It is a truism that internal and external communication is the strength of any government, corporate body or organisation. The overwhelming importance of internal and external communication is particularly beneficial to any government that intends to instil national cohesion, enhance service delivery and amplify national development plans.
This primarily creates a platform for participative decision-making, citizens’ interaction with the state, information sharing, creativity and innovation, as well as creates an environment that fosters productivity and a sense of ownership.
The communication and information system of the Namibian government leaves much to be desired. Yes, we have a ministry of information and communication technology. We also have a plethora of spokespersons and liaison officers, from the office of the president to every ministry and state-owned enterprise.
With so many spokespersons for the same government with their individual communication strategies, the articulation of government’s national development plans, including the Harambee Prosperity Plan, is becoming ever more uncoordinated and at times contradictory and incoherent.
Providing citizens with well-coordinated adequate information on government priorities, programmes, and activities ensures the legitimacy of government and serves to stabilize the socio-economic and political situation in any country. In contrast, when governments face a crisis of legitimacy, they become vulnerable to disruptive forces and may not be able to effectively carry out their mandates.
It is in the interest of governments to communicate effectively with their constituencies on their plans and activities in professional rather than propagandist manner.
As legitimate players in the evolving public spheres, governments benefit from developing and maintaining effective communication capacity with citizens, to better take stock of their needs and preferences, and to foster a more deliberative public space for multi-stakeholder participation, informed policy debate, and to develop effectiveness.
There are three primary functions of government communication, namely, informing, advocating/persuading (for policies and reforms), and engaging citizens. Communication represents an important function of governments, responsible for improving three principal elements of government: effectiveness (building broad support and legitimacy for programmes and national development plans), responsiveness (knowing citizens’ needs and responding to them), and accountability (explaining government stewardship and providing mechanisms to hold governments accountable). These should not be left in the hands of public media, nor should they be left in the hands of individual ministries.
Uncoordinated government communication is a recipe for national communication disaster. Neglecting to provide coordinated and professional information to the public represents a serious impediment to good governance, and underscoring the benefits of improved and coordinated government communication has a strong multiplier effect.
Government communication is more than just developing effective spokespersons for various ministries, it also involves the provision of customer oriented services and the building capacity for citizens to provide government with feedback regarding these services. It is more than just a crisis management tool.
It is for this reason that government needs to seriously look at a comprehensive communication and information strategy that will enable it to unambiguously translate its vision, decisions and strategic objectives into reality.
Uncoordinated communication from government hinders it to comprehensively translate its development plans into actionable outputs.
Strategic communication has the potential to build and sustain social interaction between the state and citizens and most importantly drive a sense of delivery message to all citizens and civil servants. Effective communication and service delivery work in tandem like a hand in glove. There is need to put emphasis on development communication that places a high premium on direct dialogue between government and citizens.
It is important that government transforms the current communication system that has a multitude of spokespersons and liaison officers and instead establish a department, preferably in the office of the president, which will serve as a centre for coordinating, facilitating and strategizing all government communication in order to provide a cost-effective communication service to the general public. The ministry of ICT may also be a perfect location, when thoroughly revamped for that purpose. No need to have scattered communication “experts” in each ministry – rather have all these in one place to be responsible for government communication and not ministerial communication.
Such a centre should have sub-centres in each region, to be easily accessible to the general public, especially in rural and urban areas, responsible for implementing communication strategies and for compiling and delivering development-centered information programmes and campaigns, e.g. articulating Harambee and/or any other national development plan to the general public. Furthermore, the centre will be responsible for the integrated implementation of the government communication strategy and coordinate the marketing of Namibia internationally.
Planning and managing government communication and information campaigns, communication research and strategies can bear tangible fruits when properly and centrally coordinated.
- Dr Charles Mubita holds a PhD in International Relations from the University of Southern California.