The Late President Mills, during his term, gracefully opened the doors of political office to young people of our dear nation to have the opportunity to learn and contribute their bit to advancing the course of democratic governance in our republic.
The public response to President Mills’s gesture was equivocal – he was hailed and criticised simultaneously by sections of the civil society. Out of the numerous attacks thrown at him, perhaps the stickiest was the “Team B government” comment.
President Mahama, since being sworn into office in January 2013, had pursued a similar policy of appointing the youth in his government, just as his predecessor. Opinions continue to differ as to the appropriateness of this policy. In our opinion the best judges of this policy will be the record/performance of the beneficiaries of this policy in frontline politics.
Whilst a number of young people in government have dispensed their duties fairly satisfactorily, a few of these young appointees, for God’s sake, have not justified their holding of frontline political office. Hon. Ms. Victoria Hammah and a few others who for want of time would not be brought into the present discussion makes us wonder if this policy actually empowers the youth or rather ridicule our beloved Nation. Let us take a closer look at the recent goof of the Deputy Minister.
Political office requires a lot of tactfulness, diligence and a deep sense of judgment. All of which, we cannot vouch that the young lady possess at the moment (she may acquire some or all of these attributes latter in her career).
We saw the video which was posted by myjoyonline on 9th August and we completely felt a bash about such a goof in front of the cameras. Yes, a few mistakes are acceptable before the cameras by politicians but not of such grave nature. Let us go into the matter proper to examine the real import of the goof. The goof, in terms of its intensity, in musical terms, appeared in a crescendo. The more it lasted, the greater the intensity became! We attempt to divide into four parts and categorise them as A, B, C and D.
The first part (A) was the fact that her long pause, upon her recognition of whatever mistakes in the speech, gave her away. She demonstrated her inexperience by showing to the audience that there was a huge problem. Since the audience had no idea of what the speech purported to say, could she have arrested the mistake which she alone was privy to, at least at the time?
The next part of her goof (B) was that upon her recognition of the problem she, out of sheer desperation, wanted to save her credibility by quickly shifting the blame of the mishap unto her aide in front of the audience. This was absolutely trite and unprofessional. “sssss, where is the speech I edited, this is not the speech I edited. No, I can’t read this.”
By so doing, she ended up not absolving herself from blame but rather intensified it. First, by her complaint, she sought to demonstrate to her audience, the incompetence of her staff but it revealed on another level, her own lack of diligence in cross checking the speech before coming to the podium to read it.
Because after purportedly editing the speech earlier in the morning, it is not logical for her to claim that the next time she ever saw the speech was it being brought before her to read. For the very moment she mounted the podium, she was entirely responsible for her rhetorical acts and nobody was to be dragged in to clean off her mess whilst she remained on stage. (Yes, it was her mess for not cross checking a second time!).
Many politicians have encountered similar situations and had the opportunity to rely only on their experience. Be as it may, audiences of momentous political speeches would never have the opportunity to see the magic which goes on at the podium between the speaker and his address. This is what makes a difference between a technocrat and a politician. A politician should learn to save a situation in so far as a situation contains exigencies which have the tendency of damaging her credibility on the spur of the moment. This is the major failure of the young lady politician.
The third was what sounded like an attempt to disown her speech:
“ssssssss, where is the speech I edited, this is not the speech I edited. No, I can’t read this.”
Note that she mentions the speech she “edited” and not the speech she “wrote”. Although it is common knowledge that politician makes good use of professional speechwriters, the politician ultimately owns the speech. Quotes emanating from speeches are attributed to politicians and not their speechwriters.
This also suggests she is not on top of the issues in her sector. Perhaps a technical person wrote the speech for her to edit and use. Again, whilst this is normal, her behaviour made it public knowledge that the ideas which were contained therein were probably never hers!
The fourth and probably the most incongruous of the four divisions of her goofs was in (D). Hon. Ms. Hammah went ahead to give a background to the mishap. She explained frantically:
“The draft was written on this morning, I edited the speech and this is different. And so I am trying to speak from my mind. Maybe I would do that…”
Our interest in this statement is in the fact that she claimed that as a
result of the speech’s errors, she would rather ignore the speech and speak from memory. If she could do that what then necessitated the crescendo in her goof by her bringing about (B), (C) and (D)? Why did she have to take her aide and precious audience through that uncomfortable communication journey? If she had employed just a little bit of tact, the whole mess could have been handled neatly without having to attract the negative media attention.
We think Hon. Ms Victoria Hammah’s performance is a bad testament for the policy of appointing inexperience youth to political office. Let us be quick to add that this by no means negates the policy – it is only a bad testament.
We hope the President would be wary of such similar developments which do not only emerge from such communication goofs but also those which may happen behind the scenes but with grave consequences (for example, similar display of lack of diligence in the signing of state contracts may lead to the accumulation judgment debts).
The management of political communication is a crucial part of statecraft. Therefore both young and old politicians should be groomed appropriately before they are allowed to play major roles on the Ghanaian and international political stage. Such communication tragedies by politicians are unacceptable, especially in an age when every major communication hitch is caught by the media who go to hang them in the eternity of cyberspace.
To be fair to the young Deputy Minister this is not all bad news. This video will serve as a perfect teaching material for communication experts. We have already saved it for future use in the classroom and I know other communications experts will do same.
Thus, this is not only locked up in the eternity of cyberspace but also in the immutable annals of communication errors. We can only hope that the Deputy Minister will continue to provide more teaching materials for communication students and experts even as her political career evolves. However, if we have a choice, we will choose to have them at the positive spectrum of the annals.
Centre for Rhetoric Studies
University of Cape Town
Cape Town, South Africa
University of Cape Coast