Sometimes you complete a study, release the results, and then … listen to the resounding silence.
Other times your results hit a nerve – and the nerve tries to hit back, attacking everything from your findings to your methodology to the integrity of your intentions.
Then there are occasions – still too rare – when the initial emotional backlash is followed by a willingness to consider the possibility that the voices of everyday citizens might actually be worth hearing and acting on.
When Afrobarometer released 2014 survey findings last December showing that most Ghanaians think that some, most, or all public officials are corrupt (see Figure 1), the initial response from the government was predictably – and fiercely – negative. Government and ruling-party officials, along with their friends in the media, dismissed the findings and attacked the credibility of the survey. Stung by their rank at the top of institutions perceived as corrupt, police officials led the charge, going so far as to blame police corruption on Ghanaian “culture.”
But the story didn’t go away. Transparency International released its Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 at about the same time, adding credibility to Afrobarometer’s findings and further kindling mass media and social media interest. (Our tracking service recorded 145 media publications on corruption in Ghana during the first two weeks after Afrobarometer’s release; by the end of February, it counted 479 publications).
Faced with such intense public interest, some leaders started to respond. The police service Research Unit and members of Parliament asked for copies of survey documents. Some senior police officials acknowledged the challenges; in a 20-minute TV interview, the director of the Police General Public Affairs Department outlined specific steps that were being taken to improve discipline and standards.
Perhaps the most powerful response came from Ghana Chief Justice Georgina Wood, who gave speeches to judicial staff throughout the country charging them to lead the fight against corruption. The country is counting on the Judicial Service to save it from the “claws” of corruption, she said: “If Ghana has to be saved, the people who should lead and support this fight is your good self and my good self.”
Afrobarometer does not take sides in public debates about how to address problems. But we do work hard to lay the groundwork for constructive debates, as we did in this case. That includes working to provide reliable data on citizens’ opinions, thoroughly briefing all stakeholders on our findings (starting with the government, then expanding to civil society, the news media, and other interested parties), and taking pains to explain the scientific basis for our survey methodology (more on this in next week’s blog).
Still, in the end, productive public discussion and responses depend on individuals of integrity who are willing to listen to the voices of ordinary citizens and to act upon what they hear.
Respondents were asked: How many of the following people do you think are involved in corruption, or haven’t you heard enough about them to say?
More about this in next week's blog. Stay tuned!
Brian Howard is publications manager for Afrobarometer.