Present-day communication education in Africa has not been able to build on a rich tradition of a longstanding university system. Widespread university education in Africa is a postcolonial phenomenon, with North Africa and South Africa being the main exceptions. Like other academic disciplines, communication studies suffers much of this postcolonial legacy, be it the effect of the general education system, the role of universities in general, or the media and other communication systems, which have to struggle against oppressive state regimes and survive in a globalizing world (Bourgault 1995; Barratt & Berger 2007).
Academic Communication Programs
The general standard of communication as an academic field in Africa is disappointingly low when measured against western standards, but also when compared to peer-group university departments in Latin America (e.g., Brazil) and in the east (e.g., Singapore). The rapid growth of the communication media industry in some African countries did not necessarily lead to an improvement in the teaching of communication and its applied fields. However, efforts in the 2000s were under way to radically structure and restructure African communication departments.
Communication education in Africa, like the modern mass communication system on the continent, is an import from western Europe and North America (Boafo & Wete 2002). The source of inspiration and supply of university staff, curricula, and textbooks is mostly western. Teachers are often western educated, curricula are drawn from western models, and most textbooks are authored and published in the west, especially in the USA. Consequently, communication education and training curricula in Africa are not geared to be culturally relevant, although cultural inculcation was usually the main justification for their introduction and sustainability.
Subjects offered in communication programs in Africa vary from one region to another. In eastern and southern Africa, the emphasis tends to be mainly on print and broadcast journalism, with marketing communication and public relations becoming more and more dominant. The curricula combine theoretical and practical courses – but only to a certain extent. Programs range from certificate level through BA degrees to doctoral programs, but the focus remains on the first few years of tertiary education.
A major shortcoming in communication is the shortage of available competent and experienced faculty. Poor working conditions, especially low salaries, often result in the loss of qualified faculty to the private sector or international organizations. Due to financial constraints, textbooks and library sources are insufficient in quantity and variety, partly because of prohibitive costs, exacerbated by low state subsidies to universities and extreme differences in exchange rates. Modern infrastructure in communication departments is the exception, rather than the rule.
Main University Academic Programs
South Africa presents arguably the best and strongest group of university communication programs in Africa. It has, in terms of the general African standard, a highly developed journalism communication system, with the Rhodes University school able to hold its own not only on the continent, but also further afield. Graduate programs at the University of the Witwatersrand and Stellenbosch University are complemented by communication and media/journalism programs at other universities (those of Johannesburg, Cape Town, Northwest, Free State, and South Africa) and universities of technology, such as Tshwane. The University of KwaZulu-Natal is internationally known for its Mand D-level programs and research in media studies. Communication programs are growing throughout the rest of southern Africa, with notable developments in Namibia and Zambia.
Journalism education and training in eastern Africa have commonly been a result of fragmented initiatives by western donor organizations, but there is a growing tendency to formalize programs in established colleges and universities. The merger of existing journalism programs, as has happened in Ethiopia and Tanzania, is a notable trend. While a major challenge for journalism in East Africa is fighting institutional and government corruption, as well as the regulation of journalism training, an acute challenge to both schools and the media industry in the Horn of Africa is the insecure situation for media workers due to state actions against the media, and in some countries also against journalism schools – albeit in more subtle ways. The strongest programs in the region are found in Kenya (Nairobi), Uganda (Makerere), and Ethiopia (Addis Ababa).
The rapid growth of the media sector in West Africa since the late 1990s has fueled a major demand for trained media practitioners. This demand–supply pull has meant a remarkable expansion in the number of training institutions and programs in the region. However, questions remain unresolved with respect to the quality, as well as the rigor, of journalism and communication education and training in the region. Although there is sensitivity to improving the quality of journalism training in the region, little information is available publicly about how the training programs are organized, what they offer, the sequencing of curriculum and practical internships, graduation requirements, the numbers and profile of faculty, and information about accreditation standards or requirements. Some of the best departments are found in Nigeria (Ibadan) and Ghana (University of Ghana).
Scholarship and Research
There are a limited number of research books on African communication studies (including works in the field of journalism, mass communication, and media studies). Most of these publications are concerned with the relationship between media development and political democratization, such as those of Nyamnjoh (2005), and more recently also those dealing with the role of communication in national development. One of the very few textbooks explicitly aimed at communication research in Africa is that of Boafo and George (1995).
A major disadvantage in communication research is the lack of a paradigm that could be called “home-grown” within the African context. Western theoretical perspectives, such as functionalism and critical theory, have found a foothold in communication schools, where they often have a foreign ring to local theoretical expectations and aspirations. A glaring example is the four theories of the press approach, which sits uneasily in political systems where freedom of speech and the role of the media as a watchdog are not to be taken for granted. On the other hand, efforts to introduce indigenous theoretical dimensions, especially in the fields of development and health communication, have yet to come to fruition as these approaches have often been dismissed as “inconsequential” (Ansu-Kyeremeh 2005). Recently efforts have been made to introduce the traditional concept of ubuntu (an African form of communitarianism) into the curricula and research.
It is thus a peculiar characteristic of African communication scholarship that an important section of the main body of communication research and publications has not been produced by Africans on the continent, but by either expatriates or researchers with African roots or research interests living and working elsewhere, especially in the USA, but also in Europe, and writing in English or in French. A case in point would be USbased African-American researchers such as Cecil Blake, Lyombe Eko, Festus Eribo, Sean Jacobs, Polly McLean, Andrew Moemeka, Charles Okigbo, Folu Ogundimo, Cornelius Pratt, and Francis Wete. Non-African-American US authors, such as Louise Bourgault and William Hachten, have written groundbreaking monographs on the media in Africa. Even when African scholars do produce “indigenous” work, it is common to find many or the majority of co-authors in edited volumes and in journals not to be from Africa at all.
Communication and Media Institutes
The Centre for Media and Cultural Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa (director: Keyan G. Tomaselli) is perhaps the only communication and media research center in Africa with a widely accepted international research reputation. The School for Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University, South Africa (director: Guy Berger) is known throughout Africa as the foremost journalism training institute on the continent, especially in terms of its Highway Africa Program. In terms of infrastructure, facilities, and teaching staff, this school would be able to hold its own compared to typical journalism schools in, say, the US midwest.
The major center for social research (including communication studies) in Africa is the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (Codesria) based in Dakar, Senegal, with its head of publications, Francis B. Nyamnjoh, perhaps the foremost African communications scholar based in Africa. The Media Institute of Southern Africa in Namibia, and the Media Foundation for West Africa in Ghana are important research organizations tracing the role of the media in their regions, as well as doing training.
Research Journals and Professional Societies
The continent does not boast an extended range of top-flight peer research journals. Three South African peer reviewed communication research journals that have been accepted into the international fold are Ecquid Novi: African Journalism Studies (University of Wisconsin Press), Critical Arts, and Communicatio (both Routledge/Taylor & Francis). All three journals moved to international publishers in 2007, after having been published in South Africa since their inception in the 1980s. The only pan-African academic research journal of note is Africa Media Review, also founded in the 1980s. It is presently published by Codesria for the founding body, the African Council for Communication Education (ACCE).
Strongly supported by UNESCO and European NGOs, ACCE played a pivotal role in the 1980s and early 1990s to foster communication education, research, and publication under the leadership of Boafo and then Okigbo. Internal and regional strife, however, left the organization limping into the 2000s. In 2006 a new association, the Trans-African Council for Communication Education (Tracce), was founded on the basis of solidifying the discipline both in Africa and abroad. It strives to empower its members by encouraging and fostering good journalism and effective communication. The African Forum of Editors (Taef ) is a pan-African association working toward the improvement of journalism.
According to Sawyerr (2000), important African university role players tend to agree that the present African situation is untenable, inasmuch as the conditions, policies, and practices of yesteryear cannot be replicated or restored. This is also applicable to the field of communication studies.
- Ansu-Kyeremeh, K. (ed.) (2005). Indigenous communication in Africa. Accra: Ghana University Press.
- Barratt, E., & Berger, G. (eds.) (2007). 50 Years of journalism: African media since Ghana’s independence. Johannesburg: African Editors’ Forum.
- Boafo, S. T. K., & George, N. (eds.) (1992). Communication research in Africa. Nairobi: ACCE.
- Boafo, S. T. K., & Wete, F. (2002). Introduction. In S. T. K. Baofo (ed.), Improving communication training in Africa – Communication training in Africa: Model curricula. Paris: UNESCO.
- Bourgault, L. M. (1995). Mass media in Sub-Saharan Africa. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
- Nyamnjoh, F. B. (2005). Africa’s media: Democracy and the politics of belonging. London: Zed.
- Sawyerr, A. (2004). Challenges facing African universities: Selected issues. African Studies Review, 47(1), 1–59.