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Alexander Nyarko Yeboah
July 7, 2020—A political communications analyst has observed the need for actors in the democratic process in Ghana to be innovative in order to reach the electorate whilst Ghana goes to the polls under unusual circumstances.
Dr. Godwin Etse Sikanku hints that this is necessary because the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to restrict the usual campaigning and other public engagement that seek to give useful information to the electorate to help them decide who forms the next government in Ghana.
He made this call on Monday during an interaction with gitficonline.com in Accra in reaction to the question of what format communication during election 2020 would take in response to the need to keep the citizens safe as they go about their civic responsibility of electing leaders.
“The key thing is to keep the big picture and the fundamentals always in mind. That is fair means of participating in the electoral process, increase in political knowledge, improvement in political culture; opportunity to have access, opportunity for people to share their opinion and engage in debates, and opportunity to hear from the political actors themselves,” Dr. Sikanku informed.
Dr. Sikanku, who is also a Lecturer at the Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ), observed that the political parties had a duty to tell the electorate what it was they would do for the nation. “They have that responsibility to bring out a vision, a manifesto and to make sure that they are communicating in the clearest terms as possible so that citizens can be emboldened or given the political knowledge to make intelligent decisions when it comes to elections,” he said.
Dr. Sikanku informed that there were several things that could be done in order to enhance political knowledge, key among them being adapting telecommunication innovations. He therefore observed that the online technologies and social media were going to play a big role in ways Ghanaians might not have seen if everything was normal.
“The rallies are no more, they’ve moved online, town hall meetings might not come on although they are fantastic opportunities to engage with the constituents and to hear directly from them; but there is such a thing called an online town hall, a twitter town hall, the YouTube town hall,” Dr. Sikanku hinted.
He said there was the need therefore for the political parties to tap into these resources to be able to engage the citizens and hear directly from them “instead of projecting and quantificating their own views on the populace…because deliberation is a very key tenet of democracy.”
“So we do expect that they would engage in very innovative ways so that they do not undermine the core expectations of what a democratic election should be. There could be online rallies, online chats, Facebook events, etc.,” the communications analyst said.
Dr. Sikanku indicated that rallies and door to door campaigns could still take place on very limited basis. He therefore alluded to the politics of food sharing during the lockdown this year which demonstrated how the political parties could meet the people in very restricted means and present their message to them.
“They came with big trucks and distributed food to the crowd. So retail politics, which involves engaging the constituents, listening to them, taking their concerns and addressing them, could still be achieved in very innovative ways,” he noted.
In reacting to the limitations posed by the digital divide, Dr. Sikanku observed that as a nation, there was the need to ensure that the digital divide did not happen across income, status or social demographics, and that the internet penetration was addressed.
Dr. Sikanku observed that the demographic differences in access to the internet between rural and urban centres, the educated and uneducated, the rich and poor, etc. was obvious. “That is why the political parties, EC and the citizens need to adapt innovative ways for the electorate to access the campaign messages so that they become active participants in the electoral process in order not to cut people off from the exercise,” he noted.