As demanded by Ghana’s constitution, yesterday President Nana Akuffo-Addo delivered this year’s edition of the State of the Nation Address (SONA) to Parliament. As has become customary, the address was primarily a list of the recent achievements of the incumbent political administration, both real and imagined, and juxtaposed against the failings of the predecessor government, also both real and imagined.
This newspaper argues that this is not what the SONA is meant to be. Importantly, our criticism does not in any way derive from the specific content of the President’s claims, and whether or not they are justified; rather they derive from our belief that SONA is not meant to be a partisan political statement, which inevitably is applauded by supporters of the incumbent government and derided by its opponents.
Unfortunately, though, that is what it has become over the past two decades and indeed, it has become more and more partisan by the year. Instructively, both political parties have been guilty of this while in power.
We believe that the annual SONA is meant to present the President’s assessment of the state of Ghana’s polity – its economy, political governance, social cohesiveness, international standing and the likes – where it is, where it should be going and what is required of government, the citizenry and other stakeholders in order to get there. This should encompass both the positive and negative economic, political, social and cultural forces at work, both domestic and international.
Instead though, both major political parties in Ghana, when in power have adopted SONA as an opportunity to mount a political platform which is becoming increasingly partisan by the year, with a view to scoring points with voters ahead of the next general elections. This serves to support the beliefs of the growing number of cynics in Ghana that the political class will never miss an opportunity to be self -serving to enhance their political fortunes, even at the expense of the collective effort to form a consensus as to Ghana’s path towards economic growth and development as well as social equity and cohesion.
We suggest that Ghana’s political leaders and their speech writers take a cue from the typical structure and content of (pre President Donald Trump) America’s annual State of the Union address.
Ghana’s version, in the form of SONA, tends to amplify the already deep-seated political divisions among the populace rather than identify the common goals of all Ghanaians as citizens of the same country and the collective efforts that need to be made in order to achieve them. The inevitable result of course is that each year, supporters of the incumbent government applaud the SONA and opponents of the same government dismiss it derisively. None of this is helpful to the national psyche.
Thus, there is the urgent need for a change in approach towards delivering each year’s SONA. A change that would put Ghana as a single, indivisible sovereign state, above the partisan political goals of its leadership. A change that would similarly be accompanied by a nationalistic, rather than politically partisan response from the political opposition.
To be sure, some degree of partisanship is inevitable, by both the incumbent government and the political opposition for such is the essential nature of pluralistic democracy, even in the most matured democracies such as that of the United States.
But in Ghana it is the overriding consideration for both sides of the political divide, even though SONA is supposed to be the most nationalistic event on our political calendar. This is simply akin to the tail wagging the dog and Ghanaians deserve much better than the political manipulation for which it is now being used by their leaders.