Opinions Mon, 15 Dec 2014

Transforming the National Democratic Congress (NDC) Part II

• Would NDC delegates vote for the dwarf-propagandist?

• Those vying for Propaganda Offices should tell us how they wish to transform that department

I can now turn my attention to the NDC communication strategies. I will employ two representative anecdotes to illustrate the point. Recently, one of our executives imputed in the media that, dwarves have ransacked the Bank of Ghana, making it difficult for our government to manage the economy. In her wisdom, it was the reason for the freefall of the Ghanaian cedi against the foreign currencies in which we conduct international trade.

I asked myself a few questions: what was this message intended to achieve? What form of research informed this message? Can this message truly change the perception of her Ghanaian audiences to accept her position as sound and reasonable? What was the position of the NDC party and government on this blatant miseducation? Couldn’t the NDC have responded to this miseducation to bridle the loose cannon? But that was only symptomatic of the tragic failures within the communication structures of the NDC party under the leadership of our own General Mosquito. If our General who, by article 35 of the NDC constitution, is the chief operations officer of the party was on top of his job, he would not have only summoned this individual and help couch a statement to disassociate the party from such a reckless statement but he would also have issued a statement stating the accurate position of the party and maybe government. He would have also ensured that this rebuttal was circulated among our communicators who would in turn go out there to do the damage control. This would have assured the international community that we are serious about managing our ailing economy.

When my friend, who works for an international banking institution and a member of the NDC, contacted me on this issue, I could empathize with him concerning the embarrassment this situation must have caused him among his peers. My post speech analysis of the said speech revealed the following: First, the claimant had taken propaganda to absurd levels. Second, she attempted to undercut many years of research in macroeconomic policy analysis. Third, she had exposed the very government she had attempted to shore up public support for to public ridicule. And, last but not the least, she had dabbled in public deception.

Indeed, the claimant was not only addressing the issue of foreign reserves and exchange rates as a local or national issue, but she was addressing an international audience in the same stride. Benevolent organizations, for profit entities, and foreign governments have been subsidizing our budgets and have interest in the outcomes of our economic policies. For anyone to decide to speak either from the point of ignorance or with the intention to deceive, we must be aware of the repercussions of these forms of unethical communication on our standing before our multilateral and bilateral donors and lenders such as the IMF, the World Bank, the UN, the U.S. and Britain, etc.

In the social sciences, the argument is made that, a single case is ungeneralizable. I am treading carefully, so that I am not accused of using a single case as representative of the failures in our communication structures. It is not a pleasant situation for me to evoke these images to illustrate the point. When we had the same individual going out there to make the case that, the availability of subsidized condoms on the Ghanaian market is responsible for the rampant and irresponsible sexual behavior among Ghanaians, it was not in honor of the NDC party and government. Again, she must have been trying to justify why the NDC administration was right in imposing taxes on condoms. But she only succeeded again in peddling falsehood, which undercut years of research and investments in public education to the detriment of party and government. At the end of the day, in the case of condoms in particular, government backtracked on the idea of imposing taxes. The point is that, the outcome of that disinformation was damaging. For any competent consumer of communication, it was the lowest ebb of propaganda.

In the wake of such deceptions, I expressly dispatched a letter to the NDC headquarters to register my disgust at these pronouncements with our General Secretary. I waited for a response from our own General, but when that response was not forthcoming, I decided to clean up the miseducation. I, therefore, wrote a couple of rejoinders to set the records straight. The question is: between the one who brought the image of the whole party and government into disrepute and the one who wrote a rejoinder to correct the miseducation, whose loyalty to party, government, and country can be trusted? If we agree that loyalty is a value, then we must also accept that, that value cannot be premised on deception, miseducation, or disinformation. I am quite certain that, many of you members, sympathizers, and followers have on many occasions found yourselves in this precarious position of whether to defend the preposterous pronouncements of leadership or to disassociate yourselves from these tragic communication failures.

Since the beginning of our tenure in 2009, I started counting the number of foot soldier and cadre uprisings and tracked the issues at the heart of some of these uprisings, some of which even ended up in the law courts. Even though I lost count of the numbers, it was clear that at the heart of the problems are issues of misinformation, miscommunication, and miseducation. But it must be placed on record that, a teacher who is unfamiliar with simultaneous equation cannot teach simultaneous equation. He can only succeed in misleading his students, and that is what we have witnessed with our communication apparatus under the watch of our General.

If we respect our audience as competent consumers of messages, it requires that we must be competent producers of messages as communicators, too. WHO IN THIS WORLD WANTS TO BE DECEIVED? When Aristotle established what is now known as the cornerstone of public speaking—ethos, pathos, and logos—in ancient Greece around the 500 BC, it was to underscore the respect for ethics in public communication and civic engagement. Even though this was long before Greek states fell into the hands of the sophists, this enduring foundation guided the Greeks through those turbulent times of the sophists. For the benefit of those who do not have the disciplinary induction, sophism simply implies the use of fallacious arguments, especially ones used deliberately to deceive. Indeed, Plato, Aristotle, and Socrates had immune the good citizens of Greece against the application of logical fallacies and dishonest communication of bad lawyers and political demagogues who were products of Protagoras’s and Gorgias’s miseducation. Don’t forget, the sophist earned a living through sophistry—but no society can live on lies and deception for long! The realities and the hard facts soon catch up with that society which is in a state of denial. The chaos in our communication apparatus is beginning to turn propaganda into a worthwhile venture for people to profit in, and this must be uprooted now.

No wonder Aristotle’s three interrelated words—ethos, pathos, and logos—have endured in civic engagement for all these centuries. Ethos requires of us to use trustworthy sources in support of our messages. Pathos demands an emotional appeal to the audience, and logos places a responsibility on us to use evidence and reasoning to advance our claims. We must be aware that if propaganda was once an honorable word, the word propaganda has fallen out of that honorable usage. The term propaganda first came into common use in the Roman Catholic Church in Europe. In 1622, Pope Gregory XV commissioned a group of cardinals to propagate the faith in heathen lands. Later, a college of propaganda was set up under Pope Urban the VIII. This was for the purpose of training priests for missions. The word even predates its usage among the Catholics and could be traced to the Greeks in their use of satire, theater, and drama to influence political action and thought in ancient Greece. Indeed, no people have been without propaganda!

Today, however, the word propaganda has come to signify selfish, dishonest, and subversive communication. Communication artifacts or relics from the use propaganda in both World War I and World War II have served as useful materials in any public relations or strategic communication program to warn would-be professional communicators in our days about the dangers of unethical communication. The question is normally asked whether Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf made him a successful communicator or a villain.

If in 1992, when the NDC came into being, there was the need to cultivate the minds and souls of Ghanaians to accept the party’s philosophical orientation. I believe this noble call must have inspired our late NDC General Secretary, Mr. Vincent Asiseh to spearhead the adoption of the Roman Catholic model of propaganda with good intentions of winning hearts and souls for the NDC’s mission. The intentions of the founders were good, not bad. But today, the times have changed greatly, placing a demand on us to transform our party in ways that will respond to the needs of the time. Indeed, in 1992, there were only one radio and TV stations in Ghana. Government communicated its visions and missions through these monopolistic channels without facing resistance. I will submit that if even those forms of communications were meant to subvert or deceive, the channels for a rebuttal from the public was limited if not restricted. In such an environment, propaganda could flourish.

But with advent of new media, the way we communicate have been revolutionized. Wherever the network extends, we have individuals who are searching and researching information around the clock on the Internet. In this case, any propagandist who is out there to mislead is sure to fall on his own dagger of deception when found out, as some information are just a google search away. In this case, I declared propaganda a DEAD STRATEGY in the arsenals of any forward-looking communication department. It is even worse when we have blatantly branded ourselves as purveyors of propaganda. What we are telling our audiences is that, “I know you are stupid and you will accept whatever I tell you,” or “there are no political consequences for the things we say.”

I have questioned myself many a time concerning what our intentions are for still keeping a propaganda label for our communication department. If the idea is to communicate propaganda among ourselves as party members, I believe we would succeed in nudging our mammoth members in the direction of our propaganda. But if our communication is intended to win the floating voter, the voter who has just turned 18, and many others who are not our members, then I am sorry the times have changed and any attempt to maintain the label of propaganda will do more harm to our party than good.

Today, the idea is to persuade the voter. Persuasion is central to the democratic project. Our task should be: how do we create trust among us and our constituents? How do we create messages that are reasonable, truthful, and meant for the benefit of our constituents and society at large? How do we avoid fallacies in the messages we create? And, most of all, can we show respect to our audiences by choosing persuasion over propaganda as a communication strategy? On this note, I propose the dropping of the propaganda label for our communication department and replacing it with Community Relations Department or Public Affairs Department. In this regard, a propaganda secretary will morph into Community Relations Secretary or Public Affairs Secretary.

As I make these propositions, it is not only sad to observe that our General Secretary has not been able to foreshadow these needed changes in order to ensure that the necessary reforms were initiated to bring party communication in line with contemporary trends, but I am also reminded of the onerous challenges the likes of Linus Njonolah had faced. If today Njonolah had prevailed, it is only because he was bold, astute, and could swim against the tide of resistance from the beneficiaries of the current structures of our party. For Mr. Njonolah, the decision must have been that he would not be the next Goosie, Obed, or Nana Konadu.

The NDC must count itself blessed to have very competent young and selfless professionals in all endeavors who are willing to put their efforts at redeeming the social democratic image of the party. On this occasion, I wish to salute Kofi Adams, Linus Njonolah and many others who continue to hold aloft the flicker of hope that made it possible for many competent individuals within our ranks to be enjoying this opportunity that I am also enjoying today. Thank you, comrades, for you have set the future of our great party on a new path. You have watched the detrimental effects of inbreeding in our party and took steps to ensure the “bad clause” was removed to bring harmony into party affairs, when the CEO of our party was more interested in protecting that because it gave him undue advantage.

It is sad to observe that, for some time now, dissent in our party has become associated with disrespect for personalities, not the status quo that is holding us back. Far from it. The dissent of our loyal members is like the rudder of a ship. They are in the negligible minority, small like the rudder compared to the size of the ship it guides. Without our loyal dissent, this party would become a rudderless ship. It is from this important minority that our direction and survival as a party depends. On occasions like this, this minority will need all hands on deck to keep the rudder in position in a stormy weather.

Prosper Yao Tsikata

Columnist: Tsikata, Prosper Yao