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Opinions of Monday, 10 July 2017

Columnist: Ernest Armah

Odekro: Recommendations to tackle citizen apathy & political indifference in Ghana

Confidence and trust in Politicians and Political Institutions to deliver public goods and uphold the rule of law have gone down.

It seems people are indifferent to the direction our much-touted democracy is going. And this is not because people are ignorant of how to get our political system up and running.

Although some good number of people are aware of mediums available to them to engage their MPs and other political leaders, they do not see the point in using them.

The Afro barometer survey of 2016 shows that apathy is very high; only few Ghanaians are willing to join others in raising an issue for redress and to demonstrate or protest.

Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are working hard to improve our governance structures and restore trust in our democracy. Social media and new ways of presenting information are powerful tools some CSOs are yet to take advantage of, to mobilize online for offline action.

By failing to capitalize on these tools, they tend to miss out on good opportunities to engage Ghanaians especially the youth on matters of national importance.

Here is another root of apathy. In our advocacy, we tend to take our messages to those who know best and yet, have failed to act. Less often to the ones at the base or what we call the “informal sector” who need to be empowered with easy-to-understand information to take civil action.

We have had serious conversations at conferences discussing ills that have plagued our governance systems without a serious, sustained attempt to bring it to the level of those in the informal sector or with little or no education.

Apathy can arise form how issues are communicated or framed to citizens. The middle class has noticeably disempowered itself in the way it struggles to effectively communicate national issues with the lower class or those in the informal sector; the technical nature of some issues require further breakdowns through simple explanations, usage of local and accessible language, imagery, analogies and opportunity cost scenarios.

It is therefore very necessary to frame issues differently to different target audience for comprehension and responsiveness to issues. For some issues like fertilizer subsidies which affects rural farmers most, CSOs will need to move discussions and other citizen mobilization tactics away from social media to physical communities to engage the bulk of non-netizens (digital illiterates).

Successive failure of political parties to materialize manifesto promises has contributed to the apathy phenomenon. Now some citizens have resorted to commercializing their votes; casting votes in favor of politicians who can afford to buy their votes. This developing trend however perpetuates the plight of the lower class and entrenches their victimization.


1. The middle class should refrain from abandoning issues that are not of immediate concern to them. The fact that their children might be in private schools for example, should not stop them from speaking against lower standards in public schools. The middle class can leverage their privilege and empowerment to speak to issues, demand for sustainable solutions and be advocates for the weak and vulnerable in society. The fact that they live in a ‘bubble’ and can live through economic hardship should not make them numb to the realities of the masses.

2. CSOs should frame issues in a manner that will resonate with the concerns of all citizens. That is, repackaging the same issue for different audience.

3. CSOs should sustain campaign on selected pertinent issues from time raised to a time solution(s) will be provided. In sustaining engagement on issues like education, maternal mortality, etc the institutions directly in charge should also be involved. For instance, the Ghana Education Service and the Ghana Health Service.

4. Advocacy work should be data-driven and balanced with human interest stories. Data and information deficits can be solved when urban based NGOs and CSOs partner with community based organizations (CBOs), academic institutions, and governance institutions.