“Development” refers to the process of social change that has as its objective the promotion of physical and material progress. The “silent engine” that drives this development endeavor is communication. In the developed world, development communication is geared toward addressing the dysfunctions of physical and material progress. In the developing world, it is concerned with the provision of physical and material infrastructure. But it is also concerned with social change in the form of inspiring hard work, eliciting self-help, and providing education, health facilities, and other critical conditions. Africa is one of the regions in the developing world where development seems to be occurring slowly. As a result, there has been great concern about how to stimulate development and social change.
African Communication Mode
The act of exchanging views, opinions, and ideas on how to bring about this stimulation of development is the key thrust of development communication. Although it is often not engaged as such by governments, this process works best through the participatory communication processes critical to substantive social change. However, the way this exchange of views for the purposes of community improvement is done and the underlying cultural and philosophical base that give effect to such exchange differ from society to society. In traditional Africa, communication was and still is largely seen as a matter of human interrelationships: what a person said, to whom, when, and how, was guided by certain cultural imperatives, giving effect to the cultural belief that the society takes precedence over the individual. This is summed up in the principle: “I am because We are!”.
In such a cultural environment, development was in the past seen not so much as perpetuating movement beyond existing boundaries, but as creating stability within the culture by not allowing what had existed to decay or be destroyed; insuring that elders showed good examples; teaching the young; providing communal help to those who needed it; and avoiding conflict in the community. Although focusing on maintaining the status quo may have worked in the past, this process became problematic. While it was good to insure that material and socio-cultural heritage did not deteriorate, it was even better to move communities toward growth socially and economically. To do so demanded looking beyond the boundaries of their culture and thinking beyond their existing accumulated knowledge.
Minimal Impact of External Aid
Development communication practice typically involves a transfer of resources from wealthier agencies or countries to those with fewer resources. In the African region, western European agencies initiated some of these processes through colonial rule. The continent was exposed not only to what the Europeans said, but also to what they had and did. In addition to exchanges of ideas, discussions, and coercive actions, there were material goods and services as well as standards of living that opened the eyes of Africans to new ways of thinking and living.
This created not only widespread rising aspirations but also set in motion a spate of discussions that led to the formation of development unions, age grade groups, youth associations, development committees, and so on – all geared toward efforts to improve community socio-cultural and economic circumstances. Footpaths were widened, feeder roads were built, schools were constructed, environmental sanitation was encouraged, dispensaries and health rooms were established, and scholarships were bestowed on children. But these were all self-help efforts at the local level; shortage of resources did not allow these efforts to grow to appreciable levels. Rising frustration soon set in among many of these groups. People felt that what it would take to get them out of their existing conditions was more than they could handle, and many gave up. This was not a surprise because research has shown that four unheralded and unwritten imperatives are always at work in development communication. These are: (1) knowing what to do; (2) knowing how to do it; (3) having the willingness and ability to do it; and (4) having the resources to do it. If any one of these is missing, development efforts are hampered. The fortunes of the self-help initiatives of rural Africa represent a case in point.
In the 1960s, newly independent countries faced with the task of developing their nations sought help from the west, especially from the UK and the US. They also sought help from international organizations, including UNESCO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Association (FAO), UNICEF, and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The first major help came from the US, which had, through its Marshall Plan, turned war-devastated Europe into thriving societies almost overnight. Because of this success, it was thought that rapid development of any society was possible if adequate international financial and technological assistance were forthcoming. So the Marshall Plan was transplanted into Africa. But it became a failure not because resources were not forthcoming, but because a pre-existing socio-cultural structure oriented toward industrial organization and activities that obtained in Europe was nonexistent in Africa. Three very relevant cultural values identified by the British cultural anthropologist Radcliffe-Brown as basic to European social order – protestant work ethic, achievement motivation, and economic pragmatism – were foreign to the African social order.
The last factor that badly affected the Marshall Plan was a disregard of the socio-cultural realities of the target social system. This policy of bypassing what Inayatullah has called “the intractable local social structure” did extensive harm to the expected goals of the plan. Many people were suspicious of the plan because it was imposed; they regarded the behavior of the agents of the plan as ethnocentric. And they responded to the ethnocentric attitude with cultural pride, explicitly touting the values of their culture and accumulated traditional knowledge. Cooperation of government officials with the agents was not effective enough without the cooperation of the people. In spite of these hindering facts, agents of the plan did not effect any changes in operation. The same was true of succeeding generations of European development agents in Africa. Not only did they not understand the people and their socio-cultural contexts, they in fact did not allow African development agents on contract with them to build local content into their work.
The impact of this failure to “know the people” before planning any development activity was so great that the then President of Tanzania – Julius Nyerere – had to warn that you cannot develop a people – people develop themselves. Sure enough, the people needed financial resources, technical advice, and technological knowledge. But these were expected to have been used, working with the people, not without them. Unfortunately, this tactic of working for the people without working with them did not end with the failure of the Marshall Plan; it continued in many development efforts of international organizations.
In addition to the extension and community development strategy described above, the other strategy mostly used in Africa in the 1960s up until the 1980s was advocacy. This strategy has the tendency to very easily become what is now known as “benevolent power strategy,” providing facilities and amenities for social change for a people but without involving the people in the discussions for the project, or in its planning and execution.
This is based on the principles that the government knows what the people want and need, and that consulting with the people would add extra cost, in time and money, to total expenditure. Examples abound of completed development projects that crumbled soon after they were put into use. Such projects failed because of one or a combination of the following: the people did not sufficiently appreciate the value of what was provided for them and so treated amenities carelessly; they did not have enough know-how to manage the projects efficiently, or, following the way the projects were brought to them, they did not feel it was their responsibility to maintain the facilities.
During this time, development communicators warned against working for the people without working with the people. Since the 1970s, Inayatullah, Ake, Somavia, Freire, Chikulo, and Grunig, among others, had, each in his own way, stressed the importance of not dumping development information and projects on target social systems. By the 1980s, the voices for involvement and participation were heard with increased strength and regularity. The Xavier Institute of Social Service in Ranchi (India) was particularly forceful in saying that development efforts should be anchored in faith in the people’s capacity to discern what is best for them as they see their liberation, and how to participate actively in the task of transforming their society (Xavier Institute 1980, 11). People’s intelligence and their centuries of experience should be taken into account. This view agrees with what the role of development is, that is, to inform, discuss with, and motivate the people and create an enhanced environment, in which target social systems can feel the need for – and demonstrate commitment to – development activities, thus raising the level of their participation in development projects.
It is gratifying to note that since the beginning of the twenty-first century, development organizations would appear to have had a change of heart and of tactics. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), UNESCO, UNICEF, UNDP, and of course, the FAO and the British Government’s Department of Overseas Development and many others, have not only shown committed to “getting the people involved,” but have changed from using only foreign agents, to using African agents – people who know and understand the target social systems. African governments, too, seem to have seen the need for development agents to enter into the socio-cultural contexts of target social systems, learning from them and building on what they have. One concrete way of showing governments’ resolve in this regard is permission given for the establishment of local radio stations, focusing on local participation in the production of programs to insure truly community-based projects built on the interests of the people.
Many of the 194 universities in Africa have departments of communication. Many of these departments teach courses in development communication at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. A few have full-fledged departments of development communication. In addition, international organizations such as USAID and UNICEF do organize regular seminars and teach-ins to discuss how to incorporate development communication techniques and procedures into courses taught at the university and secondary school levels. Nongovernmental organizations around the continent are also setting up institutes for research and study of development communication. Examples include the Research Institute for Development Communication and School Partnership in the Cameroon, and Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communication in South Africa. The African Council on Communication Education has a development communication division charged with the responsibility of keeping an eye on development communication initiatives on the continent, and making suggestions on how to insure that their activities are relevant to the needs of the people.
- Ake, C. (1996). Democracy and development in Africa. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
- Chikulo, B. C. (1979). Popular participation and development: The Zambian model. African Quarterly, 19, 170 –180.
- Connections (1995). Sheepish efforts. Newsletter on Communication, Environment, Rights of People, and Sustainable Development, 2. Dehiwala, Sri Lanka: Mihikata Institute.
- Graeff, J. A., Elder, J. P., & Booth, E. M. (1993). Communication for health and behavior change: A developing country perspective. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
- Inayatullah (1980). The nature of development. Cited in Hamdan Bin Adnan, et al. (eds.), Introduction to development communication. Honolulu, HI: East-West Communication Institute.
- Moemeka, A. A. (2000). Development communication in action: Building, understanding, and creating participation. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
- Okigbo, C. C., & Eribo, F. (eds.) (2004). Development and Communication in Africa. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.
- Rodney, W. (1982). How Europe underdeveloped Africa. Washington, DC: Howard University Press.
- Xavier Institute (1980). Development from below. Ranchi, India: Xavier Institute for Social Service.
Back to Development Communication.