Feature Article of Thursday, 1 November 2012
Columnist: Gyan-Apenteng, Kwasi
If you are young in Ghana and want to be rich very quickly there are two routes open to you: you can become a preacher or a politician, and having made that lucrative choice your best tool towards fame and fortune is digital printing, especially large-format printing of the type that has made outdoor advertising so much easier and widespread in the last twenty years. Our politicians and pastors have embraced and used the basic psychological premise of outdoor advertising: if it is on that large billboard it must be true. Of course, it would be inconceivable that people in such narcissistic occupation as politics would need much persuasion to appear on posters and billboard.
Every four years this country suffers a surfeit of political advertising in the form of flags, buntings, posters, flyers, and billboards. Unfortunately, billboards and signboards are not removed with the same urgency with which they are planted and so in many parts of Ghana, one still comes across boards from the 2004 and 2008 campaigns. (Indeed, according to many such boards, Messrs. Mills and Kufuor are still running for President!) This year has been no different; indeed given that the technology is improving all the time it is not surprising that these adverts have also become sharper and more numerous.
Travelling from Accra to Wa to report on STAR Ghana grants recipients’ activities, I decided to check out the quality and quantity of the political advertising on offer in the Eastern Region. On the quantity front the NDC is winning hands down, especially with flags and buntings, streamers and other decoration hanging from trees and lamp-posts. In large parts of the Eastern Region there is a small 3 x 4 feet picture of Candidate John Mahama as one enters every town and sometimes another one in the middle of the town or village. The NPP comes second in the poster skates although it does show more poster-power in some places than others.
For example, the NPP appears to “out-poster” the NDC in the Akuapem towns but just. However, the PPP appeared to have the edge at Kitase, the town after the Peduase Lodge, but that is because it probably was preparing for an event last Tuesday. As we went past, group of highly-spirited youth, perhaps filled with a bit of liquid spirit, but probably just been inspired by Dr. Nduom’s AWAKE message, held high the party’s placards and chanted songs and slogans. In Obosomase where two adjacent houses have flown rival NPP and NDC flags all year round, there are buntings of the two parties streaming across the town centre. But the most ubiquitous notice is the NPP’s Nana Addo poster proclaiming that FREE SHS IS COMING.
That NPP board appears to strike an economic compromise. Since the NPP has decided that the Free SHS will be its main selling point in this campaign one would expect it to be proclaimed from mighty billboards across the country. Instead the bards are of medium size, perhaps 5 x 4 feet and are everywhere. In some towns and villages they are placed on the other side of the road from the almost obligatory Mahama portrait, and one can imagine the two inanimate objects coming alive and waving to each other when no-one is watching. Every now and then one sees an Ayariga or Nduom billboard but hardly any offering from the CPP or any other party in this part of the country.
In other parts of the country, notably in the Central and Western Regions, the situation is rather different. Dr. Nduom’s PPP is highly visible in those two regions, which leads to the question whether political advertising must aim to consolidate one’s core voter hold or to win new adherents. Paa Kwesi Nduom is a household name in Ghana and his famous facial furniture gives him instant face recognition in any crowd. However, one could argue that he was overspending in the areas where he is best known and perhaps skimping where he needs a bit more exposure. The same can be said of the CPP which has strong visibility in the Western Region, especially in the Nzema area where it’s lone MP and Party Chairperson, Samia Nkrumah comes from. It will be interesting to see whether the PNC will become more visible heading towards the north generally, but more specifically in the Upper West Region which is its spiritual home.
One must wonder whether this plethora of advertising display has any serious effect on the outcome of the election. Political advertising comes in many forms, including newspaper, radio, and television advertising in addition to the outdoor displays and other more intimate forms such as leafleting, flyers and the like. They often work in combinations so it is difficult to gauge the effect of any one medium in determining the results of the election. However, given the extent and expense to which parties go to plant so many boards of different qualities and sizes the politicians must have concluded that this form of advertising gives them a fair return on their investment.
Unfortunately, one effect of the ease of digital printing is that it tempts all of us to go for cheap uniformity at the expense of localized creativity. For example, the NPP’s campaign is built around the newly-smiling picture of Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo Addo, one wonders whether local variations would not be appropriate for different constituencies albeit more expensive. Of course, the party would argue that its core message is for the whole country. However, The NDC is even guiltier of this uniformity since it also builds campaign around the personality of the equally smiling John Dramani Mahama, but without any specific message apart from affirming a Better Ghana. A party in power ought to be a bit more pictorial in proclaiming its achievements while a party in opposition could also give a glimpse of the brave new world it HAS to proclaim.
On the positive side, negative advertising is almost non-existent in the poster campaign; no party is speaking evil against another party. Perhaps it would be interesting to hear from political scientists, sociologists and psychologists why the daily barrage of insults has not translated from word into print and images. My personal view is that we tend to be more vociferous in speech but almost intimidated by writing and reading. Also, results from the Media Foundation for West Africa survey of language use in radio political discussions show that politicians and commentators are more voluble in Ghanaian languages than in English, and of course, all the poster slogans are in English!
The exceptions are few, but one that stands out it is the NK?SO? NKOAA slogan employed by Mr. Victor Smith, the NDC candidate for Abuakwa North. Mr. Smith must also win the beauty contest in the poster war – so far. Decked in his immaculate kente, the former aide to President Rawlings rather reminds me of President Kufuor against whom the candidate confessed to lying when he was vetted by Parliament for his current appointment as Eastern Regional Minister. Mr. Smith would say that it was all in the spirit of political campaigning.
So far, the poster war in the Eastern Region is something of a draw between the NPP and the NDC. The NDC wins the numbers game while the NPP has the edge with the message. The other political parties form a feeble line behind those two giants with the PPP maybe nudging a distant third. It may all change, as parties unleash their cash and fury on the public in the second half of November. And don’t forget: the NDP is yet to hit its stride, and there is no picture yet of Kofi Wayo.