"Yes, it is a revolution."

E-lection Bridge Africa: Interview with Jake Obetsebi Lampey

Also available in Deutsch

We meet Jacob Otanka Obetsebi Lamptey, who everyone in Ghana just calls “Jake”, at a seminar of the local Konrad Adenauer Foundation. The Chairman of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) stands amidst a cluster of curious party members like a beacon, a metaphor evoked not only by his physical stature but also the legendary reputation which the campaign expert enjoys. “I’ll be right there”, he calls. Finally his colleagues let him go, and the conversation begins.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Mr. Chairman, how digital are you?

JAKE OBETSEBI LAMPTEY: Well, you know I am more than 60 years old. (laughs) So far, I have only been a consumer of media but when I take a look around that seems to be a thing of the past. I guess I have to become a producer, too. Talking about that, I just made the conversion to an i-Pad, an i-Mac – and hopefully an i-Phone, too. Then I have got all I need.

Communication is a recurrent theme running through Jake Obetsebi Lamptey’s biography. He first worked as a writer in radio and TV before pursuing a career in the advertising industry. In 2000, the 64-year-old led the successful NPP campaign which brought John Kufuor to presidency. From 2001 to 2007, he served in the cabinet. Since 2010 he has held the position of NPP Chairman.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: What are the challenges that political communicators face in today’s digital age?

JAKE OBETSEBI LAMPTEY: The central questions remain the same: What is the core of our politics? What do we have to say? And, as Political Communication should be a two-way-street, the voters are naturally a part of the equation. They give their input and let us know what it is they want to know about. It reminds a bit of chess because it brings on our next move: How do we get a message across with the people? That is the story so far.
The new challenge is simple: Do not lose the people that are NOT linked to new media, like in rural areas. Out there, it is still the good old mouth-to-mouth. The people have been knowing our local party reps for quite a while. That really counts.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: During our visit to Ghana, we noticed mobile phones everywhere, even in remote areas. What kind of a role does the cell phone play in your communication strategy?

JAKE OBETSEBI LAMPTEY: A huge one. But let me explain first: Traditionally, television and especially radio are really popular with Ghanaians. Along comes the mobile phone – and it explodes on the scene. It takes our breath away! Yes, it is a revolution. In our last campaign in 2008, the cell phone was fairly new in the toolkit of Political Communication. We did experiment a bit. With the upcoming elections, we will employ this tool a whole lot more. I am thinking about so-called phone banks where volunteers call potential voters on the cell phone. The Americans have been doing this for a long time with landlines and I think it could show promise in Ghana, too.

About NPP
The New Patriotic Party is one of two leading parties in Ghana. From 2000 to 2008, the NPP’s John Kufuor served as the country’s president. In the last election, the NPP lost by a hair to their rival, the National Democratic Congress. Currently, the party is preparing for the next presidential election in the country, at the end of 2012.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: What could Germans take away from Political Communication in Ghana?

JAKE OBETSEBI LAMPTEY: I do not want to lecture our partners. But perhaps one point would be not to forget the personal conversation. Talk to the people and do not hide behind technology. I strongly believe: Trust is the most important good in politics – and no computer can replace it.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Last question, as always with KAS E-lection bridge Africa: What is the “next big thing”?

JAKE OBETSEBI LAMPTEY: Our elections in the next year. (laughs) We want to win and return to power. Nothing compares to that.