What Makes a Good State of the Nation Address?
The President of our nation is enjoined by the constitution of Ghana to address the nation each year on the state of the nation. Whereas government appointees have often been found describing it as the ‘best ever’ including such other adjectival phrases, opponents have various damning ways of describing it. But how relevant is this constitutional mandate? Has any criteria been set for such important address to focus on? Is there any way we can set the agenda for the development of content of such an address to forestall the usual politically biased arguments associated with SOTN address? Can there ever be a good state of SOTN address? I guess your answers are as good as mine.
SOTN in my opinion aims at two main things: giving a detailed account of what the government has achieved as per its projections or goals in the preceding year and what it intends to achieve in the coming year. In other words, it is an address which talks about the general state of affairs of the nation. In doing so, the president must highlight its achievements and give reasons for its failures as well. The president ought to also state what is being done to address those failures. My only concern, however, is that it is not a good thing to leave the failures unresolved and jump to give entirely new projections.
It is equally not good enough to set goals or talk about projections that would take more than a year to accomplish! Every projection that has to be made must be something that is achievable within a year since the SOTN address is an annual ritual. This is what I think SOTN address should comprise. This way, when the president appears before the parliament to address the nation at the end of the year, we can all say…’yes, Mr President, you have achieved A, B and probably C but how come D, E, etc were not achieved?’ Otherwise, mind you, such addresses would be reduced to merely lengthy and boring talk.
To that extent, I think the president has done well in the SOTN address he delivered today. He touched on many of the issues confronting us as a nation, what he has done and what he is doing. His achievements may not meet the expectation of every one of us yet we cannot take the right to talk about it from him. What we can say, perhaps, is that he could have achieved more than that given the level of resources at his disposal on one hand, and simply put, Ghanaians are Oliver Twist, on the other.
That notwithstanding, there is always the issue of partisan politics around the SOTN address. No political party can claim innocence in this regard! In our part of the world you have to be politically opposed to everything your opponent is doing be it good or bad! And that is the work of the opposition. But there work ought to go beyond that. They are equally supposed to do critical critic of government policies. The only thing they cannot do is to praise the government. If they dare do so, they are simply telling the voter that they are not a better alternative. This is the hard truth about being an opposition party!
On that note, I am not surprised at the opposition describing the SOTN address as a mere theatrical show. They have every reason to see everything wrong with the SOTN address delivered today by the president. The current government did same to the opposition when they were in government. So, the bus will not stop with any party in opposition. It is a vicious cycle we have to live with.
Political opponents are questioning why the president has to bring a few people across the country to the gallery of parliament to buttress some of his achievements, as it were. Certainly the president cannot bring a whole community to the gallery of parliament as a way of substantiating his achievements. His conduct is more or less testimonials or using those selected few as ambassadors of the projects he has accomplished. Unlike political advertisements which we are all conversant with, what the president did today, in as much as it appears very new to some of us, it is another way of advertisement. In political advertisement and just like any other, you use real situations or things people can easily identify with just as a teacher uses relevant previous knowledge to build his lesson. It is for this reason I personally see nothing wrong with what the president did. But I know his address will be yet another ‘carcass’ political vultures will take a bite at for the next few days.
I think we should not always try to satisfy our political inclinations at the expense of our nation. Being circumspect in our criticisms and giving credit when is due are the two important attitudes we need to develop to aid our quest for development.
It has always been my conviction that nations are developed around clear cut action plans but not nice speeches or rhetoric. Every nice speech must be backed with good action plans