Messages Vs. messengers

April 20, 2017
Source: Esther A. Armah | | Ghana
Messages Vs. messengers

100 days, 104 achievements. 1 district, 1 factory. 1 dam, 1 village. Political numbers always spark heated often politicized debate. VP Dr. Bawumia claimed the NPP government had delivered 104 achievements in the NPP’s first 100 days in office.

Party politicians inevitably rushed to refute or applaud the list Dr. Bawumia ticked off during the Joy News event. Dr. Bawumia issued a caveat before his 20 minute presentation:  the NPP never claimed it would deliver change within 100 days, but within their first term – i.e. four years.

More numbers. 100 days vs. 4 years.

In this instance, Dr. Bawumia was the messenger for the NPP achievements – or as one Ghanaian newspaper languaged it ‘policy roll out’. At times, the 20 minute presentation felt more like a man and a political party still in campaign mode – one who had yet to fully transition into governance and leadership.

I am not here to debate the numbers of achievements articulated by Dr. Bawumia, although I do think verification is a crucial and necessary exercise. Party politics dictates slogans like ‘100 days of deception’ – but journalism’s role must be to seek to verify what was claimed as achievement and not simply invite each party to further expand their  sloganeering.

Less debate, sometimes more journalism matters.

My concern is the growing disconnect between the NPP message and the messengers whose actions confuse and contradict. Their role is to convey and continue that message into their constitutencies. This disconnection reminds us that leadership is not necessarily a trickle down affair.

A number of recent incidents highlight that disconnection. 

Is the NPP developing a disconnect between its message and those elected officials who are essentially the messengers wading into communities engaging with the people to make the message move, live and become walking, working policy?

A series of gaffes suggests that might indeed be true.

The most recent: the regrettable words of the Northern Regional Minister, Salifu Saeed. He was recorded addressing people in North, and was heard articulating how the people of the North would get ‘big contracts’ because the Party Chairman is ‘a contractor’ as is the Vice Chairman. In the hands of this messenger, a party’s message to protect the public purse and maintain transparency through good governance is now transformed into politics as usual. The politicians chop, we should chop too.  

The sound was played on Starr FM.  It sparked anger, demands for retraction and even threats of court action.

An aide to the Northern Regional minister appeared on Morning Starr claiming that the voice on the tape was not even that of the Minister. That was until the Minister himself came on the phone and confirmed that this was indeed his voice.  He went on to complain bitterly of what he perceived as the media’s failure to adequately contextualize what he felt was an important message.

But the facts were confirmed.

The Northern Minister – the messenger - flouted the message of party leadership and President Akufo-Addo. His inaugural speech, the state of the union address and  the Ghana at 60 address spoke, reiterated a governance that departed from the familiar territory of politicians who profit from their position even as people suffer due to the position of the country.

He was not alone in becoming a problematic messenger that failed to live up to or adequately convey the message.

In another incident, the highly anticipated free SHS policy touted by government came under economic scrutiny. One repeatedly asked question: how would it be paid for? Senior Minister Mr. Osafo Maafo suggested via The Heritage Fund. His response sparked outrage, banner headlines and much discussion for two reasons. One concern: this was inappropriate use of The Heritage Fund. For me, the more prevalent issue was his response conveyed a complete lack of plan for how to pay for something so huge,  and about which there was so much excitement.  What followed were the retractions.  Other Ministers weighed in and denied that the Heritage Fund would be the funding source for the free SHS Policy.

And the third equally recent issue is that of the IMF extension possibility. The  expiration date is April 2018. The Minister for Finance, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, says no expansion. That’s it. And yet the Minister of Monitoring and Evaluation, Dr. Anthony Akoto Osei suggests negotiations to expand until December 2018 have begun.

Are we extending, or are we not extending – that seems to be the question neither Minister can clearly answer?

Why is connecting message and messenger so problematic? These 3 incidents point to major issues on economic independence, implementable vision and good governance with transparency.

This is a government that has lauded transparency, whose president has consistently campaigned and now governs under a mandate that this is not politics as usual. He has said he and his party are the change agents, those willing to do things differently, to lead with a fresh vision.

And that is a powerful message.

The trouble is his messengers keep hauling us back to those days of a familiar politics as the land of ‘chop and go’. These messengers reignite that familiar politics where money can be made and the people can be bought with sweet promises of a few Ghana cedis.

Language matters. As a global communications expert and a Communications Lecturer, connecting the message with the messenger so that the people receive one clear, undiluted, non-contradictory vision is crucial.

Right now, Mr. President your message is being thrown off course by your messengers.

You pledged to be a Mr. Fix It who is in a hurry. You may need to start by fixing your messengers so they get on board with your message.