‘Coconut Head’ Communication Strategists

Communication strategists in the ‘New Direction’ have been showing signs of ineptitude in the handling of strategic communication for the government. The ineptitude is made naked at a time government is faced with the biggest opinion crisis ever seen in the governance of the state of Sierra Leone.

The ‘New Direction’ Government seems to have been a hardworking one, but the communication strategists are non-performing. The opinion crisis that hangs on the ‘New Direction’ Government is caused by the failure of the communication experts to communicate. One of the most coveted flagship Projects, the ‘Free Quality Education’ (FQE) hitherto euphoric is slowly losing momentum owing to the failings of the government’s communication machinery.

FQE is a novelty in Sierra Leone, and the project alone has the potential to offer the SLPP a convenient second term if properly communicated to the masses. Consider a scene in the past where a pupil was driven ten times from school means the child would miss ten classes.

The situation will, no doubt, negatively tell on the overall academic performance of that pupil for that particular year. In the recent past, pupils from humble homes were humiliated as they were flogged in the presence of their colleagues before they were sent home for school fees. With the coming to power of the ‘New Direction’ Government, pupils no longer face such worries as government is footing the bill.

A great chunk of the country’s resources is now being poured into the education of the young for the country’s future evidenced by the 21% budgetary allocation to the education sector. The allocation of such resources is a no mean feat for an under-developed country in an impoverished African continent.

However, such a fine and envious project is suffering public backlash owing to the ineptitude of communication experts.  Such failure boils down to the top communication strategist, Abu Bakarr Joe Sesay, head of Strategic Communication at the Ministry of Information and Communications. Mr Sesay and team of communication experts at the ministry receive fabulous salaries from state coffers for an expert job they have failed to perform.

The failure is evidenced by the negligence of the Strategic Communication to strategise communication processes and activities for the government. With this failure to communicate, the achievements, policies and programmes of government have not reached a significant portion of the country’s population. Mr Sesay has failed to utilise the communication channels both social and conventional media to inform Sierra Leoneans about what government is doing.

Currently, the most damaging opinion about the ‘New Direction’ indicates that government has failed to formulate and implement new policy for effective and efficient governance of the state. The opinion further asserts that the ‘New Direction’ has been largely utilising policies left behind by the past government of President Ernest Bai Koroma to run the state.

It is terribly damaging for the young government, if all these opinions which seem to be misconceptions remain unchallenged by the New Direction communication’s team. The effects of such failings will not be badly felt now, but in the not-too-distant future.

Writers in public relations have posited that the practice of public relations should not be limited only to the radio and the newspaper.  A radio discussion and placement of an article in a newspaper on a government policy or achievement known as the public information model is not enough. The model represents the most minute public relations practice in contemporary societies.  Several PR models exist that can of be of high value to Joe Sesay and his team for the popularisation of government’s activities and achievements.

The insufficient communication method employed by Mr Sesay and team is failing the government in the face of a deepening negative opinion for the government. In what appears a sinister cover-up of the failings, the government communication strategist is bent on waging war on the media instead of exploring ways to manipulate media content.

Joe’s conduct portrays him as a man who has never laid hands on writings and readings on the ‘Impact of Public Relations On Mainstream Media.’ A mere goggle can help the communication strategist to read the article and see what he can do to enjoy a cosy and rosy relationship with the media. It is needless to say that the bad media publications and backlash government continue to receive has direct linkage with lacklustre performance of the communication’s team.

Apart from the failings to communicate, most of them have resorted to using invectives on media practitioners. Joe Sesay is on record to have directed verbal attacks on the proprietor and Managing Editor of Nightwatch newspaper for content with which he is less satisfactory.

In such outbursts of verbal abuse and threats, the communication strategist is slowly isolating himself from a community of critical thinkers.     The failure of the communication strategist to have in place a comprehensive communication strategy to guide overall communication activities is symptomatic of gross incompetence.

A communication strategy for government calls for thorough research that underpins strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that can inform the whole communication strategy. Ministry of Information and Communication can outsource communication experts to have a communication strategy for government.

Mass Communication Department of Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone has a quality pool of lecturers whose service can be employed for that purpose.  They are ready to render consultancy services when called upon to do so.

The ineptitude of MOIC Communication strategists was visible following the setting up of the Commissions Of Inquiry (COI) to hold accountable past government officials who bear a hand in the loot. The COI initially suffered a problem of public acceptance and cooperation in almost every part of the country.

The commission was portrayed as a kangaroo-styled one and a witch-hunt for north-western politicians and that it must not be accepted.  The commission’s strength and popularity was considerably whittled down by the erstwhile Public Secretary of the main opposition, All People’s Congress.

He is a man who greatly succeeded in demonising the commission which lost the euphoria, relevance and appeal a commission of that nature was supposed to have. The communication strategists were clueless of the dangers associated with the anti-government rhetorics peddled by the Public Secretary.

They came to realise later only when the danger has been caused as majority of Sierra Leoneans has come to believe that the COI is a witch hunt for officials of the former government. As the threat became real, government communication experts embarked on a still-birth communication campaigns throughout the country to change the perceptions of the people.

It was too late for them. The people’s perceptions were never changed as they have got the first message. The most frustrating aspect of the communication strategy was the misappropriation of a huge sum of money meant for the communication campaign, and the whole communication process became a disaster.

The negative effects of the communication strategists’ failings is weighing hard on government as the pending ‘White Paper’ will hardly enjoy public acceptance when it comes out. Mind you, the business of public relations is anchored on three fundamental principles: visibility, credibility and acceptance.

The last principle is the overriding objective which is acceptance. No matter the degree of effort and expertise one employs in communication, public relations campaign becomes irrelevant when the objective of acceptance is not realised. The list of failings of the ‘New Direction’ communication experts is not exhaustive as more will be highlighted in subsequent editions.

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