We need a national re-orientation and behavioral change campaign, Mr. President [Article]

Despite the hue and cry associated with the number of ministerial nominees President Akufo Addo has presented to parliament for vetting, it is my firm conviction that he left out one other ministry that is critical for turning around the fortunes of Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. This ministry qualifies to be part of the top five most important ministries that a country that aspires to transit from Third World to First World must have. The problems this ministry will seek to address hasn’t been tackled by any government in a comprehensive and innovative way and I think that partly explains why we’re still a developing country sixty years after independence.

Before I make my case, let me try to read the mind of President Akufo Addo to understand the reasoning behind the six new ministries that will be working under the aegis of the Office of the President. It is a fact that the NPP won the 2016 elections by riding on the back of a struggling economy, rising unemployment, high cost of living and an incumbent government plagued with corruption scandals. They shouted into the microphones in radio stations and on political rally platforms their juicy and audacious solutions such as one-district- one-factor, one-village-one-dam, one million dollars per constituency, a better managed national health insurance, free senior high school, a corruption free government, specific regional development authorities and a better managed and business friendly economy. They preached change and majority of Ghanaians voted for change.

Following his ascension to the seat of government, President Akufo Addo decided to re-align existing ministries and create new ones, attracting a barrage of criticism for creating more ministries than preceding governments in the history of our republic. A careful analysis of the re-aligned and new ministries reveal that they are a reflection of the promises he made to the people of Ghana and the vision he has for the country. It is worthy to note also that the ministries that are related to specific manifesto promises have been placed directly in the office of the president. It shows the importance he attaches to their function. These new ministries are critical to his re-election in 2020 and so he wants to keep them under tabs to ensure they deliver. More importantly, however, the success of the new ministries will bring significant development to Ghana.

Let me state however, that, President Akufo Addo’s greatest task isn’t only fulfilling his juicy and audacious promises. There’s a greater task than creating a factory in every district. There’s a greater promise to fulfill than building a dam in every village. There’s a change agenda that will be more challenging than raising and injecting one million dollars into every constituency. I dare say that it is easier to provide free senior high school education, better manage and expand the economy than achieving this greater task.

This greater task isn’t infrastructural development or financial/economic development alone so that you erect infrastructure or throw funds at it and it gets fixed. This task has to do with our attitudes or behaviors. I’m sure you’d agree with me that one of the biggest if not the biggest problem of Ghana and Africa is our attitudes. Our behavioral problem reflects in the late arrival at and start of events, failure to meet deadlines, poor waste management and sanitation, lack of assertiveness, indiscipline, acceptance of mediocrity, et cetera. Borrowing from computer language, I’d say that a large chunk of our problem isn’t a hardware problem; it is a software problem. It has more to do with the way we think. One of the most important changes we need is a change in thinking patterns, beliefs and values. A change in leadership without a change in the attitudes of Ghanaians is just a leadership merry go-round (borrowing from the president’s nominee for the ministry of energy, Mr. Boakye Agyarko). As Jesus said, new wine must be put in new wine bottles and not new wine into old wine bottles. We don’t only need hard infrastructure, we need “soft infrastructure” to transform our country.

I dare say that if we pursue an economic transformation agenda without an equal emphasis on behavioral transformation, we may create a booming economy made up of people who lack the right behavior to sustain it. We cannot sustain progressive economic growth and development with our Third World mindset. Neither can we create a First World country with a people who have a Third World mindset. The father of modern Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew had this to say on how he moved Singapore from Third World to First World: “The physical infrastructure was easier to improve than the rough and ready ways of the people”. It is much easier to achieve infrastructural development than it is to achieve behavioral transformation. He further said of his people that, “Many of them had moved from shanty huts with a hole in the ground or a bucket in an outhouse to high rise apartments with modern sanitation, but their behavior remained the same. We had to work hard to be rid of littering, noise nuisance, and rudeness, and get people to be considerate and courteous”.

Though NPP accused the previous NDC government of an over-emphasis on their infrastructural feats, a good number of NPP’s promises are going to be driven by significant infrastructure components. Take for instance, the one-district-one-factory, one-village-one-dam and the free senior high school education promises. If infrastructural development doesn’t move hand-in-hand with behavioral development, the new infrastructure will deteriorate. Economic growth becomes short-lived when it is pursued without behavioral development. Bad attitudes/behavior has the potency to destroy beautiful infrastructure and sabotage economic growth faster than we think.

Once again, permit me to throw in another scripture. In Matthew 7:6, Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you”. Dogs and pigs as used here refer to people who don’t appreciate valuable things. When you give such persons precious things without educating them on their value, they’ll destroy them and attack you as well.

Our attitudinal problems are not new. We’ve known them and talked about them for decades. All successive governments have done to address it is to preach against it in a few speeches, skirt around it or adopt a “tot-tot” approach to arresting it. Leading the charge for behavioral transformation is one of President Akufo Addo’s greatest tasks and it is the most difficult.

The transformation of Singapore from Third World to First World wasn’t a product only of economic transformation or infrastructural development. A clean nation isn’t achieved by providing waste bins only. A green nation isn’t achieved by employing a company to manage greenery at a few ceremonial roads. It is also a result of a deliberate, well planned, holistic but focused, persistent but patient, leadership driven but national in character, firm but gentle behavioral change campaigns. In Chapter 13 of Lee Kwan Yew’s book titled “From Third World to First World”, he mentions several attitudinal change campaigns he embarked on some of which attracted ridicule from the foreign media. Some of them include an anti-spitting campaign, clean and green campaign, tree planting campaign, anti-chewing gum campaign, anti-littering campaign, anti-noise pollution campaign and anti-smoking campaigns. When other Asian neighbors saw the success of these campaigns, they copied and achieved similar results. Hong Kong for instance adopted the anti-litter campaigns.

Listening to the president during his inauguration on January 7th, I know he appreciates the role attitudes play in transforming a nation. In his speech, he quoted Kofi Abrefa Busia, Prime Minister in the 2nd Republic as having said: “We regard politics as an avenue of service to our fellow man. We hold that political power is to be exercised to make life nobler and happier. Our success or failure should be judged by the quality of the individual, by his knowledge, by his skills, by his behavior as a member of the society, the standard of living he is able to enjoy and by the degree of harmony and brotherliness in our community life as a nation”. The success of any government, especially Third World governments should be measured not only by the fulfillment of their manifesto promises but by changes in the behavior of the people.

Behavioral change is an unspoken promise our governments must pursue to support development. President Akufo Addo also said in his inaugural address that, “Fellow citizens, you must be at the center of the change. The change we have voted for must start with each of us as individuals. We can start with little changes in our own individual attitudes and practices. The change can, and should start now and with us as individuals”.

President Akufo Addo will be sorely disappointed if he leaves this call for personal change in his speeches only. Personal change isn’t automatic; it is not a given. Changing the behaviors of about 27 million people doesn’t just happen. You need more than a speech to bring this change. You need more than the one-off advertisement campaign the late Vice President Aliu Mahama started. Behavioral change is a big task that must be pursued as a separate agenda. It cannot be easily subsumed under a ministry in a country where the public sector is chocked with so much bureaucracy. We must as a matter of urgency create and embark on an aggressive behavioral change campaign alongside economic transformation, good governance and infrastructural development. President Akufo Addo’s government must embark on an aggressive, deliberate, well planned, holistic but focused, persistent but patient, leadership driven but national in character, firm but gentle anti-littering campaign, anti-open defecation campaign, anti-open urination campaign, anti-air pollution campaign, anti-water pollution, punctuality, trust and excellence campaigns, amongst others.

President Akufo Addo must create a Ministry of Behavioral Change. This ministry will be responsible for identifying behaviors in our national life that need change, creating, executing and measuring a behavioral change action plan. As he has done with the six new ministries, it must function under the aegis of the office of the president.

There’s the option of simply creating an Office of Behavioral Change under the Office of the President. There’s also the option of merging President Mill’s Brand Ghana Office with the Office of Behavioral Change. Another alternative is to strengthen the National Commission of Civic Education (NCCE) to undertake this project. However, I prefer a ministry for three reasons.

Firstly, change is most effective when it starts from top leadership. And top leadership as a country is the executive. And considering how enormous and difficult this task is, it requires visionary and stronger leadership to make it a success. In fact, beyond creating a ministry rather than an office, it must also be led by the president. He must be involved in executing some of the activities in the action plan. As the president, he has a great deal of influence on the nation. His words and actions travel faster and leave a greater impression than other leaders.

Secondly, though behavioral change is a mindset issue, it’ll require some level of infrastructural, economic and even legal interventions. For instance, we cannot encourage citizens to avoid littering without providing waste bins and strengthening the waste management institutions. Moreover, the campaigns must be backed by laws and their enforcements. It is an inter-ministerial task and it is easier for a government minister to get the support of another government minister than for a head of an institution like NCCE to command the support of a government minister.

Thirdly, the attitudes that need to change do not fall under the jurisdiction of any single ministry. Sanitation issues may fall under the re-aligned Ministry of Sanitation and Water but what about the nuisance of noise, time consciousness, mediocrity et cetera?

From my readings of Lee Kwan Yew’s book, he subsumed some of the campaigns under particular ministries. He created particular departments or units and put capable men in charge but he had strong oversight over them all. For instance, he created a department responsible for their greening initiative under what he called ministry of national development. He also solved the problem of cattle grazing in the city with public health unit. So that alternative might also work. But why not have one ministry coordinating all this with the various ministries, departments and agencies. Perhaps, NCCE can be strengthened to undertake this task if the head is a proven true blue change leader. Either way, President Akufo Addo’s government must embark on a series of behavioral change campaigns to transform Ghana.

Albert Einstein defined insanity this way: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. The only certainty there’s if we keep approaching the issue of behavioral change the same way we’ve been doing the past 60 years is that there’ll be no change. Let me end with the words of Lee Kwan Yew on how they brought about behavioral change in Singapore: “First we educated and exhorted our people. After we had persuaded and won over a majority, we legislated to punish the willful minority. It has made Singapore a more pleasant place to live in”. Mr. President, you have a responsibility to make Ghana a pleasant place to live in and you cannot do it with the current behavioral tendencies of majority of the populace. You need a comprehensive strategy, structure and program to make it happen. God bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong.

By: Yaw Frimpong Tenkorang

Ghostwriter | Trainer | Preacher

Email: [email protected]