Going through President Akufo Addo’s maiden state of the nation address, I was impressed that he spent three-quarters of his 16-page speech on the issue of our attitudes as a people. On page 3, the 4th paragraph, he stated that “Mr. Speaker, to give a fair account of the state of our nation, I have to give an account of the state of our economy, of our governance and of our national culture and attitudes”.
Then at the tail end of his speech, he urged all the members of the three arms of government to lead the charge of change in behaviors in the areas of punctuality, sanitation, and care for the environment. After addressing the issue of punctuality he said, “I intend to set a personal example”.
I commend him for these statements. But remember that former president Kuffour went a step further and renamed the Ministry of Information as the Ministry of Information and National Reorientation. The late vice president Aliu Mahama also embarked on a campaign against indiscipline. What will differentiate President Akufo Addo from former presidents in this regard is what he does beyond the speech and setting of a personal example.
In this article, I want to share with you what Lee Kwan Yew did beyond speeches and personal example. I’ll share with you two national behavioral change programs that he embarked on, how he implemented these programs and the results and lessons we can distil from them. I draw these examples from Chapter 13 of his book titled “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000. The first program he wrote about is what he calls the anti-spitting campaign.
“I had introduced anti-spitting campaigns in the 1960s. But even in the 1980s, some taxi drivers would spit out of their car windows and some people were still spitting in markets and food centers. We persisted and disseminated the message through schools and the media that spitting spread diseases such as tuberculosis. Now people seldom see spitting in public…This progress encouraged me to alter other bad habits”.
Take note that the campaign was spearheaded by the prime minister. Though he introduced it, the implementation was done in partnership with schools and the media. His implementation strategy included education and exhortation. I find it revealing that though he introduced the campaign in the ‘60s, there were still deviants two decades later.
But despite the resistance he faced, he persisted. Every national attitudinal change program will face resistance; what is important is whether the leader reacts to or responds to the resistance. In addition, attitudinal change isn’t achieved over-night, it is achieved over several years.
The second campaign I want to share with you has to do with how he solved the problems created by some taxi drivers who he described as “pirate taxi drivers” and illegal hawkers. They moved about recklessly, prevented the smooth flow of traffic, created litter and marred the beauty of the streets.
“For years we could not clean up the city by removing these illegal hawkers and pirate taxi drivers. Only after 1971, when we had created many jobs, were we able to enforce the law and reclaim the streets. We licensed the cooked food hawkers and moved them from the roads and pavements to properly constructed nearby hawker centers, with piped water, sewers, and garbage disposal.
By the early 1980s, we had resettled all hawkers. Some were such excellent cooks that they became great tourist attractions…It was the enterprise, drive, and talent of such people that made Singapore. Pirate taxi drivers were banished from the roads only after we had reorganized bus services and could provide them with alternative employment”.
His approach to arresting these issues is quite peculiar. He did two things before embarking on this program: he ensured the economy grew, created a lot of jobs and he created other viable alternatives for the people who were going to be affected. This is because the negative behaviors he sought to change were tied to the livelihoods of the people. Therefore, a campaign to discourage such behaviors without giving the people viable alternatives will elicit strong resistance.
The alternatives were in the form of a better organized public bus transport system, more job opportunities for taxi drivers who lost their jobs and new markets for the illegal hawkers to operate from. Sometimes, when someone believes that a certain behavior puts food into his pocket, you must go beyond education and exhortation to discourage him to stop that behavior; you must offer or show him a viable alternative. This must be done before seeking to enforce the law.
If he won’t place an NRBC program at the doorsteps of one MDA, he must at least task some of them to embark on different programs. The ministry for information can embark on a punctuality and patriotism campaign. The ministry for water and sanitation can embark on a sanitation program.
The ministry for employment and labor relations can embark on an attitude to work program. The ministry for land natural resources can embark on a greening program. In a group, when no one is made responsible for solving a particular problem, usually, no one gets it done; it, therefore, cannot be measured and monitored and the situation remains unchanged. God bless our homeland Ghana and make our nation great and strong.
Yaw Frimpong Tenkorang
He can be contacted via email: firstname.lastname@example.org