Opinions Mon, 9 Mar 2009

Whither GNA @52, Osagyefo’s baby

By Kwesi Afriyie

As we celebrate the 52nd anniversary of our independence I see the preserved body of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah turning in his grave not because of the protracted failure of African Unity talks or even for the enduring neo-colonialism, but because his baby, Ghana News Agency (GNA) is gradually nearing its grave.

It is important to note that GNA was established on March 5, 1957, a day before our independence and so GNA is indeed 52 a day before Ghana is. At 52, the flagship public wire service on the continent, the onetime pride of Ghana and of Africa and the leader on whom almost all wire services on the continent was modelled is now fast becoming a white elephant as a result of decades of gross political negligence and inundation in the sea of archaic ideas, lack of vision, zero mission, poor management and bad leadership.

After the days of Osagyefo, it seems subsequent governments have either not known what to do with the national wire service even though they all benefitted and continue to benefit from the work of the agency, or they may have considered GNA as one of the propaganda tools Osagyefo, so they have allowed GNA to fade gradually into its present state of near obscurity to spite Osagyefo’s memory.

GNA was set up basically to counter bad international press about Ghana and Africa, promote national and continental cohesion for development, promote the African personality and also to be the major news source for state organisations both here and abroad. The principles are accuracy, reliability and speed, even though one is not sure if the speed aspect is still intact.

Osagyefo in his wisdom ensured that for GNA to be effective, it had several privileges in terms of resources, training, overseas correspondence and more. As a result GNA became the training ground for not only many of the top Ghanaian journalists but also for their counterparts on the continent. GNA was where nations sent journalists to be trained to go back home and man state-owned media houses on the continent.

Over the years, GNA has completely been scrapped of all those privileges and as a result has lost that position of renown. Today journalists come from other news agencies on the continent and decry the state of GNA because whiles their governments learnt from GNA long ago that they can’t afford to neglect the national wire service, our governments decided to spite Osagyefo by neglecting his baby, the GNA. For decades now, governments only go as far as making empty promises to GNA, which are never fulfilled.

GNA used to have permanent correspondents in London, New York, Nairobi and Lagos. But today she can’t even afford to maintain its local correspondents, much more having one in even Lome. This is in spite of the fact that the editorial staff members of GNA continue to show the highest professionalism, quality and dedication to their work. To say that GNA reporters are comparable to any other in the world today is an understatement, but they are probably the least motivated group of state employees today.

GNA used to be the first point of call for breaking news in this country. But today people prefer to call Joy fm, peace fm and other radio stations. In fact they do not even know that GNA exist. GNA reporters can confirm that they have already come up against a question like “which newspaper is GNA”. People simply do not know GNA because for years several factors have connived to push GNA to the back bench.

But the negligence of previous governments is not the only cause of GNA’s woes. The push out factors for people like me is the poor management and bad leadership at GNA. Over the years the management of GNA has not been the best. Sources within GNA can confirm that the management always changed anytime there was a change of government. That clearly suggests the politicizations of the management, which is partly to blame for the current state of the agency. Of all the previous managements of GNA, sources inside and outside GNA can confirm that the era of Rev. Enim, the first General Manager of the agency was the best. Rev. Enim was reputed for making things happen for GNA and the staff of GNA. The current generation of GNA staff remembers Mr. Robert Kafui Johnson, who was seconded from the Volta River Authority to manage GNA a few years back. Mr. Johnson’s administration was short lived due to sabotage but he is still remembered for his clear sense of vision and mission mindedness.

Mr. Johnson is on record as having clearly communicated his vision to the staff and spelt out very SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) goals to the staff. He gave a clear indication of where he wanted to take GNA and how he GNA was going to get to that destination. He would have probably achieved great things for GNA but for the work of saboteurs, of which members of the current management were part. Because Mr. Johnson came from VRA, the laggards within his administration connived with the some questionable characters in the local union to do the pull him down job.

It is sad to say that since the demise of Mr. Johnson’s administration, the hope of GNA staff has waned even deeper and deeper and depression has become the lot of about 97 per cent of the staff of GNA except for a few industrious ones who are managing to ride the storm. Nana Apua Dua, who was recently in the news for taking a whopping 80 million monthly package as GM, may be a fantastic journalist as his credentials would show, but he is probably the worst GM GNA has ever had. Since Nana took over, I am told he has not communicated a single vision to the staff of GNA and no one seems to know exactly where he is taking the agency, if at all he is taking the agency anywhere.

In fact under Nana Apua Dua, to talk of GNA as being “managed” is to insult the concept of “management” because he and his team do not seem to know the meaning of the first letter “m” in management. At best the “management” team of GNA could be described as a bunch of public servants who have managed to rise through the ranks and gotten to the top of the ladder and are now preparing for their retirement. If what the current GNA management are doing is what “management” is all about then I think management is a useless venture. I dare say that GNA is the poorest managed organisation in Ghana today and the current state of the agency is largely due to that.

A couple of factual illustrations would corroborate the assertion that the GNA under Nana Apua Dua and his cohorts Boakye Danquah Boadi and Felix Forson is the poorest managed in the country today and if anybody, including the government has any plans of saving GNA, it must first save GNA from the current management, particularly the GM.

For instance what is the sense in painting the whole of the exterior of the GNA head office building, paving the compound and mounting garages when the interior, where the staff members sit to work is so depressive, dirty and uninviting? But that in the “wisdom” of the GM is one of the best achievements of any GM. And I am told he brags about it quite often, especially at staff durbars, which are seldom organised.

The GM also boasts of having arranged for GNA to get cars from the government, when in fact those pick-ups was a promise made by Mr. Dan Botwe, when he was minister of information and they were later delivered by Mr. Kwamena Bartels when he took over as minister of information. The GM has a penchant for taking the glory for the low impact political packages delivered to GNA. On the contrary he does not take any initiative outside of what the government does for GNA and would either criticise or remain indifferent to initiatives by others within the agency to get some support to the agency.

The GM almost always tells the staff “if you know what I am doing for you, you will know that I am seeking your interest.” Sadly years have gone by since he took over as GM and the staff is yet to see what it is that he claims to be doing for them. He has in fact been one of the stumbling blocks in the effort of the staff to negotiate for better remuneration, even though he was taking a huge monthly sum home, courtesy National Media Commission (NMC).

Recently at a meeting with the new Minister of Information, the embattled Mrs. Zita Okaikoi, Nana Apua Dua had the nerve to tell the minister in front of the media that he had “lots of ideas”, but could not implement them because of lack of funds. In fact I was scandalised by those claims because you can’t have “Nana Apua Dua” and the term “ideas” in one sentence in the positive sense. The only time the two terms could come together would be when you want to say that “Nana Apua Dua had no ideas or is suffering from ideas deficiency.”

Every true leader communicates his ideas to his followers and they run with it. As the followers run with the ideas, winners are scored and the credit goes to the leader who propounded the idea in the first place. Nana does not communicate anything, probably because he prefers to do it all alone and take the glory. Sadly he lacks the simple idea that there may be people under him who could facilitate the realisation of some of his so-called ideas quicker if he shared them with the staff. That is a very common idea but Nana doesn’t seem to have even that.

As is to be expected of people like him, he also will not take any good ideas from other people even though he doesn’t necessarily communicate better alternatives.

Talking about the abilities of people under him, Nana in his reign has made some of the worst decisions in human resource management, which has led to the loss of valuable staff of the agency, including myself to other organisations. He chooses to victimise people he sees as political opponents, howbeit, without evidence and stifles the efforts of same even if the agency would suffer. He has a penchant for putting square pins in round holes just to frustrate his perceived opponents.

Before Nana factionalism at GNA was bad, but under Nana it has reached its worst stage to the extent that there are now two local unions in GNA now. When it suited Nana he used one of the unions against Mr. Johnson. Now that same union is Nana’s worse nightmare in GNA. The leader of that union, one Mintah is supposed to be the electrician for GNA but he doesn’t work and yet he is paid salary every month. The management only talk about his case but do nothing to bring him to book.

Under Nana, GNA has witness some of the worse situations of financial flows from government, precisely the Ministry of Information. To cut a long story short, it seems every month the money given to the agency for administrative cost is reduced by the ministry and that has led to the suspension and delays in several staff motivational packages and even other very important expenses.

That is Nana’s idea of prudent financial management. He prefers that the staff should suffer instead of coming up with simple but smart “ideas”, outside of the government support to raise extra funds to sustain the agency. One of the unfortunate but unprecedented achievements of Nana is that for some time now, GNA does not subscribe to private newspapers because there is no money. That is the kind of GM that GNA has – the type that throws his hands in despair instead of thinking outside the box (government support) and coming up with “ideas” that he will be remembered for.

The GM did not even consider that the private newspapers were necessary to help staff monitor their stories and features. As a journalist, he definitely benefited from the agency’s subscription to all newspapers but here he goes cutting out that valuable resource without considering that he could probably negotiate with the publishers of the newspapers for a barter trade – GNA stories for your newspapers for the time been.

There is a business department in GNA. I quite remember one of the ideas Mr. Johnson communicated to GNA staff was to ensure that the department becomes a marketing machinery for GNA itself besides collecting a placing small announcements and obituaries in the newspapers for clients. Under Nana, GNA is yet to see what the department has done beyond its traditional role and what it has done in terms of promoting the image o the agency.

Nana and his gang, particularly Boadi, have been adamantly opposed to the commercialisations of GNA, which is somehow justified, but they have taking their positions to the extreme and have also turned down any suggestion of GNA raising a sustainable support outside of what government gives. Even the recent past information minister, Asabee, suggested ways of GNA doing business to get money, but Nana and his cohorts won’t take it. They also don’t believe that GNA could benefit from sponsorships from corporate organisations or a larger scale beyond the peanuts the agency raises for annual events.

It is said that when a sheep leads and bunch of lions and a lion leads a bunch of sheep and the two groups go into a battle, the bunch of sheep being led by a lion will win the battle, because of the kind of leader they have. I can confidently say that the staff of GNA, particularly those in the newsroom, are a bunch of lions, but they are being led by sheep, which have no ideas, no courage and do not mind leading their followers into danger.

I could go on and on, but the most important thing is to save Osagyefo’s baby not to make it a political propaganda machinery, but to restore it to its past glory and even more, particular in the face of the stiff competition on the media landscape and the threat of the internet to wipe off GNA’s subscriber base and earnings there from.

I dare repeat that if the Minister of Information really mean to make good her promise to save GNA from its current state and restore the agency and place it on a sound footing to be vibrant again, then she must be thinking about first saving it from those bunch of near retirees called the management. Long live GNA, Long live Ghana.

Columnist: Afriyie, Kwesi