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A review of the President's 2013 State of the nation address

By Paul T. Shipale
As I already stated, I don't disapprove of the President's crafted stupendous speeches, especially their content but as far as their form is concerned, the question remains; do they outline a vision for the future and give us hope or they lack in elaborated persuasive ideas?

Indeed, succinctly, an argument is a discourse intended to persuade by engaging the doubts of those listening to it or reading it and providing evidence to overcome those doubts. Technically, thus, an argument has a claim and evidence or premise to that claim. It does not necessarily annihilate opponents or bulletproof its position because it is dialectic between opposing positions that result in a decision or search for answers through exchanges. The caveat here is to contest premises rather than confirming them.

To answer the above question, I am not going to parrot President Pohamba's national address and pepper endorsement of his priorities with lofty words. Similarly, I am not going to greet clichéd platitudes with boisterous cheers but will simply attempt, comparatively speaking, to look at President Pohamba's address and its structure with those of other African Heads of State, namely the South African President Jacob Zuma and President John Dramani Mahama of Ghana who delivered their State of the Nation addresses on 14 February 2013 and 21 February 2013, respectively.

'In a typical display of political showmanship, on February 14, President Jacob Zuma delivered his annual State of the Nation address and emphasized the past year's achievements, professed the need for continued improvement, and navigated through contentious issues with grandiloquent generalizations and skilful evasion of details', commented the reporter Matt Guerrieri of the Global Paradigm on March 24, 2013.

On February 19th, the powerful lower house of the South African legislature, the South African National Assembly, provided the opposition parties a chance to criticize Zuma's speech and the failings of his administration. The DA's parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko was particularly scathing in her assessment of the address. She said President Zuma had passed up a golden opportunity to present South Africans with a bold new plan. "Instead, all he gave us was an uninspired version of last year's SONA, which provides no hope for South Africans crying out for real leadership," Mazibuko said. "All we heard was more of the same empty promises we have heard before."

Guerrieri further reported that with calculated but not dispassionate dictation, the young MP portrayed the president as self-serving and out of touch. She mourned the nearly half a million jobs lost since Zuma first assumed office. In an appeal to young voters, Mazibuko employed a histrionic anecdote about a struggling new mother, conjecturing that Zuma does not "feel for the five million South Africans under the age of thirty-four who are unable to find work." In this vein, she criticized his administration for failing to adopt a youth wage subsidy that promised tax breaks to employers who hire young people: "The worst betrayal of all was the President's abandonment of the Youth Wage Subsidy. This would benefit hundreds of thousands of youth-"Mazibuko remarked.

According to Guerrieri again, after disparaging President Zuma's economic policies, Mazibuko urged President Zuma to forgo re-election, charging that "South Africa is a great country being let down by a weak President". With that, the opposition parties exploded into emphatic applause accompanied by a supercilious roar of laughter that erupted from the ruling party.

Conversely, ANC representatives like Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba rushed to defend Zuma arguing that the President's address was a report on the progress made since his 2012 speech and a plan of action for 2013.

Indeed, criticism on the lack of detail often ignores the fact that the SONA is not an individual effort by the President but in effect a collective report by him and his cabinet as a whole. It is largely the function of individual ministers and their officials to provide the flesh and details during discussion of their budget votes in parliament. This is usually accompanied by extensive media briefings. Similarly, prior expectations for fresh plans to be announced are just not realistic. Most government programmes that were announced in previous years are long-term and are works in progress.

Thus the President correctly focused reporting back on these programmes in progress and pointing out where, if necessary, adjustments would be made or implementation would be sped up.

Even so, President Zuma did offer a sober assessment of where government had gone wrong or was implementing previously announced programmes too slowly. Examples are the infrastructure programme, the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme and land redistribution. President Pohamba also talked about the soon to be introduced measures that are aimed at accelerating land reform and distribution and to assist resettled farmers. He also talked about energy and agriculture with the Baynes Hydro Power and the Kudu Gas power projects and the Fresh produce hubs, respectively.

On his part, the newly elected President of Ghana, H.E. John Dramani Mahama delivered his State of the Nation Address on 21 February 2013 in fulfilment of Article 67 of Ghana's Constitution which requires the President of the Republic of Ghana to deliver to Parliament a message on the State of the Nation at the beginning of each session of Parliament.

"As the elected President of this dear country ...I am fully conscious of the expectations of our people and I pledge to work with a sense of urgency and remain sincere and truthful at all times" President John Dramani stated in his opening section and further remarked that "As I stated on January 7 when I took the oath of office, I promised, that as president of this nation, I will work hard to place us on the right path, and I will lead us over the hurdles and past the obstacles that might threaten to keep us from meeting our goals' said the President who then explained his vision for his country saying: "My vision for this country is to create a conducive national environment in which our children grow happily into responsible adults;
where workers are proud to work and defend our national values;
where improved maternal health reduces the hazards of childbearing;
where teachers use their influence to positively mould the next generation; a Ghana in which we all create and share in the benefits."

More importantly, President John Dramani elaborated on what he termed as "the vital pillars of his Government's programmes" stating that;

"Over the next four years, we will build an economy that rewards hard work and nurtures Ghanaian entrepreneurs and businesses whose prospects will not be tied to political cycles and patronage. As President, I am firmly focused on these goals, because these are the right things to do ...In my first term as President, I will focus on delivering on the following, which constitute the vital pillars underpinning our national development programme: Putting the People First; A Strong and Resilient Economy; Expanding Infrastructure; and Transparent and Accountable Governance."

President Pohamba also opened his address by telling us that he will use the opportunity to highlight the activities of the Government during the 2012/ 2013 Financial Year and explained that he will also outline some of the major policy interventions that the Government will carry out in the new Financial Year.

The President elaborated on the challenges the Nation faced and how the Government intends to address them including through the various infrastructure projects although not in a structured manner as his Ghanaian counterpart. For instance, in pillar one: putting people first, President John Dramani touched on the thrust of the social policy and human development programme revolving around education, healthcare, social security and protection for the vulnerable- women, children, the aged and people with disabilities.

Of course President Pohamba also mentioned these when he talked about the ongoing efforts to expand access to education and the need for human resources development and capacity building. He particularly pointed out the Government report on a Comprehensive and Holistic Review and Reform of the Higher Education System and the report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into the Activities, Management and Operations of the MHSS as well as the 2013 National Demographic and Health Survey currently underway.

In pillar two, President Dramani elaborated on the positive growth rate the country experienced when he talked about macro-economic stability and the challenge of a misalignment of the expenditure categories in the Budget, and the corrective measures taken to address misalignment. President Pohamba also talked about macro-economic stability when he referred to the Appropriation Bill and the country's economic development strategy contained in NDP4 as well as the priority areas of development outlined by the 5th SWAPO Party Congress, which the President stated will be implemented within the framework of NDP4. The President also pointed out the results of the 2009/2010 Household Income and Expenditure Survey report as well as the newly formulated National Rural Development Policy and its strategy.

Like President Pohamba, President John Dramani also talked about Governance and accountability and concluded his address on foreign policy but did not have a call-to-action, even if President Pohamba tried to do so when he said "The task of nation building is by no means easy.

There are many impediments to overcome. As your elected leaders, our Government will continue to pursue this task with dedication. I am confident that through hard work and cooperation of the whole nation, we will be equal to the task." This wonderful phrase was cut short before the President boldly concluded that "we will continue to lead. We will continue to serve the nation."

On sober analysis it has to be said that the President's Address did exactly what it was supposed to do: it reported back on work in progress, outlined corrective actions where needed, and provided broad outlines of further initiatives. All in all, the address was a balanced one made under difficult circumstances and showed that the government is aware of the problems facing the nation.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen.


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