We examined President Akufo-Addo’s televised national address delivered on April 5, 2018. The goal was to focus on the communicative and stylistic elements of the speech. Our objectives were multiple. First, to ascertain the dominant themes/frames present in the president’s televised address. Second, to decipher the communicative or image repair strategies employed by the President. Third, to account for the delivery, stylistic and non-verbal elements of the occasion and fourth, to test or apply Benoit’s concept of the functions of political communication to the President’s address.
To achieve these objectives, this article relied on three relevant theories related to the issue at hand: framing, image repair, and functional theory of political communication. Quantitative (content analysis) and qualitative (textual analysis/framing) were employed as the methodological approaches to this research.
Research Question (RQ1): What were the dominant themes present in President Akufo-Addo’s televised address?
- Deepening Democracy & commitment to accountable governance
In this address, the president sought to portray the process of signing the agreement as one that enhanced Ghana’s democracy. To achieve this frame or theme, the president relied on several sub-frames or elements. He cast the executive’s involvement of parliament as a symbol of open and accountable governance. He further sought to burnish his democratic frame by alluding to this move as evidence of transparency and another key element of democracy; citizens’ right to know. (“I take what has happened not to be symptomatic of the hazards of democracy, but a show of the strength of democracy in action. We are seeing being displayed before our very eyes, not the triumph of disorder, but the value of openness in governance, and of the need, the crucial need, for the people to be fully and accurately informed.”)
The president went further to portray the backlash and heated debates that ensued in as beneficial. (But for this decision to be open about this agreement, how else would we, the people of Ghana, have ever known that for several decades, Ghana has had defence and security co-operation collaborations with the United States of America?)
Still within the democratic frame, the president cast himself as someone with an abiding faith in the people of Ghana. (“You cannot claim to believe in democracy unless you have faith in the people, faith in their inherent goodness, and faith in their capacity to make the right decisions, given the right information.”).
- Veiled attacks
Throughout the speech, the president took the opportunity to either rebut or attack his opponents. He cast them as projecting anti American sentiments while wallowing in “the largesse of the US”. He called them “hypocrites” while asserting that they were “misleading” Ghanaians. He rejected accusations that the agreement amounted to an infringement on Ghana’s sovereignty. He maintained that opposition assertions amounted to a “cynical manipulation of reckless self-seekers”. He then categorically stated that Ghana hadn’t offered a military base to the US. The president under this frame admitted that he was “outraged” by what he deemed as “defamatory” statements by the political opposition. Some of these words were deemed as harsh, unpresidential and indicative of the president’s anger and outrage.
- Comparisons (us vs them, past vs present, NPP vs NDC)
Throughout the speech, an essential theme or frame that dominated was the idea that the NPP was better than the NDC (in handling the Agreement) or in some cases, what the NPP did was no different from what had been done in the past. The President suggested that his government had done better than the NDC who had been secretive with such agreements. He took credit for being transparent. “After all, you, the Ghanaian people, had voted massively for change; therefore, there was simply no way my government would ever keep hidden from you, the people, agreements of such a nature.” He said past governments had signed similar Agreements though some maintain that the present Agreement is not nearly the same as previous ones. The President engaged in self-praise to drive home his point.
- Defence & assurances: enhancing bilateral/international relations and peacekeeping
One of the dominant frames emerging from a textual analysis of the speech was that of international relations. The president used this theme or frame to defend the agreement and assure the nation that their sovereignty was not being trampled upon. (I will never be the President that will compromise or sell the sovereignty of our country.) He said the conditions under which the agreement was signed were no different from conditions bestowed on embassies, high commissions and other international organizations operating in Ghana. He insisted that the agreement was in keeping with the norms of international diplomacy. Clearly, the president sought to assuage the fears of Ghanaians by situating the agreement within the international relations frame. The fact that the conversations still linger suggest he may not have been successful.
Human Rights defender
The President was personal, using this frame to allay fears and to build trust. (Everything I have done, since assuming the great honour and privilege of serving you as President of the Republic, demonstrates that I remain focused on building a self-reliant, free, prosperous Ghana, which will be able to make her own unique contribution to the growth and development of Africa and the world.) In the concluding aspect of the speech, the President sounded inspirational, nationalistic and high-minded. (Let us rise above them, and build the Ghana of our destiny, the land of freedom, justice, progress and prosperity. May God bless us all, and our homeland Ghana, and make her great and strong). This is perhaps the tone most of the speech should have assumed.
RQ2: What image repair strategies did the President employ in his televised speech to the nation on the US-Ghana military co-operation agreement?
He employed denial. He denied the purported intention to establish a military base but simply doing so without getting into the substantive reasons as to why he arrived at this conclusion did not sound convincing enough. (So let me state with the clearest affirmation that Ghana has not offered a military base, and will not offer a military base to the United States of America.).
He evaded responsibility by saying that previous governments had signed similar Agreements. He also sought to reduce offensiveness using various components of this particular approach. Bolstering: The president sought to bolster his reputation as a defender of Ghana’s rights, someone who respects the patriots and sovereignty of Ghana. These were generic statements and did little to assuage the concerns of Ghanaians. It appeared the President was skirting the core or substantive issues by relying on his individual reputation and singing his own praises.
The president, as previously highlighted in identifying the themes/frames employed sought to reduce any offensiveness by casting the Agreement as part of Ghana’s contributions to regional peace and to fighting the threat of instability in the region. He also alluded to the fact that it was in keeping with Ghana’s impressive peacekeeping record. We do not think/believe this was effective either since Ghanaians are well aware of our peacekeeping practices. Also it is possible we could contribute to regional peace in various ways, as we’ve often done, aside signing this agreement with the United States. Relying on this refrain was not so convincing. He relied on differentiation as a defence or image repair element by saying they could have signed it in secret like the previous government did.
He used transcendence by casting the agreement within the broader context of deepening democracy and international relations. This was not effective because it did not address the specific elements of the Agreement. This was beside the point. Also a good image repair strategy should address some core concerns of the average Ghanaian. For instance, will this Agreement expose us to terrorist attacks? Was the agreement lopsided? In other words did we negotiate a good deal? Are the benefits equal? Are we better off without the deal and what is likely to happen if we didn’t sign the deal? These are the core issues the President should have addressed to repair issues or address the crisis, however the President’s televised address failed to persuade or speak to such concerns.
He also attacked the accuser. In this case his focus was the opposition and the media, even though the term “accuser” in this case could be broadened to Ghanaians in general. The President should have realised he was not just addressing the opposition but the wider Ghanaian public.
RQ3: How did the President perform in his delivery, stylistic and non-verbal elements of his address to the nation on the US-Ghana military co-operation agreement?
The president appeared well dressed for the occasion. He was calm during most portions of the speech and kept his hands down but his pitch tended to rise during certain portions, particularly when addressing the opposition. There were no unnecessary gesticulations. There was no fit of rage. There was no finger-wagging. There was no moment of melodrama. The president did not unravel. He was not unhinged. However, the president seemed clearly “outraged” and disgusted during certain portions of the speech. When put together with some of the very strident words used to address his opponents, it is easy to understand why some would think the president was angry. He was definitely upset, disgusted, disenchanted and for some moments—some would say—he seemed to be speaking out of suppressed anger.
Though the president appeared calm, he had slightly high pitched levels—sometimes for emphasis, other times to express disdain, during certain sections of the speech. There were also some moments the president sounded clearly “outraged” and disgusted. When put together with some of the very strident words used to address his opponents, it is easy to understand why some would think the president was angry. There were moments, especially when addressing the opposition, that the president displayed anger.
The president begins this sentence in the concluding parts of his speech with a raised voice; evidently higher than what had been his normal level before then: “How could a document intended for the consideration of Parliament be described as a “secret document?” A careful look at the president’s facial expression, though quite suppressed, reveals his chagrin for the opposition on this issue. Let us remember that President had moments earlier said “But we have to take issue with the front-line politicians who have sought to mislead the people in this blatant manner, and those who, for mischievous purposes, leaked the document destined for the scrutiny of Parliament prematurely to a section of the media, who then went on to describe it as a “secret document” How could a document intended for the consideration of Parliament be described as a “secret document”? Here, at this particular moment, if you put these words together and with the pitch of the President’s voice you can readily and perhaps rightfully conclude that the president demonstrated anger.
It is again plausible to conclude, looking at the president’s facial expression while he said the following: “A democracy that has become the beacon of good governance in Africa?” portrays and suggests anger. The president wears a frown while saying these words. There seems to be a strain/squirm/ coming together of his eyebrows and his voice is raised higher than it has usually been.
Choice of words
Largely, the words used by the President sought to explain why the government took the decision to sign the co-operation Agreement. He used anecdotes, innuendos, rhetorical questions and international relations instruments. He also tried to sound uplifting or inspirational towards the end of his speech.
However at certain moments, the president’s tone and demeanour signified displeasure and his words disparaged opponents. There were certain moments when some word choices could be described as revealing the president’s anger at the public’s furore, especially the actions of the opposition. The president says “No one has dared suggest that granting these foreign embassies and international institutions these concessions constitute an attack on the sovereignty of Ghana.” The word “dared” could have been omitted and the sentence would have still carried the same meaning. Unlike his reference to political opponents, the word ‘dare” is open enough and could be applied to the larger Ghanaian public rather than just his opponents.
Perhaps the most plausible evidence of the president’s anger is his admittance of outrage when he says “Fellow Ghanaians, let me conclude by saying how outraged I am by the defamatory comments from my political opponents, some of whose patriotism can be so easily questioned, that the sovereignty of this country has been sold by my government and myself.
In rebutting arguments by his opponents the president tended to raise his voice and in some cases raised his eyebrows (sometimes showing anger, other times indicating emphasis). In moments when he showed disgust the president tended to lean forward, shook his head slightly or widened his gaze. It happened when he talked about “frontline politicians”. It happened when he spoke about the fact that Ghana has not offered a military base to the US and it happened when he asked a series of rhetorical questions (How could a document intended for the consideration of Parliament be described as a “secret document”? It is difficult to understand that such people, knowing what they do know, would set about so blatantly to confuse people, and go as far as calling for the overthrow of our democracy? A democracy that has become the beacon of good governance in Africa? A democracy that has survived for a quarter of a century and encompassed even the most irresponsible episodes of ill governance, in a state of unity and stability?).
His foul mood was also evident toward the conclusion of his speech when he spoke of his outrage concerning “the defamatory comments from my political opponents, some of whose patriotism can be so easily questioned…” So incensed was the President that even though the concluding part of his speech was intended to be inspirational, it hardly sounded so listening to him. We have to add that though the President showed suppressed anger at certain points and overt expressions of being upset or offended, there was no fit of rage, a melting down moment, unnecessary finger waging, extreme aggression or shouting (Howard Dean style), an unhinged moment or a melodramatic moment or a period where the he, the President, quite simply unravelled. Significantly, it must also be understood that the President naturally appears to speak forcefully and would sometimes exhibit such demeanour for purposes of emphasis.
PR perspective and body cues
If a listener had missed the entire speech and caught just the concluding parts of it, they were more likely to join the majority of those who believed the president was angry. While he held a rather calm posture at the initial stages of his speech, his concluding parts of the speech suggested his outrage. Some of these concluding statements were targeted at the opposition. Clearly, he was being honest about his feelings on the matter. He physically looked outraged. There was the expression of anger on his face. There were more emphasis on words than there had been initially. He looked upset.
Communicators sometimes maintain that your audience will most likely only remember (go away) with your final words or acts. And perhaps why this tone has become the measure of the President’s address. People mostly remember the “stern warning” or approach from the Commander in Chief though we must admit he attempted to inspire and lift the nation. This attempt was drowned by the generally upset tone.
Overall, what we would say is that a national televised address, like press conferences, is a rarely held political communication event by the President. Such addresses are normally done in periods of national crisis, national controversies and during periods of critical national concerns or events (for instance national disasters, emergencies, war or when the nation is under attack or threatened). The President is expected to use the event to bring the nation together, whip up collective interests, nationalistic sentiments, call the nation to action and assuage the fears or anxieties of the populace. Such speeches are hardly partisan or overtly/overly political. On this score the President was lacking.
The President was largely composed but he seemed to have lost it when it came to the opposition. He could have been a bit moderate in his choice of words. He went after his opponents, rather than address the nation as a collective unit. He appeared less incensed at the initial portions of the speech, he sought to make us understand his decisions and this was good for Ghanaians. He sounded partisan at the concluding aspect of his speech and went for the opposition, though there’s an attempt to suggest he was talking to Ghanaians.
RQ4: What was the extent of acclaims, attacks or defence statements employed by the President in tandem with the functional theory of political communication or to what extent did the president employ acclaims, attacks and defence as a functional theory of political communication?
One of most relevant theories in the examination of political communication discourse is the functional theory of political communication espoused by acclaimed scholar, William Benoit. He posits that political communication discourse can either seek to establish preferability through acclaims, attacks and defence. Here, the theory is applied to Nana Akufo-Addo’s televised address.
Acclaims – 36%
Attacks – 31%
Defence – 33
- I decided that, under my watch, any such agreements should be subject to the appropriate scrutiny of the people’s representatives in Parliament, in consonance with the requirements of accountable governance and the teachings of the Constitution
- I will never be the President that will compromise or sell the sovereignty of our country.
- Ghana has built a formidable reputation for its contribution to peace-keeping around the world.
- Let us concentrate and spend our energies on working together to achieve that goal of a happy and prosperous Ghana
- No one has dared suggest that granting these foreign embassies and international institutions these concessions constitute an attack on the sovereignty of Ghana
- Surely, this is the kind of cynical manipulation by reckless self-seekers, which, in the fullness of time, the people of Ghana will acknowledge and condemn
- reject the hypocrisy of the naysayers who led our country into bankruptcy and the worse economic record of modern Ghanaian history
- Yet, far from being daunted, I take what has happened not to be symptomatic of the hazards of democracy, but a show of the strength of democracy in action
- No suggestion had ever been made that the United States of America had abused any of the privileges or concessions granted under any of these agreements
- And I am sure that as the facts become clear and widely available, and as the people come to terms with the evidence, they will reject the falsehood and deliberate attempts to destabilize our peaceful country
By: Etse Sikanku, Frank Kofi Boadi, Halisa Aziz, Nana Kwame Osei Fordjuour