Branding the Enemy: NDC, NPP and the Politics of Stigma

npp-ndc

My unfortunately educated brother, Yaw Boateng Festival once told me a story. It is common knowledge that the traders in Kumasi Central Market are NPP mouth soldiers. So once, just to piss them off, he decided to play the NDC spokesperson in an argument with them. One of the women rebuked him angrily, “You, we sent you to school to educate you and you have turned out to be an NDC member”. I bet you didn’t see that coming. I bet you did.

There is a chronic perception that the NDC is the party of the uneducated, the so-called verandah boys. The NPP on the other hand is the party of the elite, well-spoken and educated people. The woman’s statement is probably the crudest way I have ever heard anyone represent this belief, and yet, alas, there it is. The NDC and NPP have such divergent brand images in this regard. But the jury seems to agree that NDC’s image is a problem.

First, let’s interrogate the validity of each party’s perceived brand image. Is it really true that NDC is the party of illiterates? Well, that is a questionable assertion. The NDC has provided three presidents and the NPP two, and it is only the NDC who gave us a PhD holder as president. I have heard some NPP friends say NPP has more “men”—that is educated people—to run the country than the babies with sharp teeth that the NDC has been assigning to ministerial portfolios. Besides the misogyny of this assertion, I am not convinced by this one either. Many of the current batch of NPP ministers under Nana Addo are recycled from Kuffuor’s government. The new faces like Ken Ofori Attah were co-opted from the public, just like Mahama co-opted Prof Jane Opoku-Agyeman. So where are the “men”?

Here’s where I think the issue lies: history. The NDC is a re-imagined and rebranded military regime. Like all successful military leaders and dictators, Rawlings was a populist. His NDC was then birthed in this image of populism, appealing to the commoner, engaging with the unremembered villager and raising affection through charisma, drama and politics of action. And consistently in the NDC, these things are rewarded over anything else. That is why babies with sharp teeth thrive in this party, and only very likeable people front the NDC as presidential candidates.

The NPP on the other hand is built on tradition: a tradition of an organized educational elite who seek to oppose an existing political process. The UGCC was established by elite men to oppose colonialism and through the Danquah-Busia tradition, was reborn as the NPP to oppose what they saw as Rawlings’ undemocratic regime. This is why the NPP seems to have a factory of elites, appeals to the educated, and follows tradition to choose their presidential candidates.

So the answer lies with history. The NDC is a populist military regime reborn as a political party; the NPP is the new face of a tradition of elite opposition to the dominant political process. For this reason, the NDC has been seen as the common man’s party and the NPP has been seen as the educated man’s party. By current practices, in reality, neither party is more significantly elite or populist. But their respective histories have given them their current image and such images have been enduring.

Hardcore party members will fire me over this and argue that this is not true. But I will encourage them to do some market research first and not get pointless intellectual erections over this. What is more important is for us to interrogate the value of the respective party’s brand image now that we know why many people perceive the parties in that light. You must wonder, what is wrong with being populist? Why does the NDC have to bear their image as stigma and the NPP wallow in the privilege of their image. Well, that is a freaking complicated question. But the easy answer lies in our culture.

The Westernization of our culture since colonial rule has made us believe that the educated person is more valuable and intelligent than the uneducated person. In Ghana, a gentleman [krakye] refers to an educated man, not a well-mannered man. Indeed, it is now a global perception that education is the key to progress. The general perception then is that it is better to have an elite group running the country. Even if they are book-long, that is still more respectable than having a bunch of know-nothings directing the affairs of our country. For this reason, the NPP is perceived to have a better image than the NDC.

Of course this has not stopped the NDC from winning elections, and you cannot also rule out tribal voting in our politics yet. The NPP has been justifiably branded an Akan party. Again this is steeped in their history as well as their decision to choose only Akan presidential candidates till date. They have a real opportunity to change this trend with the very competent Dr Bawumia; it is an opportunity that will be unfortunate to say the least if they don’t take it. But I won’t digress into this matter today because this is not yet a problem. I don’t consider their Akan image to be a stigma since there is no stigma in being Akan or being any tribe for that matter. I don’t have the tolerance for tribal and discriminatory nonsense. So let’s stick to the stigma that has proper teeth.

Here, there is a looming danger for the NDC. If you look at the voting patterns of the last 20 years, more educated people tend to vote for the NPP, whiles more uneducated people tend to vote for the NDC. It is increasingly becoming a social crime for an educated person to be or vote NDC. This is regardless of the fact that both parties have been led by elites and have had populist manifestos and campaign strategies. It has everything to do with their image. If this pattern is to continue, we can then project that as more and more people become educated and the less educated people phase out, over time, the NDC will be seriously threatened as it will lose its core voter base. I know this looks gloom.

What should the NDC do? I have seen some attempts to challenge the perception that you don’t need an education to run a country well. Nonsense. No where in history has that ever been true. Wisdom is not in the classroom but it lies in education, and these days education is formal and in the classroom. Fighting such a well-established belief is a horse that won’t run.

So should the NDC engage in an explosive rebranding towards a more elitist outlook? That may be considered inauthentic—a mere imitation of their opponents—and may end up alienating their still large core following. Should they stick with their current image and make the most of it, hoping against time that such projections are unfounded and will not hurt them in the long term? That’s also a risky venture.

Politics—like religion and marketing—is a game of perception, and perceptions beget image. I am not sure if they know, but the NPP has a glaring flaw in the way their party’s brand is presented. And the NDC has some interesting assets sitting deep within the stigma of their verandah boys image. I think the NDC has the perfect recipe to make an amazing comeback with a different brand position that will play out on the strength of their current image, and exploit the flaws in the NPP’s image. It will also serve them well in the long term.

But…I am not going to provide any specific ideas here to help either party. Plus, I don’t do stuff like this for free anymore since I am paid well for my ideas. But if someone is interested ahead of 2024, you know where to find me. Wink.

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