Rebuilding African economies requires stronger media, government collaboration - Oppong Nkrumah

BY: Isaac Yeboah
Mr. Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Minister for Information
Mr. Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Minister for Information

The Minister for Information, Mr. Kojo Oppong Nkrumah has underscored the critical roles the media and marketing communicators, along with governments on the African continent, must play to rebuild their covid-ravaged economies.

He says the continent is at a most critical time in her recent economic history which calls for a common purpose from policy makers, private sector players and the media to rally round the continent-wide effort to recover.

“It is the only way to guarantee our common success”, he pointed out as he delivered the keynote address at the Graphic Business/Stanbic Bank Breakfast Meeting on Tuesday (August 24, 2021) in Accra.

The thought leadership meeting was on the theme: Media and Marketing Communication Post Covid: A Catalyst for Africa’s Socio-Economic Resurgence.

Oppong Nkrumah assured that government would play its part by continually providing support for the media industry through fair regulation, capacity enhancement programmes and support to the general economy.

He said post-Covid 19, the state is confronted with a myriad of tough challenges, such as;

  •  Vaccination in the midst of global vaccine supply chain shortages,
  •  Opening up the economy as much as possible for resumption of normal economic activity
  •  Improving domestic resource mobilisation to enhance our ability to invest in healthcare infrastructure and economic avenues,
  •  Investing heavily in initiatives that will yield high quick growth for the many and not a few, and
  •  Balancing the opportunity to trade across Africa at this time with the need to mitigate the risk of cross-country re-infections.

And while the efforts to address the challenges are not easy, he said they require difficult, unpopular decisions and a lot of public goodwill to succeed.

According to Oppong Nkrumah, the role of the mass media in economic development the world over, is well documented, adding that without the media and marketing communications adequately playing the role of positive amplifiers, no society may be able to achieve its full potential.

“This means even in ordinary times, if we are to fully achieve our economic growth and development potential, strong Marketing Communications and media support is required. And in times like this even more.

“Chair, if there is ever a time that, we need to examine the role of Media & Marketing Communications within the context of what it takes to unleash the potential for prosperity of any economy, that time is now. If there is ever a time to interrogate the true impact of the work of the media in stimulating growth, development and improvement in the quality of lives of our people, that time is now.”

While pointing out the “extremely extra-ordinary times” facing nations’ economies, the Information Minister said the scale of the severe recession the Covid-19 pandemic has plunged all parts of the global economy including Africa into has only been recorded a few times in global economic history.

He was sure that for any set of interventions to succeed, it must gain the goodwill and support of the people, explaining that businesses and citizens, which are key value drivers, “will only support these recovery policies if they understand the aims, the methods and the potential impact”, a role the media is well placed to play.

“I recall from that fateful Night in March 2020, when we recorded our first case and the journey we have travelled in containing the health crisis fairly well. In addition to the strong health based interventions anchored on testing, tracing and treating it has taken a lot of strong marketing communications and media support to get here. When the media stepped up to the plate and played their positive influencing role, focused heavily on reporting facts, focused heavily on getting properly accredited experts to do the analysis and amplified the robust marketing communications efforts of Government, the evidence is that together we have made laudable gains in our fight.

“This is exactly what we will need for the second crisis; the economic crisis. Like has always been done in the past, Governments in Ghana and across the region have rolled out policy interventions to get economies back on track. But once again we will need strong marketing communications and media compliment to succeed,” he stressed.

Below is the Information Minister’s Address in full.

MEDIA & MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS POST COVID: A CATALYST FOR AFRICA’S SOCIO-ECONOMIC RESURGENCE

Introduction
Chair, I want to thank the organising partners for the opportunity to be with you this morning.

I also want to thank you for the investment in thought leadership platforms like this one. Thought leadership platforms like this give an opportunity to have a dispassionate evidence based and informed discourse which hopefully should lead to resolutions that move our society forward together.

I’m told that since last year I am more noted for providing updates on Covid more than anything else. So when you invited me and added covid to the subject, I was like “ei these people want to Cement my covid credentials.”

Though I will not be providing case counts and announcing new Government restrictions, I am hopeful that my short remarks on Africa’s Post Covid Economic Recovery and the potential role of the media/Marketing communications, will tickle a deeper examination of the subject and hopefully thought-led action.

Setting the Tone
Economists have over the centuries battled with the theory of the determinants of economic growth. The reason simply is that if we know for sure what will bring growth, then we just do it. That way we achieve the growth and development and improvement in the quality of lives that we all so much desire.

Smith as far back in 1776 theorized about an enabling environment including peace, justice & low taxes as major contributors. Ricardo, Marshall and Keynes added to it by introducing the elements of natural resource availability, infrastructure development, savings, availability of labour, technology and other factors. Despite these known prescriptions, the question of sustained growth has eluded many countries.

The question has therefore remained; If the keys to economic prosperity are as easy and simple as prescribed, why then do we see many countries struggling to achieve it? It stands to reason that the factors that contribute to whether or not economic prosperity will be achieved in a particular jurisdiction cannot be limited to Govt Policy, Private Sector Participation and availability of natural resources and labour only. Indeed various constituencies in the society and various professions have peculiar roles that can stimulate or inhibit the efforts at achieving economic prosperity.

In recent years, efforts have been made to focus some academic attention on the role some elements such as media and marketing Communications play in impacting for good or for ill, economic development.

The Indian Economist Amartya Sen was perhaps one of the first to discuss the role of the media in economic development in 1984 and 1999 through a discussion on a paper on prevention of famines. Since then the subject has gained currency with many publications including work done by the World Bank in 2002 – Right to Tell: The Role of Mass Media in Economic Development, Wilbur Schramm (2014) – Media’s Development Role n Social, Economic and Political Progress. In All these, the literature is rich that without the media AND Marketing Communications adequately playing the role of positive amplifiers, our full potential may not be achieved.

This means even in ordinary times, if we are to fully achieve our economic growth and development potential, strong Marketing Communications and media support is required. And in times like this even more.

The Current Challenge
Chair, if there is ever a time that, we need to examine the role of Media & Marketing Communications within the context of what it takes to unleash the potential for prosperity of any economy, that time is now. If there is ever a time to interrogate the true impact of the work of the media in stimulating growth, development and improvement in the quality of lives of our people, that time is now.

Firstly, because we are in extremely extra-ordinary times. Fewer times in global economic history, have we had such a major economic downturn that has plunged all parts of the global economy including Africa into a severe recession. The International Monetary Fund, describes the covid-19 pandemic as a crisis like no other. This is because in response to the potentially more devastating health crises, measures taken by Governments have plunged the world into an economic recession worse than that of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Sub-Saharan economies contracted by an unprecedented 2.4% while the global economy contracted by 3.5%. With poverty levels already high especially in sub-Saharan Africa, the need to recover and recover quickly and equitably is extremely high.

Secondly, we are also in times of unprecedented media penetration and impact the world over. Not only has traditional media percolated all over the continent but new media continues to stride even further. Social media penetration which is increasingly becoming the source of news to many on our continent is now at 45% in North Africa, 41% in Southern African and 16% in West Africa as at January 2021, according to the media research Organisation Statista.

We are at the intersection of an unprecedented need to engineer an economic recovery across Africa unlike ever before at a time of the deepest media penetration ever and we cannot discount the impact the media AND marketing communications can have….to spur us on or pull us back.

The History of Global post Crises recovery efforts
Throughout global economic history, the world has been through some crises and recovery. Recovery, the pace of recovery and even the extent of recovery is determined by among other things, how the efforts of the key value drivers including Governments and Media inter-relate.

The Great Depression of the 1930s had significantly negative economic impact in the Americas and Europe. An Estimated over 15 Million Job losses in America alone, 20,000 bankruptcies and the failure of major banks in America and Europe.

Primarily, Governments responded with major economic stimulus programmes such as the Industrialization Agenda of Europe and the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt in the USA. There is little literature on the role of media / marketing communications in this agenda, but anecdotal evidence suggests a strong rallying of the nations around the recovery effort to get the business community and the citizenry and the general public to buy into the recovery programmes and make them succeed.

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 was no different. With the contraction of nearly 4% of US GDP in Quarter 4 of 2008, slow down of global growth by about 5% in 2007 and losses of over 1.5 trillion USD, the collapse of Banks and credit markets required multilateral Government intervention to engineer recovery. While the media played a critical role of examining the recovery efforts and their propriety, it also provided deep enlightenment on the efforts at removing the systemic risks to the financial system. In particular the literature shows a quick pick up in consumer confidence with firmer confidence in the housing markets by 2009, aided by strong marketing communications on the path to recovery.

Even the International Debt Crisis of 1982-1989 was similar. It is argued that the recklessness of creditors and the mismanagement of debtors on the global stage culminated in the eventual economic crisis that hit parts of Latin America. The repeat of this in a sequential manner in Mexico in 1994, Asia in 1997 as well as Brazil and Argentina in 1999 and 2002 respectively were all resolved with similar approaches; significant Government and even international efforts at Macro-Fiscal tightening and channeling investments into saving institutions while investing in productive sectors. But also once again a clear exercise to carry the people along supported by a robust media and marketing communications eco-system.

ROLES
Chair, the Media through all of these examples I have given has played two significant roles. And here I will be relying on the analysis of Carma Asia Pacific (2008) and Milo (1991).

(I) Influencing role
(II) Reflecting role

The fact is that the media can create societal and market opinions. (Carma Asia Pacific 2008.) The media can influence a financial crises either by provoking and sustaining a longer economic recovery, because media has the tendency to produce negative images of a crisis, OR by initiating recovery through the distribution of positive images, thereby stimulating and encouraging government action to solve the problem; (Milo 1991)

The media employs the output of economic Organisations, Governments and companies in their coverage. How we report the aims, the strategies and the evaluation of these policy interventions can fuel or distort the picture of and for the general public. And in return becomes the new stimulus of how the economic actors, the general public and even the Governments further act in this recovery cycle. For any set of interventions to be successful as has been observed, it must gain the goodwill and support of the people. The key value drivers such as businesses and citizens will only support these recovery policies if they understand the aims, the methods and the potential impact.

This means Policy makers must adopt broad based, proactive, robust, nuanced and repetitive marketing communications strategies to get all aboard. But it also means Media must reflect these realities to the people and compliment this effort by helping the effort to rebuild genuinely, highlighting the shared responsibilities in rebuilding and the common benefits of its outcomes. That is what the history of recoveries tells us and that theory will most likely not change.

The Covid Recovery Approach
The covid-19 pandemic has no doubt brought its twin crises. The health crises which has threatened lives and the economic crisis which has threatened livelihoods.

I recall from that fateful Night in March 2020, when we recorded our first case and the journey we have travelled in containing the health crisis fairly well. In addition to the strong health based interventions anchored on testing, tracing and treating it has taken a lot of strong marketing communications and media support to get here. When the media stepped up to the plate and played their positive influencing role, focused heavily on reporting facts, focused heavily on getting properly accredited experts to do the analysis and amplified the robust marketing communications efforts of Government, the evidence is that together we have made laudable gains in our fight.

This is exactly what we will need for the second crisis; the economic crisis. Like has always been done in the past, Governments in Ghana and across the region have rolled out policy interventions to get economies back on track. But once again we will need strong marketing communications and media compliment to succeed.

The state efforts include,
- Vaccination in the midst of global vaccine supply chain shortages,

- Opening up the economy as much as possible for resumption of normal economic activity (albeit with the challenges of limited compliance to preventive etiquette by many, sometimes including Government officials),

- Improving domestic resource mobilisation to enhance our ability to invest in healthcare infrastructure and economic avenues,

- Investing heavily in initiatives that will yield high quick growth for the many and not a few,

- Balancing the opportunity to trade across Africa at this time with the need to mitigate the risk of cross country re-infections.


Chair, these efforts are not easy. And Government will not even make any effort to pretend they are a walk in the park. They require difficult, unpopular decisions and a lot of public goodwill if they are to succeed.

- In a robust media and democratic culture like ours, you have to convince the citizen who will not protect himself and could die if not vaccinated, yet who rightly holds you to live up to the full text of the law, that, you have to do all you can to procure a vaccine to protect his life.

- You have to convince the very person who refuses to wear the mask that the economy needs to be re-opened so he doesn’t go hungry and yet you cannot lock up everyone who refuses to wear a mask.

- You have to convince the 33,000 engineers, lawyers accountants and other professionals who are not known to the Tax database, yet demand that you fix everything around at a go, that they have to pay their due if we are to rake in the outstanding 10% of GDP that is not coming to the national treasury and reduce borrowing some more.

- You have to convince the Ghanaian Businessman who is eager to tap into the opportunities of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area but has to be protected from cross-country spread of covid, that we have to manage with zoom meetings or quarantines in the alternative or virtual trade channels in an African culture where we traditionally like to interact.

These efforts are not easy. And to succeed at them you need among other things strong marketing communications and a media that is clear in the understanding of the balance between reflection and influence.

Two things we need to urgently address are;

1.The tendency for Policy Makers to assume, these things are so obvious and the public and the media must know.

2.The tendency of some media practitioners to think that our ONLY job, is to be a check on government or to highlight the ills in the private sector.

Policy makers must understand that now more than ever, there is the need to communicate, communicate, and communicate to carry all stakeholders along. Media must understand that we are in this boat together. And part of our job is to positively influence the society to support the recovery efforts.

At a time when the media landscape has been significantly negatively impacted and somewhat changed because of Covid, revenues have dwindled and competition has increased with technology disruptions to traditional media. One of the consequences is that Public Interest Media has been one of the biggest victims and needs to be attended to.

Attention must be given to support the media recognize and play the very important role they have to play in this recovery effort. Attention must be given to aid them understand and convey to the public the peculiar difficulties of today and the genuine efforts being employed to recover and what the results will be if we work together and each do their due. Attention needs to be given to support the media to adequately balance the obligation of reflection with that of positive influence.

The media throughout the history of economic crises have been an integral part of the recovery processes. According to Eiser (1994) the media creates two types of behaviour in society: approach, and avoidance.

Approach behaviour is when the media provide positive explicit judgments about an economic situation or crisis, which may influence people to become more confident and positive about the economy. Such positive news may, for example, encourage the unemployed to seek employment, or businesses to expand their operations, urge the private sector to take advantage of state interventional policies to drive growth.

On the other hand, avoidance behaviour consists of the media providing negative explicit judgments about an economic situation or crisis.

Negative explicit judgments pertaining to high unemployment or the instability of financial markets, for example, may provoke a climate of fear and apprehension, deterring people from seeking employment or investing in financial markets. When we instill fear and negativity as our primary content, the consumer confidence required to aid our own business generate the advertising revenues to survive as businesses will even suffer.

Such negative publicity arises partly due to the unhealthy competition between media outlets. To beat the competition some media houses select stories to play on the emotions of the consuming public which could potentially interfere with attempts to solve the economic/financial crises.

It is therefore the role of the media to eschew all forms of sensational and misleading publications about the economy which will deter investors, both foreign and local and the general public and which in the end will lead to our collective dwindling revenues.

Now is also the time to shore up strong marketing communications. Not just by Government and policy makers as I have mentioned earlier, but also by private sector.

It is true that in times of economic crises, one of the first budgets to be cut is the advertising budget. The effect is a weakened media that may be prone to undesired journalism. But the literature is true that now rather is the time for private sector to shore up their advertising and marketing communications efforts. Because not only will it help the general economic recovery, it will help your business recover faster.

As far back as 1927, advertising executive Roland Vaile published a report in the Harvard Business Review detailing his study of companies during the 1923 recession. Vaile (1927) found that companies that continued to advertise came out 20% ahead of where they were pre-recession, while those who reduced advertising ended up 7% below their pre-recession levels.

McGraw-Hill study of brands during the U.S. recessions of the early 1980’s, revealed that out of the 600 businesses analysed, those who continued to advertise during the 1980-82 recession were 256% ahead of their competitors who did not advertise.

While we encourage brands to rather step up their advertising spend, we further encourage the marketing communications industry to invest in innovative ways of delivering messages & creating value for clients. The same old campaigns and concepts won’t cut it.

In conclusion Chair, we are at the most critical time in recent economic history of our continent. A time to rally round the flag and indeed rally round the continent-wide effort to recover. This requires common purpose from policy makers, from private sector players and from media. It is the only way to guarantee our common success.

On the part of Government we will continue to provide support for the industry through fair regulation, capacity enhancement programmes and support to the general economy which should in turn help the industry.

Help us to help you and help the nation in the end.

Thank you