This article assesses the stylistic and communicative elements of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo’s 2018 State of the Nation Address.
State of the nation addresses are expected to inspire. When the president mounts the podium to give the state of the nation address, one of the things he is expected to do as a leader is to inspire the nation to action. A State of the Nation address is not just a dry speech made up of statistical figures and percentages though we all agree that is paramount and extremely important. 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. President Nana Akufo-Addo 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. This was yet another opportunity to develop his “Ghana beyond aid” idea further into a national cause and movement. He clearly missed it. 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 and mechanical speech that sounded perfunctory. Did the President inspire? No.
Verdict/Scorecard: Poor. Needs to pay special attention to this element of his speech and bounce back stronger.
- Broad Theme
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 patch work 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 world view and the broad themes or ideas or framework guiding or underpinning his presidency.
Verdict/Scorecard: Fail. There was no clear theme
- National Unity
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 of 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 and appeal to the nation’s sense of patriotism.
Verdict: Average. The President tried but did not comprehensively appeal to a national sense of patriotism. At some point he tried to score political points.
- 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. The fact that the president didn’t talk much about increasing fuel prices showed a certain disconnect since this was one of the major issues of public conversations going into the SONA. 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? Verdict: Probably not. His performance was marginally average. In other words, this was a weak average.
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 take responsibility for his pitfalls or problems? I think there’s a lot more work to be done in this department.
Verdict/Scorecard: The President scored below average here. More work needs to be done
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 threepeats. 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.
Verdict/Scorecard: Satisfactory, a bit above average but more room for improvement.
- 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 response 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.
By Etse Sikanku and Frank Kofi Boadi