Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia

Undoubtedly, one of the functions of the mass media is to set the agenda. But the important question that is often ignored is: whose agenda does the media set? Is it the public’s agenda? The media’s agenda? Or the agenda of the ruling class? Certainly, in all societies: authoritarian and democratic alike, the media, especially the legacy media have for both commercial and political reasons focused their contents on the most powerful and the most influential. That partly explains the rampant abuse of the agenda-setting role of the media and public opinion formation by members of the political class. Thus, under the guise of political communications and media framing, politicians of all backgrounds have normalised telling lies, misinformation and disinformation, thereby deceiving the general population.

They often promise what they know very well that they cannot achieve within the confines of the limited financial resources, short political tenure (eight years maximum), highly divisive society, exceedingly corrupt and dishonest political system and practices and above all, a structurally challenged third world economy which is dependent mainly on proceeds from primary commodities such as cocoa, gold, oil and gas, timber and others.

Irrefutably, one cannot discuss the abuse of the agenda-setting role of the media in Ghana’s political and media arena in the last decade and half without highlighting the media framing of the current vice-president of Ghana and the 2024 Election flagbearer of the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP), Dr Mahamudu Bawumia.

Without any doubt, his series of political economy lectures which started in 2012 and intensified in the lead-up to the 2016 general elections excessively used the concept of media framing through a careful selection, omission and slanting of economic data for political propaganda and favourable opinion from the larger Ghanaian population.

While his main political competitor, former president John Mahama is also not innocent in articulating false narratives for electoral purposes in the past, there is a major difference of approach between the two. Evidently, there is some amount of cautiousness and thoughtfulness in the manner Mahama made his political promises presumably because at the back of his mind he knew very well that those promises were made only for the purposes of getting public support for presidential election victory.

As a professional communicator, Mahama’s cautious approach in crafting and spreading his political messages may be motivated by his superior experience on matters of the media and public opinion formation. On the contrary, Bawumia’s approach in setting the agenda and framing his campaign messages especially since 2013 has been a brazen, systematic and robust use of carefully selected economic data to make his case without any regard for future repercussions on his image and his own political ambition when he knew that those promises could not be kept. This is simply because the Ghanaian economy since independence has remained structurally dependent, fragile and often yields to minimal domestic and external pressures.

As an academic and technocrat, Bawumia’s first selection to partner then candidate Akufo-Addo in 2008 was strategically teleguided to offer a fresh and credible face and voice for the NPP election campaign machine which was suffering from a crisis of credibility and incumbency baggage from the Kufuor government (2001-2009).

The New Patriotic Party (NPP) and their strategists after losing the fiercely contested 2008 elections badly needed someone who could be framed within the media and the public arena as having all the solutions of the country’s economic problems as well as being able to articulate key electoral messages with regard to the economy, which is understandably the most important political or electoral issue in Ghana since 1957.

This was without regard to the fact that, real actions and good performance in policies implementation were what NPP needed to do to secure the long-term prosperity and political support of the population and not convincing words, propaganda and media framing, which have a temporary lifespan. So, in the short-term, Bawumia as a running mate and vice-president played a key role in achieving the political ambitions of the NPP and President Akufo-Addo after two election victories but inevitably has now come face-to-face with the daunting realities of fierce resistance, even from the NPP fold itself.

Bawumia’s recent attempts at skirting around the problem and trying to insulate himself from the current economic and social policy failures of the Akufo-Addo government will likely create a bigger image problem for him in the future.

The Drivers’s Mate Debate Every keen observer of the country’s political system and practices knows that per the 1992 constitution, the vice-president has no defined powers and therefore I fully agreed with Bawumia’s argument of the driver’s mate analogy in his recent lecture. Obviously, in both theory and practice, the president is the embodiment of all executive powers and constitutional authority to superintend all policies including those in the realms of the economy. Therefore, in all fairness, the so-called Economic Management Team (EMT) is just an advisory body as Bawumia has suggested with no powers and authority over public policy and control of the purse. Any keen observer of the economic and political arenas in Ghana will conclude that, at least since 1992, the economy has been the ‘baby’ of sitting presidents with the finance ministers serving as caretakers, following strict orders and instructions from the president on allocations of financial resources.

The president has the final, unchallenged and uninhibited authority and control on public finance, economic and any other public policy including those related to the distributive role of the state. Vice-presidents just as other power blocks within the governments have to work hard to attract and win the ears and attention of the presidents on any issue regarding policy and resource allocations. So, if we were presently living in ideal situation, Bawumia cannot be blamed for the current economic challenges, but unfortunately, we are not in ideal situation.

The media framing of Bawumia in the last 15 years to set the agenda and influence public opinion in favour of the NPP, helping them to win and maintain power for two terms is what has incubated the current crisis of credibility for the incumbent vice president.

The media framing of his lectures makes any attempt at defending Bawumia’s innocence untenable, even though it is utterly true that he had no constitutional power to influence anything on the ground, both in theory and in practice. If after eight years of political mandate, the people cannot connect what they now see as Bawumia’s economic theories and rehash of political economy literature to real solution of the economy and the reality of their unmitigated economic hardship, nobody can claim that the vice-president should remain aloof and insulated from criticisms simply because he had no power and authority in the redistributive functions of the state and the public purse.

In fairness, he must also shoulder the burden of blame just like his boss, President Akufo-Addo because he was presented and framed as the expert who could turn Ghana’s economy around and ensure prosperity for all citizens.

Lessons on the 24-Hour Economy Election Gimmick This Bawumia episode is a signal to all politicians who for years have taken Ghanaians or ordinary people for granted. The public have not only developed a sophisticated lens in seeing through election gimmicks but also are not ready to tolerate any future disconnect between their reality on the one hand and deceitful messages, media framing and electoral propaganda on the other.

Thus, other politicians including those in the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) should use the current credibility crisis facing Bawumia as a lesson and be wary on how far they can push their new-found election gimmick of ‘24 Hour Economy’. While they are propagating and framing the ‘24 Hour Economy’ as the final solution for Ghana’s economic and social problems for purposes of winning the 2024 elections, they must bear in mind that, so long as the economy remains only a raw material-producing economy battered by ills such as corruption, weak infrastructure, non-existent industrial base, galamsey, dishonest politics, nepotism and other divisive tendencies, proposed public policies such as the 24-Hour Economy will remain mere election slogans.

It is important that, our political leaders of all backgrounds guard against blind borrowing or propagating foreign concepts, ideas and practices which have little or no relevance to our local circumstances and realities. For instance, propagating The 24-Hour Economy presupposes that we already have a vibrant economy with modern infrastructure, strong industries and manufacturing base and now need more people to work and help prop-up productivity.

But is that the situation on the ground, especially in the rural and remote areas of Ghana? Are we going to create avenues or conditions for people to work when the jobs are simply not there? Or we are just giving false hopes to the people who have already lost any iota of trust for politicians?

The present backlash against Vice President Bawumia including from those in his own party should be at the back of the minds of all those who still believe that propaganda can always supplant the search for real solutions for the social and economic problems facing the ordinary people.

Abdul Hakim Ahmed, PhD, Political Science Lecturer, Political Science, University of Education, Winneba E-mail:

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