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The importance of public policy communication


Motsamai Mokotjo

“Without any period of transition, there is a total, complete, and absolute substitution. It is true that we could equally well stress the rise of a new nation, the setting up of a new state, its diplomatic relations, and its economic and political trends. But we have precisely chosen to speak of that kind of tabula rasa which characterizes at the outset all decolonization. Its unusual importance is that it constitutes, from the very first day, the minimum demands of the colonized. To tell the truth, the proof of success lies in a whole social structure being changed from the bottom up,” Frantz Fanon writes in The Wretched of The Earth.

This statement clearly depicts the lack of public policy communication from Prime Minister Sam Matekane’s administration after various bungles in paying civil servants, sponsoring of students pursuing postgraduate studies and freezing the Youth Apprenticeship Program, alias Lihalahala, aimed at offering young graduates job experience.

The government will be judged on “telling the truth, the proof of success,” yet there are cosmetic explanations that are demagogic and promoted by political tourists without any mandate from the government to clarify “the truth”. 

One may ask: what is public policy communication, and how does it work?

Various scholars, such as Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations andEthan Zuckerman in Cute Cats to the Rescue? Participatory Media and Political Expression refer to public policy communication as the art of conveying information about government policies and decisions to the public. It is an essential element of democracy as it helps citizens understand and engage with the policies that affect their lives.

In recent years, public policy communication has become increasingly important due to the rise of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. Governments must now compete with a barrage of information from various sources, making it more challenging to get their messages across.

The authors further argue that effective public policy communication requires a strategic approach that involves understanding the needs and concerns of the target audience. Communication channels should be carefully selected based on their reach, accessibility, and relevance to the target audience. For example, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook are effective for reaching younger audiences, while traditional media like television and newspapers are still critical for reaching older demographics.

One of the biggest challenges facing public policy communication is the issue of trust. People are increasingly sceptical of government institutions, and many are quick to dismiss any messages that come from them. This means that public policy communication must be transparent, honest, and timely, with an emphasis on clear and concise language.

Another important aspect of public policy communication is the ability to engage with citizens and solicit feedback. Government should not view communication as a one-way street, but rather as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue with their constituents. By actively listening to feedback and incorporating it into policies, governments can build trust and create more effective policies that meet the needs of their citizens.

 Public policy communication is a critical component of a modern democratic state like Lesotho. It requires a strategic approach that emphasizes transparency, honesty, and engagement with the public. Government must adapt to the changing communication landscape and use a variety of channels to reach their target audiences effectively. Ultimately, the success of public policy communication depends on the ability to build trust and establish a two-way dialogue with citizens.

Contextually, the communicators of the Matekane administration, particularly those with political clout and positions, are not fulfilling their duties. This has resulted in several faux pas, including a lack of clarity and consistency in messaging, inadequate or misleading information being provided to the public, failure to engage with stakeholders and incorporate their perspectives, insufficient or poorly targeted outreach efforts, ignoring or dismissing feedback and criticism from the public, overpromising and under-delivering on policy goals, a lack of transparency in decision-making processes, insufficient consideration of the potential unintended consequences of policies, and failure to address the root causes of public dissatisfaction or mistrust.

There are serious consequences when government fails to communicate effectively. Communication is a fundamental aspect of governance, and effective communication is essential for ensuring that citizens are informed and engaged in the decision-making process.

When governments fail to interconnect efficiently, it leads to confusion, misinformation, and mistrust among citizens. This can result in a lack of confidence in the government’s ability to manage crises, implement policies, and provide essential services.

Furthermore, when government communication is ineffective, it can also create a sense of alienation among citizens who feel disconnected from their leaders and government institutions. This can contribute to a breakdown in social cohesion and exacerbate existing social and economic inequalities.

The most disparaging part or department is the Prime Minister’s office, which continues to fail dismally in addressing the public on serious social and economic issues.

Yet there’s a Press Attaché whom gets paid with public taxes yet sleeping on the job.

Against such tendencies Fanon writes: “For the nation’s spokesmen are responsible at one and the same time for safeguarding the unity of the nation, the progress of the masses toward a state of well-being and the right of all peoples to bread and liberty.”

After years of political orators at the helm, one would have thought the new government would at least navigate communication, but it has failed drastically, which reminds one of colonial countries after emerging from colonization.

The contrast of the colonial era is described by Fanon in the following: “The young independent nation evolves during the first years in an atmosphere of the battlefield, for the political leader of an underdeveloped country looks fearfully at the huge distance his country will have to cover. He calls to the people and says to them: ‘Let us gird up our loins and set to work,’ and the country, possessed by a kind of creative madness, throws itself into a gigantic and disproportionate effort. The program consists not only of climbing out of the morass but also of catching up with the other nations using the only means at hand.”

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