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Opinions of Thursday, 28 January 2010

Columnist: Awuni, Manasseh Azure

Richard Quashigah and His Bowl of Propaganda Pottage

This did not happen in Ghana. It happened abroad, and in Ghana abroad means Europe, America or Asia. Not only was he the richest man in the whole country but he also had a bewitchingly pretty daughter, the sight of whom was enough to induce you to revoke your vow of celibacy. He once called a party and threw a challenge to the young men in the land. He took them to a pool where he kept very dangerous crocodiles and said anyone who could swim across the crocodile-infested pool could either marry his daughter or take £5 million as a reward. He had barely ended when there was a heavy splash and to the utter dismay of all, a young man was swimming across the pool with all his strength. The world is replete with daredevils, you know?

Soon, he was at the other bank of the pool and was greeted with heroic applause. “Well, it’s now my turn to fulfill my part of the bargain,” the rich man said. Will you take the cash or my beautiful daughter for a wife?”
“I don’t want your cash or your so-called beautiful daughter,” the young man retorted angrily. “I want to see that stupid fool who pushed me into the pool!”
Don’t call this young man a fool though he could have taken the highly coveted prize and gone somewhere to celebrate his divine luck. But what if the “fool” who had pushed him did it again? Would he be so lucky the second time? If you are saved by grace, which is known only to you and the whole world is showering praises on you for your heroic exploits, what do you do? Even if you accept the praises, you have to take precautionary measures to avoid the danger that nearly spelt your doom and not behave like the typical Ghanaian. We accept the praises, brag and go to sleep.
The line between peace and war in the 2008 Ghanaian election was thinner than the edge of a circumcision blade. It just needed someone to fire the first shot and that sinister cloud of uncertainty that hung over the nation would give way for the content of hell to break loose. Our greatest luck was that God gave us the right representative of Jesus Christ we needed on that occasion. Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan, the Apostle of Integrity helped avert the unthinkable. To me, Dr. Kwadwo Afari Gyan is the greatest Ghanaian after Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
Recently the NDC had one of its greatest achievements as a party when it held a congress without the breaking of human skulls or spilling of the party liquid in their veins. It was supposed to be the biggest news item to be discussed that whole week, since the media did not delegate their agenda setting function to anyone. Even the opposition media could not hide their praise. Someone who was stronger than all the media in Ghana, however, sent drowsy Ghanaians all over the country to continue the sweetest experience of dawn on the streets and parks. Earthquake!
But is a peaceful congress so big an achievement to merit the praises the NDC expected? In this 21st century of civilization should we still fight where common sense should prevail? Like the young man in the story, were they surprised the congress ended peacefully? Was it not their effort? Anyway, the NDC had the cause to be happy. It was in Tamale some weeks earlier that the barrel of the gun had been employed to complete the unfinished business of the ballot box at the NPP regional congress.
The congress is over and the new executive now have one huge task – Agenda 2010. They are a good blend of the two imaginarily real factions in the party. Their task is enormous and despite their differences, they have a common interest. The hyena and the rat may be sworn enemies but they both have a common interest – the forest that houses them must not burn.
One person who has a lot of burden on his shoulders is Mr. Richard Quashigah, the Propaganda Secretary of the NDC. Like, Fiifi Kwettey his predecessor, Mr. Quashigah is an intelligent man whose communications credentials are not questionable. But he has accepted a responsibility from hell and as 2012 approaches the enormity of his task increases. He was given his baptism of fire when he linked the earthquake hoax to the NDC’s detractors. And if the NDC say their detractors, you and I know what or who they mean.
The NDC is planning to change the name of his portfolio. Ask every person on the street the meaning of propaganda and even if he cannot recite beyond the first four letters of the English alphabets, he has a fair idea of what propaganda is. Propaganda means lies. When politicians lie through their teeth, that is propaganda. Simple and short! So instead of propaganda, the NDC want to re-christen Mr. Richard Quashigah’s position. It may not be a biblical name but trust me, it will be something that connotes positivity. But will the value still not remain the same? What does propaganda mean at all?
Though propaganda now connotes negativity, the meaning of the term was not what it has now come to be understood. In their book entitled Propaganda and Persuasion, Garth Jowett and Victoria O'Donnell, define propaganda as the “deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.” Literally translated from Latin as "things which must be disseminated", the term propaganda is neutral or even positive in some cultures, while in others the term has acquired a strong negative connotation.

George Orwell in his political satire, Animal Farm uses Squealer one clever pig as Napoleons propaganda secretary and his manipulation of the thoughts of the other animals is simply peerless. He tells us that political propaganda neither began now or in Ghana here.
Propaganda is used extensively in religion, commerce and politics. It is therefore not strange that in their quest to wrest power, the NDC and the NPP resorted to vile propaganda in the run-up to the 2008 elections. In the words of Adolf Hitler, “through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way round, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise.” This is exactly what the NPP and the NDC started doing even before they went to congress to elect their flag bearers. While the NPP was of the view that Ghana was a paradise as compared to any other government, the opposition NDC was advocating change on the premise that the condition of living of Ghanaians was worsening by every passing day. But the reality on the ground was what prevailed in the end.
Changing the name from Propaganda Secretary to a more pleasant sounding word will not make any difference so long as the content of the messages remains the same. Besides, the success of the NDC in 2012 will not depend on propaganda. We are all witnesses to the day-to-day happenings in this country and voters in the election will not be flown down from Jupiter or Neptune to come and decide who should lead us. If propaganda only could ensure victory in an election, then the NPP’s reign could outlast eternity. We are gradually becoming more and more enlightened and cannot be kept in the dark forever.
The NDC is now at the receiving side and Mr. Quashigah and his men should better brace themselves up to defend, for there is not much to attack. In this circumstance the best way to defend is not to attack but to defend and defend well. Propaganda is not everything. It has its limitations. It ends where the people become enlightened and the reality begins to dawn like day. That was what happened in 2008 and can happen in 2012. I can bet my …. on that. (Sorry! One of my cherished readers once advised me never to bet my balls on anything but I nearly forgot)
My late grandmother used to tell us a lot of stories and even though I was still too young to take a shower in the bathhouse, I still remember a great deal of her stories. They centered on different themes. She told stories that would make you piss on yourself if you woke up in the heart of the night and could not get someone to accompany you outside to water the savanna grass. She also told love stories. She told stories about men who enlisted the services of love potions to win the hearts of beautiful women and married them. Such stories usually had a common ending. The love potion would eventually lose its potency and the consequences would be dire.
Propaganda will work but the ultimate decider will be the deeds the people who are at the helm of affairs now: from the President to the tin gods called the District Chief Executives.
A word to the wise is in Bongo (in the North), where my umbilical cord was buried almost two and a half decades ago.

Credit: Manasseh Azure Awuni [www.maxighana.com] email: azureachebe2@yahoo.com
The writer is the SRC President of the Ghana Institute of Journalism. To read more of his writings, visit www.maxighana.com