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General News | Jun 27, 2004

POLITICS AND SPIN: What the public don’t know

SEIDU SANDU KPEBU, GYE NYAME CONCORD/UK

THE TERM POLITICS itself originated from spin, according to classical records of Greek history. It originally meant state or city (polis) which later metamorphosed into politics. We are therefore living with a term which has transcended generations and has taken on some negative connotations culminating in it being synonymous with spin, mistrust, deceptive and well, positively, saviour of the masses?

This year is another return to politics and the spinning of political messages. This is the time blatant lie is made to appear truthful and breakfast, lunch and dinner combined for my best friend in the street who last saw slops on his dinner table in December 2000. He was made to feed fat so he could clearly see the writings and photographs on the ballot slips. He could also be in his senses to know how to use his big thump. Once in every four years the deprived and my “akokorowa” in the village will say 'thank you lord we are remembered again, at least'.

The present Dakpam Naa, Attah Nantogmah, one time Deputy Minister for Defence in Nkrumah's government, once narrated to me how he and his campaign team were caught between telling the truth and spinning to secure votes from a village in the 'over seas' area of the Northern Region. The village needed a dam or a well to serve them with water and a road linking Damanko in the south-eastern Northern Region or a bridge over River Oti. He was regarded by these village folks as a person whose credentials were beyond reproach. However they needed him to tell them how his government was going to provide them with their needs. He found himself in a dilemma and finally had to rely on persuasive speech, making the impossible seem possible to his constituents.

It is agreeable that politicians may sometimes be pressed into relying on spin, but it is not an excuse to leave the people to their fate after you have achieved what you want; winning the election.

Take for example the road between Bimbilla and Yendi, and Bimbilla and Jasikan in the Volta region. Politicians have promised the people of these areas years on end that the roads would be upgraded or tarred if they are elected. Year–in-year-out these areas are cut off during rainy season and politicians who ply the route used their countryside four wheel drives to wade through the muddy and rugged roads without an iota of shame, seeing private and commercial vehicles stuck in the middle of the roads. Never would politicians tell them that government coffers are dry and such projects can't be undertaken now or ever. The people don't know that the grader seen on the road mockingly busy in an election year would not be seen after the elections.

Sadly, our soft spoken and eloquent good fellows (politicians) believe in the wizardry of spin to the extent that some behave much more like psychopaths. They don't care a hoot if their followers cause genocide to perceived opponents or people belonging to the other part(s) of the political divide. The end result of all political activities is nation building. Different people have different approach to the same problem and the electorate must be educated along these lines not to see people as 'opponents'. When it comes to education the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) and the media have a major role to play. Equally too are the politicians.

I remember in 1996 prior to the election, Mr Kwame Pianim met a group of students in Casford Hall in Cape Coast University. After outlining his vision and his plans for the country. He told the students not to consider people belonging to other political parties as enemies. He said what the electorate need to be told is that, politicians mount political platforms to speak rubbish about each other and later converge at a point to discuss what they said against each other on their campaign. Why then have politicians failed to tell the public that these things happen in closet over a bottle of Stella Artois beer? If they know, as Kwame Pianim said, that this brings harmony and understanding between them, can't they try to ensure such peace and co-existence among their followers?

I once shared a hotel with Wereko Brobby at Tamale in October 2000 prior to the elections and after every rally he returned to the hotel with his team to analyse his speech and how the electorate responded. The sycophancy of his team members told one story, that after all politicians can also be spun. What his followers said in Dabgani, which he believed was praise, now belongs to political history.

This year is again an election year and politicians must behave responsibly and tell the public what they must know. They will want to know when their lives will improve and when the previous election promises would be fulfilled before December to justify any seeking of votes from them. It would make unpalatable reading but the reality can't be ignored. The voiceless have suffered for too long and need to be given the chance to also ventilate and get matters off their chest. The media has a social responsibility either to be the voice for the forgotten or medium to give people voice to ask questions and to give suggestions.

The public may not know that some media houses get huge income from government advertisement deals. Such media groups would not dare challenge the government but to promote the good works and image of it. The media is a major carrier of government and political spin (labour uses The Sun newspaper in UK here).

The situation is however different in the West where the people are politically informed and any media house which helps the government to deceive the people easily looses audience. There is a growing trend in the West where people tend to trust the media more than politicians and this is playing well to the advantage of the public. It puts everybody, including me, on our best moral discipline. Especially my friends in politics can no longer plant stories in the media without being noticed.

Post-modern society seeks every detail information in other to fit in the superstructure called global society. Failure to provide them with the needed information leads to mistrust, distrust and disloyalty of the people within the social strata. The Labour government in UK is on the ropes of the boxing ring because it has reneged on its election promises and blatantly, defiantly and arrogantly done the very opposite. For instance, their manifesto states clearly that they would not introduce top-up fees and foundation hospitals and would reform the public sector. But they have introduced foundation hospitals and top-up fees, bills that they forced through the House of Commons with arm-twisting. The informed public, with the help of the media, has turned on the government and its polling rating is at its lowest.

Fortunately for them, there is no credible alternative. But you never trust the British electorate they can spring (or winter) a surprise, so my good friend at the Ministry of Defence tell me when we met at Westminster on Saturday during the rehearsals for the trooping of colours to mark the Queen's birth day on 12th June 2004

The Ghanaian electorate must also ask politicians to produce results of their stewardship and every political message must be considered with a third eye. Not only the ruling party but also the minority parties must be subjected to scrutiny. Seeking the mandate to rule means they should tell the electorate their contribution towards nation building whilst in the shadow.

From now until December, I needn't tell any political office seeker that arrogance goes on sabbatical leave, giving humility the chance to play. Happily my old lady in the village would get a bowl of 'dawadawa' this election year in exchange for her thump. That is how politics operate.

P/S: Do you know that supermarkets in the UK know more about their customers than the government does? They use loyalty cards to determine your income and what your interests are.

Do you also know that every cow in the European Union (EU) is subsidised by £1.40 a day and that three out of four Africans have less than that to live on? (Source: Daily Mirror).

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