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Opinions of Saturday, 5 January 2013

Columnist: Umaru Sanda Amadu

The Teleprompter President

“Next month I will be coming back to address Parliament on the State of our Nation,” the president tweeted. He however failed to add that he’ll do that with the aid of a teleprompter - that little devil that confused not only television viewers, but the Members of Parliament and Speakers of the House who sat before him as he delivered the State of the Nation address in the Chamber of Parliament. Persons in the public gallery were not left out in the confusion.

“He is a chip of the old block,” one journalist remarked, in reference to the late Professor Mills’ reputation for speaking ex-tempore whenever he addressed the nation. The journalist, just like million other Ghanaians was clear in his mind President John Mahama was speaking off the cuff. Why blame him, when even a leader of the house did not know what was happening? What the journalist and many others failed to see were those two almost invisible plates just a meter or so in the president’s gaze.

Indeed there were pedestrian arguments about the smartness or otherwise of the ‘young’ and technology savvy President because he spoke ‘ex-tempore.’ For many, because the president ‘spoke without referring to notes’ on the dais, he’s the best and the ‘cutest’ president we’ve ever had. He spoke ‘off the cuff.’ That is how technology can make you look good!

But there is a gadget called a teleprompter!

Yes. He was using a teleprompter. The first president to do so in Ghana. Ei! This man! From a Samsung Galaxy tab and regular tweets to

I heard another journalist remark that it is an outstanding feat adding that “the diplomatic community is marveled and it will give us some credit as a country”. I don’t know how that can be proven though. But that’s his view. I don’t know what he will say when he reads a cartoon inscription which has replaced the old age saying that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” into “the only thing we have to fear is when the teleprompter goes off…” In fact, president Mahama himself will not feel easy when he sees all the blunders US President Obama supposedly committed when his teleprompter read: “Low Battery” in the middle of a congressional address. Lol! But truly speaking, it made the president deliver at his best before the 230-member Legislature today. While those thinking he delivered ex-tempore were beside themselves with joy, the technicians felt like a gun was pointed to their head while they carefully monitored every move the little machine made… the least mistake and the president might refer to his party’s founder who was sitting in the public gallery as Mr. Boom! Then the trouble would have come but thank God he sailed through the turbulent tide safely without a hitch.

Did you notice there were not a lot of boos and jeers? Perhaps, it’s because the minority side were busily admiring this new ‘ex-tempore speaking president.’ I could have sworn there were some red cards with inscriptions such as STEALER PRESIDENT under the desks of the members on the minority side but they laid there forgotten until after the technicians began dismantling the almost transparent plates which moments ago served as the president’s “rock” and “soul mate”.

How disappointed will many people feel when at the end, they are told the man was not “speaking from his head”? And the whole address, which was devoid of heckling, also lasted only twenty minutes. That was just about when some journalists took their first note while others went for water to prepare for the dozens of minutes of sitting that characterized previous addresses which my friend Nana Ama, a returnee, would describe as “uninspiring”.

My worry however was that no humour was on display like happens in previous years. Perhaps, the man who designed President Mahama’s teleprompter was busy gathering evidence on some pink sheets to contest some patent rights in court so he failed to add the “Humour” button on the screen. I mean, the man said nothing funny. He looked all serious and waxing lyrical and soon, it was over. Cho! He has proven that he is post-Independence born although my pre-Independence lawyer friend, John Ndebugre uses an i-pad too. I think it will be great if future presidents begin using tablets and continue using this innovative way of addressing the citizenry. It will be cool, if you asked me. But my few words to the president are thus: People still use Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s speeches which date decades ago as ringtones on their mobile phones and many will listen to Jerry Rawlings anyday even when he’s not saying what will make them happy. Ghanaians who do not directly gain from Obama’s presidency will stay up late to listen to him speak.

Apart from Obama, the previous two and many other great leaders spoke without teleprompters but their speeches were outstanding and “sweet to the ear.” Please, Mr. President. It’s innovative to use a teleprompter but it would be more innovative when the words in the teleprompter are prompting enough to the ear. Besides the technology you have introduced in our public speaking exercises, let us also see more post-independence thinking and actions from you. These actions should be devoid of neo/colonialists’ judgments in how you steer the ship of State as you prepare to take the oath of office. God help you and God bless our country.