems facing our country and show how we can work out solutions to help solve those problems. I thought the email had been misdirected to my inbox, or perhaps, it was one of those forwarded messages about angels and sex-enhancing pills that often come to me from people I don't know from Adam. I popped my head up to check the sender, and it wasn't Adam; it was somebody who, going by his title, appeared very important and scholarly. So, why would anybody want to associate me with problem solving, when I am a problem myself? In the dieing pages of the mail, he had mentioned the name of a political party that would be launched soon. He was, in his words, talking to young and intelligent talents who are committed to helping in the development of Ghana. I didn't think I was a good material for his project, because, even though I have the commitment to assist in anything African, I don't have the brains to propose winnable strategies or write manifestos. All the same, I forwarded the mail to some 'intelligent' friends in America and Canada, because it had struck me as a diaspora-based venture. I sent a response to acknowledge receipt of the mail. We ended it there.

But that was only the beginning of a long and continuous network of 'cyber conferencing' initiated by Dr Kwaku Danso, who is also the President of the Ghana Leadership Union, a non-governmental organisation. Nearly every minute, somebody sends me a mail, discussing topical issues in Ghana in very fine words. And frankly, they set the agenda for some smooth and often scholastic discussion. The gentleman has managed to link the emails of most Ghanaians who have a presence on the internet to something I don't know, so that messages meant for his consumption are shared by everybody. I have picked a few ideas from those exchanges and written some three articles, in which I have generously borrowed from those discussions. The latest email contained a video footage of a Ghanaian economist in an American University, Dr George Ayittey, brilliantly sharing his thoughts on how to improve lives in Africa. The academic had titled his message: “The Cheetahs vrs the Hippos.” The Cheetahs, according to him, are those new generation talents who are determined to breathe meaningful change into old systems and institutions in Africa, and by so doing, change the status-quo and open a new page of leadership for Africa's prosperity. The Hippos are those 'stuck in their intellectual patch' who would not change the 'rotten status-quo', because it benefits them and their cronies. He calls them economic vampires who stash money in foreign accounts for their selfish ends.

The Ghanaian economist contends that there have been 240 governments/leaders in Africa since 1960. He challenges us to name five of those leaders whose policies have transformed the lives of their people. He ends on the sorry note that the continent is blessed with a lot of resources but we remain the poorest in the world. He calls for a new breed of leaders, the Cheetahs, who will change the way things are done on the continent. It didn't sound particularly different from the usual 'problem-harping' rhetoric that has become the mantra of politicians of the 21st Century: Look out for the problems; talk about the bigger problems we have had because we failed to check the small ones; highlight the discomfort that those problems have caused; innumerate the various institutional failures; talk about the relative comfort we would have enjoyed if those institutions had done their jobs properly and leave people to guess for themselves what Heaven they would have if they had not taken that giant leap of blind faith by trusting those in charge of the system with their vote. That kind of talk does not necessarily seek to gain the trust of the people; it only tries to say why the people shouldn't trust those at the helm. Well, politics, it is said, consists in ignoring the facts.

The Cheetah talk is typical of Africans who live or have had some contact with institutions in the West. It is messianic in nature and usually advocates a strategic problem-solving approach without showing clearly how those problems would be solved.
Professor Ayittey does not just talk like a Cheetah; he has created jobs for some people in the fishing industry. It is all too familiar listening to him talking of African's problems, but it refreshing watching him roll the video recording of fishermen plying their trade with the giant fishing boat he has sponsored. It doesn't solve all their problems, but at least, we have a practical example from an academic who thinks beyond the text book.

In the speech that out-doored him as the GNP presidential candidate, Ofori Ampofo admonishes Ghanaians to think above the present offerings and demand more from politicians. He challenges the Obiara Baa Saa assumption that is crippling voter interest in Ghana and promises that the GNP will be different from the traditional parties we have had so far. Among other things, he identifies corruption and non-performing public institutions as the bane of our woes. However, his approach to solving corruption and improving the economy sounds like a corruption than a solution. Ofori Ampofo said his party would advocate an economic war codenamed 'Nation Building', and launch a development roadmap as efforts aimed at addressing these problems. The corruption in that approach had eluded me until one of those gentlemen in Dr Danso's cyber tutorial group, Kwame Nuako, pointed it out. If the GNP would call for an economic war, then they only intend to invite other people to do it for them, instead of themselves. If operation 'Nation Building' is the GNP's brainchild, and it is something they intend doing, then the speechwriter should have used active verbs or even modal auxiliaries to express that intention. In any case, the codename sounds too passive and unattractive. We would expect a more vigorous title for an economic war, unless it is one of those wars which would be deemed to have been won only when they were lost.

Another person who commented on the presidential candidate's speech, observed that it was riddled with grammatical and spelling mistakes, which he thought should have been overcome if the exercise was to be taken seriously. A commentator put it even more succinctly: “…there were weak assertions, condensed sentence structure and repulsive metaphor…” The same commentator also suggested that a presidential speech should be crafted in a way that would appeal to the Ghanaian intelligentsia, both at home and abroad. And then, there were concerns with the accuracy of figures that the presidential candidate had used. All in all, the speech was not substantially different from the old ones we have been hearing for so long, even though the GNP promises to be different. But I wouldn't say that it was altogether a bad one; it was good. There were no memorable quotes but the objectives were clearly stated, and it had a structure.

I was in the thinking of the other commentator who wrote that being a new product, the GNP needs to communicate their position properly, to appeal to voters. Good ideas apart, a political party is a bit like Madam Katherine or Mercy cream: everybody knows what they do but people want to hear their virtues extolled in attractive and captivating language. Mr. Ofori Ampofo may be new to the world of spin and communication management in politics. Was it necessary for him to have attempted a defense when folks critiqued the speech on the internet? Was it important for him to have lifted the lid off the can, to reveal that the speech was the handiwork of an amateur, and not a professional wordsmith? That actually means that the GNP has no speechwriter? So, it may be important to ask: if you have no expertise to manage communication, how would you manage a population of 20million? Well, a good speech alone would not develop a nation, Mr. Ofori Ampofo has said. Ideas matter most, he would add, most probably.

Well, if the GNP had hired an accomplished scribe from America or London to craft its maiden public speech, instead of leaving it to the former Kwaebibrem rural bank manager, would we have had a wining material? Well, that is difficult to say. Ideas matter but how the ideas are sold also matter very much. Speechwriters do not just frame issues and explain choices in appealing language; they aim at touching the instinct of the voter by telling them what they need to know, and sometimes what they don't need to know. They employ repetition where necessary and rhetoric where strategic. In the end, politics is not about commonsense; it is about making sense to the common man.

Talking of sense, has the politics of any of the established traditions made sense to the common man in Ghana? The common man would benefit more from Dr George Ayittey's fishing boat than the most fantastic speech ever written. The NPP is preaching continuity in progress while the NDC's appears to be 'change in continuity'. The CPP is building its 2008 campaign on 'Change we can feel'. The DFP, methinks, could work with 'reform through progress, as the URP maintains its 'no nonsense' rhetoric, with the recent promise of millions of jobs in a year when elected. The GNP promises to be different from all the rest, but how easy does the prospect seem? Surely, the nation ought to be built, or perhaps rebuilt, as the GNP has 'advocated', but who would do it? It is you.

By Benjamin Tawiah: The author is a freelance journalist; he lives in London, where he also teaches English as a foreign language.

Email: [email protected], [email protected].

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