Power distance and legal training:
There is a sense in which some individuals think that by their education, association with individuals of influence, and some delusional perceptions of themselves, everyone must accept their views and kowtow to them when they speak. I will begin this conversation by pointing out that if there is any single individual who I admire in temperament, wit, and intelligence, then that person remains President Barack Obama. I thought, by association, we learn, as the adage “birds of the same feathers flock together” tend to portray. Aphorisms can be misleading sometimes.
When an immigration reform activist heckled and disrupted Obama’s speech in November 2013, as the commander-in-chief of the United States with enormous powers, Obama could have used his presidential powers to either order the removal of the heckler or he could have employed other sanctions within his power to silence the belligerent activist. Instead, he employed the occasion as teaching/learning moment to educate the general public and the individual in question about the democratic processes of the country he led. What is curious about this event, as I have employed it many times in my communication classes, is that, on our side of a the world (in Ghana to be precise), a District Chief Executive (DCE), who, compared less, in terms of authority and power, would angrily storm out of a publicly-funded event because someone had challenged his views or heckled him (Please follow the link to the visual comparison of the events here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oxiKWNdMEo ). While some could not make sense of why the most powerful man on earth would be dignified in his reaction to the heckler, and a DCE with lesser power and authority would angrily storm out of an event after being heckled, it was evident that what the Dutch Social Psychologist, Professor Gerard Hendrik Hofstede, described as power distance, one of the six cultural dimensions he postulated to describe human cultural behaviors, was at play in both cases.
According to Hofstede, in high-power distance cultures, on the one hand, the less powerful, of own volition, accepts and expects that power is distributed unequally. On the other hand, in low-power distance cultures, there is the drive toward egalitarianism from both the powerful and the powerless. As products of culture, these tendencies manifest themselves in how we deal with others in interpersonal interactions, including those in cross-cultural and intercultural encounters. Until recently, I had held the view that education recreates the generic man, expanding his or her horizon, equipping him with perspectives that are multiple and far-reaching, believing that with this comes broad-mindedness, sophistication, and the patience to explore views that are oppositional to ours. Thus, through education, someone from a high-power distance culture may learn and adapt his or her self-importance and power-crazy behaviors. That is if the goal is to disrupt the power hierarchies that have held our African countries back for a long time. However, as the social media war rages on, with all voices in competition, including those with expertise in just every subject matter under the sun, shouting from the rooftops to be heard, I am beginning to question my long-held view and to revise my position on education and adaptation.
If there is any single profession that places a restraint on individuals to explore arguments for their claim, evidence, import, reasonability, common ground, and other ingredients that encourage continuing dialogue and consensus, then it is the legal profession. It is the reason why I wouldn’t fault the un-initiated in advocacy and legal arguments from using vituperation as a response in public arguments when they find an opponent’s view offensive, as is the case in social media. But for individuals who have been liberated by the Queen of the Liberals Arts, Law, through education, to resort to vituperation by way of response to what they considered falsehood says something about our legal training institutions. Or, perhaps, such individuals simply flaunt such qualifications to bamboozle the public while deep down they are a walking contradiction of the values that are upheld and transmitted through the walls of the institutions they parade of having been a part of through training.
Mawuli Dake’s uncouth conduct:
The following conversation ensued between me and one Mawuli Dake of the African Leadership Institute. Mawuli Dake, like any Facebook commentator, had posted a comment berating the generality of African leadership as follows:
In the above statement, Mawuli Dake lampooned the totality of African leadership as descendants of the devil because they all have only one goal—to use subterfuge and shortsighted solutions to gain the votes of their citizens in an election, with particular reference to Sierra-Leone and Ghana. Having been an ardent Facebook user, I have encountered Mawuli Dake many times through some of his comments. A few of those comments would suffice here to drive my arguments home:
a.When a majority of Ghanaians thought the Electoral Commission of Ghana (EC) was wrong in disqualifying some presidential candidates of the opposition parties in 2016, Mawuli Dake was one of those who thought Ms. Charllotte Osei did a great job by disqualifying those candidates.
b. Mawuli Dake was categorical in a Facebook post, January 20, 2017, that the current Finance Minister, Mr. Ken Ofori-Attah, “is publicly on record to have contracted campaign loans in the millions of dollars, in previous elections. Loans that have remained unpaid & generated public controversy & perhaps even greater interest.” His fear was that when confirmed as a Finance Minister, the potential exists for the nominee to steal from the national coffers to defray those loans.
c. Mawuli Dake was one of those who thought that Ben Ephson’s pre-election poll results were a fait accompli that the NDC had won the election and the other opposition parties should stop wasting their time.
Based on the above posts and many other commentaries by Mawuli Dake, I became mostly conflicted in my mind, reading his post and trying to reconcile the image of a “neutral” leader of an African Leadership Institute with the comments. As a result, when Mawuli Dake ascent his high horse once again, berating the generality of African leadership of subterfuge and shortsightedness, with reference to the emergency mobile energy plants ordered by the Koroma-led administration in Sierra-Leone and the then Mahama-led administration in Ghana to resolve the power crisis facing their respective countries—I thought the opportunity had come for me to seek clarification on my perceptions, rightly or wrongly.
Find my comment in response to Mawuli Dake’s discourteous post below:
I thought Mawuli Dake was one of those singing Mahama’s praise to us to retain him. What has happened?
Mawuli Dake could have challenged me for evidence or simply debunk the assertion. Contrary to this expectation, Mawuli Dake threw all caution to the wind and decided to engage in a degradation ceremony. Please find Mawlui Dake’s unedited comments below:
After throwing the mud, or what is known as ad hominem in speech communication, Mawuli Dake had expected a response from me along similar lines. If you are privileged to deal with a wide array of students—military officers, business leaders, teachers, and ordinary citizens—you get to understand the varied energies that are in interaction in the pedagogical space, and how some of these adults can sometimes behave like petulant schoolboys with anger management problems. If I have learned nothing at all in my decades of teaching, I have at least mastered the tenacity to be patient in the face of effusions from petulant school boys like Mawuli Dake. I refused to enter the mud with Mawuli Dake. Rather, in retort, I asked if Mawuli Dake could be representative of the ideal intellectuals our institutions would be proud of molding. When Mawuli Dake realized he had barked up the wrong tree, and perhaps sounded more like one of those rancorous pedestrians you encounter on your Facebook once a while, he quickly “cleaned up” his uncouth words from the public space. Although a first step toward the restoration of sanity in public communication, Mawuli Dake failed to recognize that the act of restoration was incomplete without an apology.
Like the coward that he is, Mawuli Dake found it necessary to clean his act, but unnecessary to say sorry to those his public communication may have been offensive. When we post comments in virtual space, we are not communicating with only our target audience—the messages become publicly accessible to any Internet user, including our foes, friends, and young people. This places an enormous demand on us to use this mediascape with the utmost decorum and to model the behaviors we would like our followers to emulate. On this score, I had expected a short message of “I am sorry, my brother” from Mawuli Dake throughout the weekend but that didn’t come. As usual with self-delusional power-crazy megalomaniacs, Mawuli Dake is too big to say sorry to me and the multitude of individuals who found his comments uncomplimentary of a person who claims to be a leader. Is this the kind of leadership Mawuli Dake wants his to model for his followers?
I am not a perfect communicator. It is humbling to see my own character defects in someone else. The difference, however, is that as an instructor of communication, I understand that we don’t always get it right. But as a human condition, when we fail to get it right, I do understand the need for retraction and subsequent apology. However, Mawuli Dake has failed to do this, making me think that it is not all the people who flaunt this or that qualification or position who understand these simple rules about public communication. Chances are that Mawuli Dake does not even consider what we do on Facebook as public communication, particularly when we profile ourselves as representatives of the organizations we work for. To this end, I recommend for Mawuli Dake COMM 101: Etiquettes of Internet/Facebook Behaviors. I will be ready to design an adaptive learning program for him to help him overcome his fears of public communication and to overcome his inadequacies wrapped in self-delusional ego. With this, Mawuli Dake can learn how to be a good digital citizen!
Matters concerning African leadership:
Here is a privileged African “big man,” who works with African leadership as his online profile depicts. We are even fortunate that he could decipher what ails African leadership—shortsightedness and corrupt values. As a concerned and privileged African with legal training, Mawuli Dake could have proceeded to court or the chambers of parliament to demonstrate his commitment to the cause, by challenging the current Finance Minister, Mr. Ken Ofori-Attah, with his “public” record of liabilities, which would make it difficult for the latter to perform his duties without stealing from the public coffers to defray his indebtedness. Contrary to this expectation, Mawuli Dake, with all the privileges he enjoys as a neutral leader of an African Leadership Institute, rather chose to join the chorus of pedestrians, casting insinuation at the very people he wines and dines with. What is even more worrying is the fact Mawuli Dake’s erroneous belief that African leadership is cast in the same mold as the devil. I believe that is a strong statement to make about the generality of the leaders he claims to collaborate with in his work toward Africa’s development. On one level, Mawuli Dake failed to appreciate the fact that the leaders are simply products of systems that have failed to hold them accountable. In this regard, each African leader is a product of its context, not any predetermined cast in the mold of the devil. On another level, Mawuli Dake enjoys the association, as he would want the world to know through his photo upon a photo on Facebook, but turns around to berate the very people he claims to work with. What is it that Mawuli Dake knows that the rest of us don’t?
On a lighter note, African leadership has upped its game, from providing handouts in the form of sugar, rice, soap, and T-shirts, as enticements to voters, to providing emergency power plants aboard sailing ships. What that tells me is that as wicked as they are, particularly in the cast of the devil, African leaders have evolved from when the devil was represented in rudimentary anthropomorphic terms to the sophistication required of our contemporary world. Based on the temptation of Jesus Christ, if bread, deception, and earthly enticements were once objects of temptation, the African leader has evolved, knowing that today, bread alone would not do the trick, where ballot papers, parachutes, and collective interest trumps individual egoistic interest. The African leader thus resorts to the most sophisticated forms of deception, corresponding to the demands of the time. I hope the reader of the Holy Scriptures can find the lessons buried in this analogy.
While African leadership has evolved with the times and their sophistication, Mawuli Dake has refused to evolve. The reader can check the etymology of the word ad hominem, meaning an attack on a man rather than his/her argument. The reason this is relevant to this discussion is that it is a basic lesson in argumentation and advocacy—particularly those in political and legal spheres—that we do not have to attack individuals. Known as solutio recta, we are expected to attack the position of the person rather than deploy solutio ad hominem, which is an attack on the person. I have seen one too many of this form of discourse in the public square in recent times. While I tend to ignore ad hominem coming from pedestrian commentators, a pattern of this behavior is emerging among our educated elite, particularly those who are privileged to have received legal training, making me question the quality of training these folks are receiving from our legal institutions.
COMM 101 for Mawuli Dake:
As I have stated many a time, I do understand that the English Language is not our mother tongue. It could be Mawuli Dake’s third or fourth language as it is for most of us. But for someone who claims to have trained in some of the most prestigious legal institutions around the world, I had expected that Mawuli Dake would understand the expression, “I thought” to be an expression of opinion, which he could simply have confirmed, repudiated, or simply ignored. I was mistaken!
Sometimes, we are under the illusion that it is the institutions that make a man great. But as an educator, I have seen modest institutions churn out great minds, so have also seen great institutions produced deficient minds that bring shame and dishonor to the institutions they so much would want others to know they have been a part of. Stop hiding behind your inadequacies, using insults to fend off yourself from people who dare question you on matters of public interest.
You claimed you have never met me or had any conversation with me in which you praised John Mahama. That statement alone is a clear testament to the fact that you lack understanding of the medium you employed to throw the dirt you are made of. It is because of the likes of you that I am careful who I accept or extend friendship to on Facebook. When you requested friendship, I did not regard you as one of those yokels who throw insults on the medium at the least provocation. I thought you were well-bred, not just considering your name but the institutions you claim association with. However, as I stated earlier, it is not the institutions that make the man great. A few points of education for you:
- Knowing someone or the obverse is not a prerequisite for them to comment on your post or for you to comment on theirs.
- If you grow up with anger problems that you have not been able to seek help for, be aware that the Internet is a global medium, a public square of a sort, and not your mother’s kitchen where you can throw insults at helpless maidservants.
- If in your whole life you have never faced any opposition to your thinking, you need to reorient yourself, by first discarding that delusional perception of yourself that your views constitute the best, when you enter the public square and engage others in matters that are of public interest.
- When you commit communication blunders in this space, it is important that you retract or clean up your comments.
- If your unwholesome communication was directed at an individual, institution, or just any entity, be reminded that the entity deserves an apology from you. The way to restoring sanity and confidence in your communication with these entities does not lie in unfriending them.
Washington, D.C. and President Barack Obama:
I was even ashamed to find out that Mawuli Dake claims Washington, D.C. as a place of residence on his profile. However, that only goes to confirm the age-old aphorism that we can run away from the village and veil ourselves with all kinds of titles, but hardly does the village leave us. As the network has become part and parcel of our daily routines, most elementary schools are even teaching their students how to be digital citizens. The goal is to prevent or curtail these uncouth behaviors that tend to create unnecessary tension and friction on the networks and make it difficult for people to tackle some of the most difficult issues that confront us, without the fear of being insulted for no other reason than they must have asked a provocative question that the demi-gods of the Internet find distasteful.
Mawuli Dake, you also claim that you were a strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 victory. We all know how easy it is for victory to attract all sorts of characters, including the ones who need such association with famous individuals to boost their ego and to convince others that they, too, have arrived. Would your boss, President Barack Obama, tap you on the shoulders and say, son, you have done well by spewing a litany of vituperation online simply because someone dared question your political affiliation? I guess Barack would disown you in the famous words of his wife Michelle, “when they go low, we go high.”
What I find even more interesting is this. Here is an African strategist (a Ghanaian for that matter), who had helped strategize for the first black president to win the historic 2008 election in the U.S. He goes on from there to mobilize corrupt and deceitful African heads of state, “who are all sons of the same evil parents,” with the view to helping them see the light so they can stop using subterfuge in gaining and retaining political leadership. The irony is that he helps international candidates to win elections, but has never been interested in the elections of his own country. Is it out of benevolence, neutrality (as his own country’s politics is too polarized), or out of his gentlemanly manners that he finds it prudent to meddle in the elections of other countries but chose to remain on the touchlines of the politics in his country Ghana? I am quite sure if John Mahama were successful in the 2016 elections in Ghana, Mawuli Dake would have been that consultant par excellence who had helped Mahama to win the 2016 elections. Mawuli Dake, please stop the “neutrality” grandstanding and refrain from soiling the image of the institutions you are associated with that tend to portray you as a neutral voice. The question of neutrality goes all the way to Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates and beyond. You can tell your wife and children, your captured audience, that you are neutral in Ghana’s politics and they would have no options but to accept that proposition because their very existence is based on whether they agree or disagree with you. But let me remind you that when you deal with the general public, you must respect the views of those who disagree with you or question you.
Mawuli Dake, please stop making a killing field of social media and the Internet. Stop using a club of vituperation in response to simple questions that require repudiation or confirmation. Do make time to take COMM 101: Internet Etiquette for Social Media Users. Advice your followers who have watched you behave this way to do same, so they don’t repeat this uncouth behavior. I will do same for my followers.
Have a good day, son.
Prosper Yao Tsikata, Ph.D.