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AFRIK-IT  June 1995

AFRIK-IT June 1995

Subject:

A Communication Approach to Development: A New Perspective

From:

Robert Agunga <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

African Network of IT Experts and Professionals (ANITEP) List

Date:

Tue, 6 Jun 1995 12:28:08 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (92 lines)

Dear IT Colleagues:
I just joined this network and I am already enjoying the discussion. I am
Robert Agunga, a Ghanaian professor at Ohio State University, USA.
Actually, my title is associate professor. I teach in a new academic
program called agricultural communication which basically, is using
communication principles, methods, theories and technologies to promote
agricultural development. In the Third World context, its equivalent will
be "development communication," that is using communication to support
development programs, whatever these may be.
 
I am also a consultant to several United Nations development agencies on
communication and development. It's against this background that I want to
contribute to the conversation on IT. I have heard a colleague wonder how
we can have IT without electricity in the villages. I can relate to his
point because I grew up in a village without electricity.
 
Obviously, he does not imply that all of Africa does not have electricity.
This is the trust of my argument: There are many ways to bell a cat, that
is, to bring about development. One-to-one or face-to-face interaction with
local farmers in the rural areas must occur but our administrators in the
cities should also be able to link themselves to each other via e-mail.
Indeed, communication between regional and national centers can be speeded
up this way, given the poor roads and lack of spare parts.
 
It seems to be that communication experts have a media-biased view of
development. A videographer seems to think that all communication problems
in development can be solved with video and IT advocates seem to be taking
a similar view.
 
Different communication strategies or a multiciplicity of communication
approaches are necessary depending upon the nature of the problem to be
solved. My point? We should see IT as one of many ways of communicating and
use it for what it is good for.
 
I would like to challenge my colleagues on the network to rethink the
nature and role of communication in development. My feeling is that all the
development failures could be minimized with a sound communication input.
Some how, we communicators may have failed the development agencies because
we have given them the impression that communication is equal to the mass
media.
 
The major issues facing development today are: coordination, linkage,
participation and training, in short, communication. But I find few
communicators challenging African leaders--showing them how we can help
them with local participation in projects. Under African Charter for
Popular Participation adopted in 1990, African leaders indicated their
willingness to have local people involved in decision making at the project
level will will, in my view, gradually prepare them for participation at
the national level by making their political representatives mor
eaccountable.
 
Many donor agencies have also adopted the participation idea but projects
are unable to achieve participation, in my view, because the communication
professionals are not in the field. Project managers, who are mostly
agronomists or engineers seem to lack the social scientific communication
know-how for participation.  One problem is that donor agencies concentrate
on recruiting economists and sociologists but not communication scientists
who are field oriented. However, one could say that the communicators have
not shown these donors that they have a critical role to play.
Communication is the key to development. It is not peripheral but central.
 
The mass media are only tools at the disposal of the communicator. If the
communicator does not understand the dynamics and complexities of the
development process, it is doubtful that having the most sophisticated IT
system will help.
 
In my research, I have been trying to show how real development can be
brought about if we give communication centerplace. Donors and recipients
can understand each other better, leading to a win-win situation. What we
need is interdependent development not dependent development. We can make
donors more accountable to the village people by organizing the local
people; enabling them to make demands on their development ministries and
hence, donor agencies. If the villagers do not ask for combine harvesters,
these cannot be forced upon them.
 
We can really turn the face of development for the better if we root it in
communication. We have tried development from an economic perspective with
disastrous consequences. The evidence is clear that economic goals of
development are embudded in the sociocultural and political, and hence,
communication. Let's take a communication perspective for a change and see
where that will lead us.
 
Let's debate this issue for a while. I will be willing to download more of
my thinking on this subjet but I need your input as well.
 
Robert Agunga
203 Agricultural Adnministration Building
The Ohio State University
2120 Fyffe Road
Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA
Phone: 614-292-0202

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