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Opinions of Monday, 19 May 2008

Columnist: Ato Kwamena Dadzie/Daily Dispatch

THE OUTSIDER: National orientation – how far?

When I first heard that the president has created a ‘Ministry of Information and National Orientation’, I knew he was up to no good. The whole thing sounded like an idea borrowed from North Korea.

Kwamena Bartels was the first minister for the new ministry. When he was asked about what he understood his ‘orientation’ role to be, he said something to the effect that he was going to initiate programmes to make Ghanaians change their attitudes. Top on his list of attitudes that needed adjustment was the tendency for some Ghanaian men to whip out their ‘langalanga’ to take a piss in public – in gutters, against trees and even on church walls. That sounded like the vice president’s failed ‘campaign for greater discipline.’ But we later learnt that ‘orientation’ was far broader than getting men to stop urinating in public places.

In August last year, Aliu Mahama and Oboshie Sai-Coffie launched the ‘national orientation programme’. According to Mrs. Sai Coffie the programme was “more of process of transforming and formulating a culture that challenges each Ghanaian to do his best for himself and for his country.” This was going to be achieved on five ‘pillars’, which will encourage Ghanaians to be proud, patriotic and put their nation first, to adopt a can-do attitude and to be productive, accountable, dedicated and productive.

It’s been eight months since the programme was launched and I am still not convinced that we need a whole ministry to teach Ghanaians to be patriotic, dedicated, determined, productive and disciplined. Encouraging Ghanaians to take on these attitudes, I believe, is what the National Commission for Civic Education is supposed to be doing. That is why the official launch of the orientation programme only succeeded in making me even more suspicious of the president’s motives.

Just a few days ago, my suspicions were confirmed.

I saw a Metro Mass Transit bus with advertisements sponsored by the Ministry of Information and National Orientation. There were two pictures captioned “Ghana then” and “Ghana now.” The “Ghana then” caption was under a picture of the Children’s Block at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital and the “Ghana now” caption was for a picture of the newly-build administration block at the same Korle Bu hospital.

That was when it struck me. I was right. The president, indeed, was up to no good when he decided to attach ‘National Orientation’ to the Information Ministry. “Changing attitudes” was just a facade for a propaganda blitz for the ruling party. When I mentioned the two pictures on the bus to a friend, he told me that there was a billboard at the Kwame Nkrumah Circle also with ‘Ghana then and now’ captions. I hate to be stuck in traffic so I hardly go to the Circle area. But to find things out for myself, I decided to take a drive there to see the billboard. There is a picture of a road with a lot of potholes captioned ‘Ghana then’ and there is another picture of very beautiful and smooth strip of road captioned ‘Ghana now’.

The message here is that before this government came to power all our roads were full of potholes but now, all the roads are paved and smooth. Never mind that so many farmers can still not get their foodstuff to the market centres because a lot of our roads are in such bad shape.

What they are also trying to tell us with those pictures on the bus is that our hospitals are in better shape than they were before Mr. Kufuor and his party came to power. Never mind that the only change the Children’s Block of Korle Bu has witnessed over the past eight years is an increased number of parents sleeping on the bare floor with their babies.

But I get it. This is what ‘national orientation’ is about. When things are not good, we should create a picture in our minds that all is well and be proud. I get it. It just so happens that such ‘orientation’ condition the minds of people to want to retain the ruling party in government.

The new man in charge of information and national orientation, Steven Asamoah Boateng, has dismissed the charge that ‘orientation’ has now turned into ‘propaganda’. “Government information should reach everybody and whatever means [it] takes, we will do it,” he says. These means include branding buses and raising billboards to tell us what the government is doing. Mr. Asamoah Boateng insists that government is using these to “tell its story” and counter the lies of the opposition. He has vowed that the story telling will move into a higher gear soon and that information vans are going to be deployed around the country to let the people know about the good deeds of the government (and by extension, the ruling party). “It’s a reality of life,” he says.

Why didn’t they tell us about this “reality” earlier? They should have told us from the onset that ‘orientation’ was only going to feed us with government lies and half-truths, which will help project the ruling party. No wonder I don’t feel ‘oriented’ at all.