The word propaganda is worse than it sounds. In the days heralding the demise of the Soviet Union and the Cold War, I heard the word come up in the conversations of my folks many a time. The word was actually pronounced “Kpakplaganda,” or something of the sort, which actually obscured its correct spelling from us young people who could hazard a guess of its meaning. Among these so-called unlearned folks, kpakplaganda was a bad rap. I did not have to enter a communication studies school to fathom the pejoratives the word conjured and continues to invoke in any communicative situation. The word propaganda is the total embodiment of lies, distortion, deceit, brainwashing, manipulation, and the waging of a psychological warfare, etc., even among those local folks.
Knowing the word propaganda is a contaminated communication device was enough to set my mind wondering what on earth would make a political party establish a department and name its operatives propaganda secretaries. This is in reference to the National Democratic Congress (the NDC). It was not until I became an undergrad in the 1990s that my readings in Classics would expose me to the historical attempts by humans to employ words to influence their listeners, hearers, or their audience to behave in particular ways. My readings in Classics did not in anyways alter my initial understanding of the word; rather, classics exposed me to a whole repertoire of propaganda in ancient Greece. I came out of my studies with the understanding that, in the battle for the minds of men, there is the need for ethical communication, principles both Plato and Aristotle painstakingly cultivated and promoted through their writings. The intention was to immunize good citizens against the application of logical fallacies and dishonest communication of bad lawyers and political demagogues in ancient Greece.
The period between 500 B.C. and 5th B.C. must be a long one. But when Athens and other Greek cities finally fell into the hands of the sophists, most famous among them being Protagoras, Gorgias, Antiphon, etc., the ethical foundations for communication had already been laid by the venerated forbears of the field—Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates—so Greece could not succumb completely to the manipulations of the sophists who earned a living through sophistry.
Surprisingly, today, AD 2014, when communication technologies have revolutionized the ways we communicate so much that men have become more sophisticated than the folks in my village who could decode the deceptive and manipulative tendencies in propaganda and the propagandist, my party, the NDC, still think it can maintain a department with such a despicable label. What is even more befuddling is the fact that the NDC is not known to lack individuals with a professional training in communication. I do not mean individuals who think that once they have microphones planted before them, they can say anything with reckless disregard to the ethical considerations that undergird public communication. Interestingly, the president is reputed to be a communicator par excellence or a communication guru as I have read in many local newspapers and their representations of the man. I will come to that issue of representation of the man someday in another article when time comes. I can go on to provide a list of individuals within the NDC who must have acquired this or that communication degree. But the question is: why does the NDC still maintain a propaganda department? Is it out of ignorance for the context in which communication is occurring today or it is simply a matter of telling Ghanaians how unsophisticated or ignorant they to be listening to the propagandists?
I have been following the upcoming election of NDC executives keenly. Interestingly, two of my acquaintances are in the race for the disreputable positions of a propaganda secretary and deputy propaganda secretary. I have been expecting that it might dawn on one of them to propose a change in the label for the department they intend to lead and the ideology that undergirds its operations. But with all apologies to these gentlemen, i am not sure we have so far heard anything new that will change the direction of the bad rap Ghanaians have been fed with all these times. I will not blame them in anyways, especially when propaganda has been rewarded at the highest levels of the political structure and allowed to infiltrate the corridors of power. Think of propaganda at its lowest ebb, when Ms. Anita Desoosa, NDC women organizer, attributed the depreciation of Ghana’s currency to dwarves looting the reserved dollars from the central bank. In a matter of days, this despicable failure in public communication and interview was rewarded by the president with an appointment to head an all-important institution like the National Disaster Management Organization (NADMO). Will you offer an employment to such a person in your private firm if that was her analysis of a serious issue such as she attempted to address? Trace the track record of others in government, their contributions to our political and economic discourse, and you will understand why propaganda must be made to flourish.
My advice to my friends who are in the trenches hoping to ascend to the propaganda machinery of the NDC is that, they should take a step back to understand the history of the word propaganda, propagandist, persuasion, rhetoric, etc. It will also be in their interest to understand how communication technologies have affected the ways we communicate these days and what it means in contemporary society to be a propagandist. They may start from the simple forum called Facebook by doing some experiments with whatever they intend to communicate to the public and try to inject some analysis into whatever the outcome of their miniature researches are going to be. When they complete this process, then they can either continue to propagate the label propaganda or call with alacrity for it to be discarded.
To conclude, I will state emphatically that the time is now for the NDC to drop the propaganda machinery and begin to think of ways to foster a community relations department. The continuous use of the word propaganda is insulting to the medium which carries it and the intended audience.