This article assesses the stylistic and communicative elements of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s 2018 State of the nation Address.
Did the President inspire? State of the Nation addresses are expected to be moments of national inspiration. Through the power of words and language the president is expected to call the nation to action, prompt a sense of optimism and rally citizens to a national cause. The position of the president is a very powerful one. Most people see the president as a father figure. He has a very important opportunity to inspire, encourage and show leadership. Great leaders have the ability to inspire people to causes above self, movements, energize their constituents, motivate them and generally building a groundswell of momentum towards a compelling national cause. He did have some good sentences but there was limited passion and none of the soaring rhetoric and clear vision for people to latch on to. Some presidents have used this status to inspire the nation to national causes and ideals. There wasn’t any sense of urgency in this speech. There weren’t any emotional, evocative and moving lines. The President was on to something good when he said “We will build a Ghana beyond Aid” but he needed to develop this further. There wasn’t any use of anecdotes or personal stories to define an era or to demonstrate the president’s dreams and hopes for the country and the future. It was a dry, boring mechanical speech that sounded perfunctory.
Was there a broad theme? Absolutely not. Was there an identifiable theme? Speeches must mean something not just constitute the weaving of words or the presentation of laundry lists. Was this just a patchwork of words and figures? Did we get the sense of a big philosophical argument or thesis or theme underpinning his entire state of the nation address? I don’t think so. What is the Nana Addo presidency about? The speech was good at listing a lot of ideas but the connective tissue was missing. We need to know the president’s worldview and the broad themes or ideas or framework guiding or underpinning his presidency.
Was there an appeal to national unity? Did the president demonstrate bipartisanship? Was there an appeal to national values and patriotism? The state of the nation address is a national event and the president must not miss any opportunity to deepen national cohesion. The first thing the president must always do is to call on or remind citizens about important national values, attitudes and beliefs. He did well with shaking hands with both members of the aisle, recognizing previous presidents and mentioning names like Dr Obed Asamoah and Mr Kofi Adams but this wasn’t enough. His comments about the NDC not recognising former President Rawlings were a bit unnecessary too. It is important not to use the State of the Nation address to score political points. The President should never miss the opportunity in a State of the Nation address to play up and entrench national values, play up national sentiments, honour historical figures and appeal to the nation’s sense of patriotism.
Definition of nation’s problems
Did the president define the nation’s problems well, connect with people and show he understands our problems? Did the president demonstrate that he understands our plight? He attempted to do this by speaking about jobs, sanitation, traffic, water and lack of toilet facilities. So here, we will say the president did well by enumerating some problems but did it speak to the core and the heart of the issues Ghanaians are facing in a compelling way? Probably not.
Successful State of the Nation addresses are visionary. They paint a clear picture of the future and demonstrate how to achieve it. Did he lay forth a bold and strong national vision? Does he provide direction? The president needs to make a powerful and lay out a strong vision for the nation. We need to see an undying urge to succeed, showing empathy and authenticity. There was absolutely no compelling vision and cause around which the nation could rally. The idea of a clear vision is related to the first point of inspiration. People are inspired when there is a clear, strong vision they can latch on to. Did we see a Head of State who takes responsibility for his pitfalls or problems? I think there’s a lot more work to be done in this department. Here again his idea of a Ghana beyond Aid could be employed.
The Speech was generally well written. There weren’t any memorable quotes and the president missed several opportunities to employ rhetorical tools such as anecdotes, parallelisms and three-peats. He did well by employing repetition for emphasis in certain critical areas. He also used humour effectively in several areas. The use of an Ewe proverb (Nu veve la, wo dane le eze veve me) was also quite effective considering that the president is not from the Volta Region. It shows a willingness to learn from other cultures further strengthening national cohesion. It was a good moment for him. It eased tensions, people laughed and it created quite an exciting atmosphere. Generally, the language was comprehensible but the wording got dense at a point.
Delivery and non-verbal cues
The president is a solid speaker. He had great command over his delivery. He was genial, enthusiastic, quite energetic and focused. There were no unnecessary gesticulations, his movement was synchronised, well timed and complimentary to the delivery. There were also just a few responses to comments from the gallery. His appearance was good, formal and appropriate. However, the President would have scored more points if he made this a Batakari Thursday. He tended to cough quite a bit but one cannot fault him too much for that. He used his handkerchief effectively as well. Generally, his physical behaviour was apt.
Conclusion of Speech
The president had a flat ending. The ending of a speech is one more chance to restate an important point, advocate for an issue, restate a theme and rally the nation. The president needs to end on an inspirational tone. President Akufo-Addo missed this final opportunity to have a lasting impression. He ended abruptly, there was no last hurrah and no call to action. The ending was just not moving, not powerful and failed to connect with the audience.