To the listening audience of his State of the Nation (SONA) address delivered on 15 September, it may appear that President Adama Barrow does not have the best speech writer(s).
To this writer, the address could have been written more clearly with fewer technical or unfamiliar words or phrases, and so on.
However, the tendency to do things the traditional way by the compilers of the SONA shows a continuing lack of innovation in the formal nature of the contents and presentation.
But perhaps this is to be expected because the target audience for the speech was the National Assembly, as stipulated in the constitution, which (in section 77: The Executive Power and the National Assembly) states:
“The President shall at least once in each year attend a session of the National Assembly and address a session on the condition of The Gambia, then policies of the Government and the administration of the State.”
Thus, even though the speech was broadcast live to the nation and the world, it was delivered for the consumption of the country’s legislators but not meant for the general public.
This distinction is crucial because it determines the contents and language of the address.
Of course, to someone familiar with official communications to the Legislature, the tendency to write in a language that obscures and mystifies things is a longstanding practice, as evident in the annual Budget Speech and the yearly SONA., among others.
However, ideally, this should be avoided since it hinders quick comprehension, even for the target audience.
In fact, one must pity the people’s representatives who are required to digest the gobbledegook in such official statements that are dished out to them year in and year out.
One may think it is deliberate since it helps limit the MPs’ ability to challenge government officials and effectively exercise their oversight function. This assertion may sound unfair but must not be ruled out.
In any case, the tendency to obscure and mystify is always there in the official communique. They are among the tools of those who seek to keep you in the dark so that you cannot question their activities, especially the nefarious ones.
Such practices do not make it easy to scrutinize their work, and, in fact, they could use such tricks to hinder transparency and prevent accountability.
Another side to the contents of the SONA is that it has been evident over the years that the Executive lacks the best speech writers in the world.
To the keen listener, this was evident in the legibility and audibility issues detected, which were caused by the acronyms, abbreviations of titles of official documents, and so on, which President Barrow was heard uttering whilst reading the text.
The things President Barrow was made to utter include “Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs), Debt Service Suspension Initiative is (DSSI), Public Finance Management (PFM), WASCAL, REPGam, MDAs (for ministries, departments and agencies of the government), the Department for Strategic Policy and Delivery (DSPs), etc.
Our point is that speeches such as the SONA should be made listener-friendly as they are meant for delivery to listeners, whether face to face or through the broadcast media – not received as text to be read and more easily digested.
We are saying that when the target is a listening audience, the speech should not have them unless they are well-known and familiar acronyms, like COVID-19, SMEs, NDMA, ECOWAS, FAO, WFP, WASSCE, UTG, MDI, PMO.
In other words, it is best not to put acronyms and similar abbreviations in a speech to be verbally delivered to a listening audience.
Yet this is a chronic sickness of public officers in this country – to churn out speeches which most of the time are full of officialese and technical jargon; that is, a tendency to couch official lessons in a way that defies easy comprehension.
You see this reflected in the daily output and product of our news media outlets – whose reporters and editors neglect to appropriately paraphrase and simplify the speeches and the contents of press releases in a way that properly serves (to put it mildly) their readers and viewers-listeners.
For example, it is a requirement in putting together such official speeches to prefer words to figures, as in eleven point one percent (not 11.1 percent) and five billion Dalasis (not GMD5 billion); which aids flawless delivery while helping the listener to clearly grasp what the speaker says.
Having raised the issues above, we must nevertheless conclude by commending the Office of the President for producing the “State of the Nation (SONA) Report 2022” and, in collaboration with the National Assembly Service, providing the “2022 Legislative Year State of the Nation Address” in the form of a handy booklet.
Both texts of the SONA Report and President Adama Barrow’s SONA speech at the National Assembly were made available immediately after the address was delivered on 15 September.
This facilitated quick access to the official statements and close scrutiny of the texts, enabling this writer to proffer and share the views expressed above.