By Dr Joseph Serwadda
A week before end of year 2017, all the Media Houses in Uganda received an instruction to carry live the New Year Presidential Message across their networks. The time slot set aside for the live-cast was 10pm -12midnight which was later rescinded and set at 7pm – 10pm. Most networks obliged while others carried the broadcast as part of split screens (some people can have such an audicity, be so brave and daring) between the President and their local programs, on their TV stations. What was intended is called a Media Blitz, a format first used by Adolf Hitler in which a campaign of intense coverage in the media for the purpose of propaganda, advertising or publicity is carried out to sensitize the masses on important events, in Hitler’s case, the ruthless hunt for Jews and his military escapades all over Europe.
The Media Blitz is a brilliant idea as it allows the nation to listen and see their leader as he casts the coming year’s vision! The blitz eliminates unfair advantage of big name media houses over smaller ones! All will carry the message and there is no need to explain if advertisements are not run! The only problem was that the day chosen for the President’s speech by his Media Advisors was dead wrong! December 31st, especially from 5pm to midnight is an euphoria of activity and the entire nation is mobile! Passover celebrations, Enkuuka, Ebivvulu, Prayer Camps, Catholic masses, Anglican services, Fireworks, Drinking sprees and Merry making, are the order of the evening! All stadia, football pitches, open grounds, traditional churches and Balokole worship centres are teeming with patrons. Virtually the entire nation is on the move! Social Media being the grapevine (gossip mill) it is, would be looking for hype and will not abandon its “lugambo” content over a serious political and economic speech. The timing of the blitz was a disaster!
The English Oxford Dictionary defines ‘advisory’ as “having or consisting in the power to make recommendations but not to take action enforcing them”. It also offers synonyms: consultative, consulting, advising, recommending, counsel, assisting, helping, aiding. The idea carries the same import such as when an official announcement or warning on disaster is issued, such as a frost, snow storm, wet road and other advisory. On the other hand, Collins English Dictionary defines a strategist as ” someone who is skilled in planning, the best way to gain an advantage or to achieve success, especially in war”. In the same breath, it offers synonyms as: a planner, tactician, schemer, intriguer.
There are possibly ten advisors who would have been directly responsible to offer advisories to the President of Uganda in this regard. I blame it squarely on President’s Media Advisors. These should have studied the nation’s situation and come up with a better day and time. January 1st is a public holiday, but to what end? I do not know a religion that claims this day! Moreover, the people are usually at home, some still stupified or plain fatigued by their previous night activities. What an opportune day for the President to speak to the nation. Did you notice that even serious Media Houses did not have regular programming on January 1st? Most TV and Radio presenters spent the day sending messages and wishing others well, kutumira! Yet the advisors opted for a day when all able bodied Ugandans were not near a tv or radio set.
This country is not the only one that has this category of Government officials, because even mighty America has them. The only difference are the functions and expected outputs of these people, if you wish: the terms of references. Senior Advisor to the President is a title used since 1993, by high-ranking assistants to the President of the USA. The National Security Council (NSC) is the principal forum used by the US President for consideration of national security and foreign policy matters, and since the days of President Harry S. Truman, the function of the Council has been to strategize, advise and assist the president on national security and foreign policies. The most important word that stands out here, for me, is strategy!
What does a strategic planner do? According to JobDescriptions.net, a strategic planner “determines where an organization is heading over the next year or more. He formulates strategies or suggests changes or improvements to current business plans, policies, and procedures. It is his job to formulate feasible recommendations to the management on how to optimize near-term growth. Strategic planning is the process by which the executive management establishes the long-term direction of an organization. Basic steps include assessing the company’s environment and resources, defining the mission and vision, identifying priorities and objectives, and selecting valuable strategies”.
The story of Joseph takes 14 chapters in Genesis from 37 through 50, a whopping 28% of the entire book. He was his father’s favorite, had a penchant for interpretting dreams and visions and, it could be argued that Joseph was really the first recorded strategic planner in the Bible. Clearly, in Genesis 41, Joseph functioned as a strategic planner. He helped Pharaoh identify a coming crisis to the entire country, which could be viewed as a mega-corporation. He recommended the path forward to Pharaoh for a policy of storing the harvest in plentiful years and set procedures for distributions from the stores in the drought. The plan was national in scope, long-range and involved nearly 15 years of planning and execution. He assessed current resources and developed a strategy for managing those resources during the lean years.
Joseph’s sudden promotion is made the more intelligible by the probability which the study of Egyptian History has given, that the Pharaoh who made him his second in command was one of the Hyksos conquerors who dominated Egypt for a long period. They would have no prejudices against Joseph on account of his being a foreigner, because as a dynasty, they had won over many nations and generally had an open door for talent, caring little who a man’s father was, or where he came from, if he could do his work. And Joseph, by not being an Egyptian born, would be all the fitter an instrument for carrying out the policy which he himself had suggested.
His ceremonial investiture with the insignia of office, the signet ring as the emblem of full authority; the chain as a mark of dignity; the robe of ‘fine linen’ and the proclamation made before him as he rode in the second chariot, were all because he did what a strategist does. He could see a need, devised a plan, executed it, and brought the results home!
Whether it is West Point, Annapolis, Cranwell, Sandhurst, Saint-Cyr, Beijing, Moscow, Yokosuka, Saldanha or Kimaka, the best military institutions of the world, 75% of their training consists of STRATEGIC THINKING! The Directors at all these prestigious colleges pride in their alumni as men and women with unequalled strategic capabilities. Therefore, while Presidential advisors wield a lot of power regarding daily decisions, their primary assignment is to take a longer look at what effects these daily decisions will have down the line and think strategically about the President’s entire tenure, rather than what immediately lies ahead.
About his role as Senior Advisor to President Trump, Mr Plouffe told the New York Times, not so long ago: “The President does want someone who’s thinking down the road a little bit. The role is really to make sure you’re thinking about things strategically, you’re thinking about the next move or two or three.”
In politics, data and numbers do count! President Museveni needs strategists who will analyze all the facts and statistics, details, particulars, specifics and then decide on a cause of action. Strategists have an edge over advisors in that they have the power to implement any ideas they consider useful to the regime. This is what President Museveni needs; a team of clever strategists. The regime needs to use the media without offending the owners and very slyly take advantage of the masses already recruited using their influence and finance. Therefore those in this job, must evolve themselves into thinkers and strategic planners. In a real world, an advisor works FOR, while a strategist works WITH the boss.
The President does not need anyone’s advice, nor is he expected to receive assistance nor help! For God’s sake, we are talking about a full blooded 5 Star Military General! If he does need advisors, then most certainly, not the ones who mooted this last speech time slot. The speech, if you cared to read the papers, which ironically came two days in the new year, was indeed loaded but the timing was absolutely off tangent! There is no good reason why the next time the President wants to address the nation, he doesn’t use the advantage of the free ride at 2pm on New Years’ day. Let us see whether there is anyone who has any ears to hear.
The author is the Presiding Apostle of Born Again Faith.