New Communication Technologies for Development in
Africa: A Strategic Issues-Management Approach
Cornelius B. Pratt, Professor
Department of Advertising
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI 48824-1212
K & L Associates
1624 Juniper Drive, Unit 88
Bowling Green, Ohio 43402
New Communication Technologies for Development in
Africa: A Strategic Issues-Management Approach
For the most part, Africa is a continent in continuing
economic, social and political disarray. Since the 1960s, when
Africa's independence movements were at their zenith, development
planners have wrestled with a variety of development plans and
have called attention to various factors as being the bane of the
region's developmental difficulties. It reviews and critiques
the use of communication technologies in Africa and focuses on a
much-overlooked dimension of their use: management processes. To
provide an enabling environment for the region's sustained
development, it proposes a strategic issues-management approach
as an alternative to current practices in the use of
New Communication Technologies for Development in
Africa: A Strategic Issues-Management Approach
. . . sound, responsible and coherent
management [is] necessary to enable
every administration to develop its
telecommunication services. (p. 425)
~~Meeting of the Plan Committee for Africa,
Yaound , Cameroon, March 18-25, 1987.
A Ghanaian family in Sunyani watches Cable News Network for
world news fed via broadcast satellites from the United States
and elsewhere. African government officials sign a contract with
the Rockville, Maryland,-based Orion Satellite Corporation to
provide communication services in their country. Families in
rural Botswana revel, for the first time, in their newfound
communications link: the telephone. A researcher at the National
University of Abidjan, C te d'Ivoire, communicates through
Internet with another researcher at Seoul National University. A
newspaper reporter writes and swaps stories on her computer, and
sends final drafts electronically to the printers. And a
high-school teacher in the outskirts of Gaborone tapes a
television program fed via earth stations in neighboring Zimbabwe
for later use in his social-studies class. These are just a few
examples of the revolution that is taking hold of much of urban
Africa, particularly: communication technologies are changing the
pace, contexts, and strategies of the region's businesses.
The purpose of this paper is threefold. First, it discusses
infrastructural issues related to the growing use of such
technologies for development, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.
Second, it outlines considerations and three propositions for
their effective use. Third, in light of the mammoth difficulties
confronting the continent in its quest for sustained development,
it suggests a strategic issues-management approach for the
effective use of new communication technologies for development.
GLOBAL COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES: KEY ISSUES
Pool (1983) describes these electronic devices as creating
an unprecedented flux in machines that think, that make great
libraries accessible to users' own premises, and that allow
discourse among people a half-world apart. Such technologies
have other advantages such as the potential for democratizing and
decentralizing communication systems, for diversifying
information sources, and for broadening the range of choices and
information reach (Boafo, 1991b). In sub-Saharan Africa, the
increasing use of new communication technologies for
socio-economic development has significant implications for (1)
the public interest, (2) the infrastructural support systems, and
(3) the effectiveness of such technologies in promoting
An additional issue raised in this paper is the extent to
which such technologies have any discernible favorable effects on
the communications infrastructure of the region. On this issue,
Frederick (1993) believes that the fundamental structure of
communication remains unchanged:
Despite the advent of new communication technologies,
the problems of communication between and among peoples
and nations remain unchanged. The basic structure and
function of communication remains the same: Just as
before, people today want to inform, they want to be
informed, and they want to communicate. The revolution
in communication has not changed this. (pp. 41-42)
The anticipated changes that technology will bring, argues
Frederick (1993), are yet to become a reality:
[e]veryone talks about the information society. Yet
there is evidence that global communication has led
more to divergence and division than to unity. . . .
[I]mprovements in modern communications technologies
may have led inevitably to greater social isolation and
alienation. (pp. 267-268)
One major concern here is that audiences for whom
communication is critical are not being adequately served by the
available communications technologies (Frederick, 1993). If this
were so, then, the contributions of communication technologies to
development, particularly in the Third World, may be more
cosmetic than substantive. And herein lie substantive issues in
the use of communication technologies for development in Africa.
NEW COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGIES FOR AFRICA'S DEVELOPMENT
Asia's media systems, particularly those of the Four Tigers
(Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea), boast stunning
developments that augur well for the political development and
stability of their free-market capitalistic societies. However,
Africa's media development have been plagued by wars, economic
and social problems (Hachten, 1993). Understandably, the success
of the Four Tigers can be attributed to their homogeneity in
language and to their political stability, characteristics that
African countries tend not to have in large measure.
The historical difficulties in attaining sustained growth in
Africa have directed the attention of development specialists to
a variety of answers, including the use of new communication
technologies. For example, during a meeting in Dakar, Senegal,
in 1962, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Regional
Plan Committee for Africa established the Pan-African
Telecommunications Network (PANAFTEL), a telecommunications
organization of 50 African nations. Two years later, the
Washington, D.C.-based International Telecommunications Satellite
Organization (Intelsat), a cooperative of owners and users, was
established. This worldwide telecommunications organization of
more than 170 countries and territories has improved
significantly the business climate of and communication
transmission in much of Africa.
However, since its founding, the 32 sub-Saharan African
signatories to the organization have raised questions about costs
of services and relevance of programs. The African countries
recognized that Intelsat has been organized for the express
advantage of the developed countries. Thus, to reduce the
shortcomings of relying on Intelsat alone, it has become
important to strengthen the Africa-based telecommunications
organization, PANAFTEL, and its affiliated agencies such as the
African Postal and Telecommunication Union and the Pan-African
Telecommunications Union (PATU).
PANAFTEL's founding has given birth to subregional
telecommunication networks in Africa: (1) Regional African
Satellite Communication System (RASCOM); (2) the Southern Africa
Development Coordination Conference Telecommunications Network
(SADCC); and (3) four PANAFTEL subregional networks, which are
PANAFTEL-North (for North Africa), and PANAFTEL-West, -Central,
and -South (for sub-Saharan Africa). Each of the latter four
subregional networks has its own telephone-exchange system.
In 1987, the Organization of African Unity, in collaboration
with the ITU and PATU, launched a feasibility study on the use of
communication technologies for development. The resulting
report, approved in 1991, reaffirmed RASCOM as an agency for
collaborative national development through coordinated
telecommunications systems. To date, RASCOM has made modest
contributions to the satellite capabilities and coordination of a
number of African nations. Even though its impact on the
telecommunications infrastructure of the region is yet to be
measured, studies have not been conducted to ascertain its direct
benefits for Africans.
The SADCC has been active in a variety of development
projects, particularly throughout the subequatorial region.
Nonetheless, it faces the historical problems of Africa's
development agencies: inadequate finances, limited administrative
support, minuscule program coordination among countries,
logistical limitations, and shortage of technical personnel.
These problems are all the more taxing in light of the limited
success in the use of the mass media for Third World development
(Hornik, 1988; Stevenson, 1988).
CONTRIBUTIONS OF TECHNOLOGIES TO DEVELOPMENT
The mass media can be helpful in fulfilling development
goals. Given proper conditions, the use of communication
technologies such as the telephone is useful for attaining
national development (e.g., Hudson, 1987, 1982; Parker, 1987).
The effectiveness of such technologies in bringing about strong,
buoyant economies in the industrialized world has been presented
as evidence of their potential in bringing about similar outcomes
in the Third World, based on the modernization paradigm
enunciated by Lerner (1958). This paradigm, which applies the
linear approach to development, holds, in essence, that what is
good for the developed nations is also good for the developing
The Independent Commission for World Wide Telecommunications
Development (the Maitland Commission), issued a report, The
Missing Link, in January 1985. Some recommendations of that
report support the Lerner (1958) paradigm of development. For
example, one of the Commission's criteria for measuring the
appropriateness of telecommunications technologies is the
efficiency with which they connect geographically distant points
(for example, rural to urban centers), primarily because rural
dwellers want to talk only with people in the cities (Hudson,
1984, 1986; and Parker, 1982, 1984, 1987). Shields and
Samarajiva (1990) criticize the assumption "that all useful
information is thought to be located in the city and that the
only useful communication links are those connecting rural areas
to the metropolis" (p. 210).
There has been a marked increase in the use of business
computers in Africa. Frederick (1993) identifies two societal
advantages of their use. First, in the social-service sector,
they assist in everything from health-care delivery to
educational administration. Second, in the economy, they
facilitate more efficient production and marketing systems that
counteract rural-to-urban migration and improve overall living
standards. But the outcomes of their use for socio-economic
development are not as realistic as they initially appear. As
Boafo (1991a) observes:
The application of communication technology systems to black
Africa's development problems has been generally palliative,
inadequately planned, and lacking in input or participation
from the bulk of the population. Communication technology,
resources, and processes have not been accorded the
seriousness that they deserve in the development process in
black Africa. (p. 110)
The unbridled introduction of new technologies into
the developing countries (Mehra, 1988) "necessitates proper
understanding of the underlying principles that guide the conduct
of communication professionals" (Okigbo, 1989, p. 136) in their
use of new communication technologies. Because Western-type
technologies are not indigenous to the African environment, they
have the potential to disrupt traditional lifestyles and to alter
the time-honored relationships of audiences with traditional
media channels. Such social changes could endanger the very
foundation of "alternative development," which emphasizes
increased direct audience participation in development planning
and implementation. Because of the unique characteristics of
traditional media forms for communicating development-oriented
messages, Africa's development can be more realistically attained
if the emphasis is on the practical use of such media, not on the
mere transfer of Western technologies. Fadeyibi (1984) argues
that the mass media have failed to promote development because
emphasis has been placed more on the physio-technical rather than
on audience factors. Thus, the "availability of Western
mass-media channels is not development per se; it is their use or
abuse, much more than their presence, that makes the difference
between development and stagnation" (Fadeyibi, 1984, p. 59).
Indeed, Africa's social changes, when engendered by the use
of communication technologies can, in some contexts, foster
audience participation in the development process. When, for
example, such technologies are used as media for organizing group
discussions of development themes or for interfacing development
themes with story tellers' performances, then such media can have
The rest of this paper focuses on two issues. First, it
discusses the social and ethical implications of the use of
communication technologies for Africa's development. It does so
by raising issues on the use of technologies for development,
noting particularly those issues related to a planned policy
intervention. Second, it summarizes, as propositions, the
implications of the use of communication technologies for
development and concludes by suggesting that future research test
such propositions empirically.
PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS IN THE USE OF TECHNOLOGIES FOR
Governmental and non-governmental organizations, as actors
in the dominant coalition for development in sub-Saharan Africa,
introduce technologies that have social and ethical implications
for development. Sometimes such implications emanate as
outcomes, not as the mere use of such technologies but as those
of the communicators' professional values.
During much of this century, telecommunications
revolutionized the media environment of the developed world.
They brought with them a homogenization of media content and the
development of media values, further perpetuated by political,
social and economic systems. One effect of that homogenization
is in the concept of news. Although imported modern technologies
facilitate speedy news dissemination, they are not sensitive to
their differential impacts on audiences. Universal news values
are established and fomented through the dominance of global wire
services (e.g., Associated Press and Agence France-Press) and
satellite organizations (e.g., Intelsat and Orionsat). For
Africa, such news-value homogenization is fostered in a limited
sense by the Pan African News Agency and the Pan African
The adoption of technology in developing countries is
characterized by the developed countries' precedents and by the
policy-makers urge to keep up with usage practices in the
developed countries (Ha, 1995). Because technological devices
were developed in response to the value systems of the
industrialized market economies of the developed world,
programming has, therefore, been influenced in large measure by
the value systems of the manufacturing countries and their
transferred technologies, and by the corporate values of the
multinational corporations (MNCs). Formal and informal media
education, which enables the audience to apply critical judgments
to its use of media content, is both crucial and indispensable in
fostering national development (Domatob, 1991). This means that
the social impact of such technologies on the developing
countries in general should be tempered by an extensive media
education, whose continued absence may threaten the very
foundation of the social values of recipient nations.
From the social-organization perspective, Africa's
journalism education and training, by which development
strategies are formulated, are modeled largely on Western
epistemological principles (Domatob, 1987; Golding, 1979;
Krimsky, 1990; Murphy & Scotton, 1987; Nwosu, 1987; Ogundimu,
1990). The consistency of such professional values with those in
the West has raised companion questions about the relevance of
current journalism education to the African social value system
in general and about the seemingly inherent imperialism of such
education (Nwosu, 1987; Golding, 1979; Bourgault, 1987). All
evidence points to a number of African countries that have
programming values based on the professional values that are
still rooted in those of, the hardware-manufacturing countries.
To help the development analyst identify the social impact
of technology on the family, Halloran (1986) poses two questions:
(1) Will new methods of communication lead the family to
increased privacy and to reinforced isolation and anonymity? (2)
Will media technology lead to more media autonomy or will it
reinforce media dependence on capital? Halloran (1986) notes
that the answers would depend on the differential opportunities
for media use and on the consequences of media use on different
groups and classes.
A major implication of the use of imported technologies is
relevance, specifically their utilitarian value. Do imported
advanced technologies bring about the greatest good for the
greatest number of Africans? Are the masses the major
beneficiaries of such technology transfer? As Todd (1985) notes,
"technology transfer still holds considerable promise provided it
is used with far more cultural and technological insight and
sensitivity than were applied in the past" (p. 20). However,
"contrary to many expectations, the volume and structure of
technology transfer from metropolitan to satellite countries in
recent decades has not contributed to the independence of the
latter, but instead has often increased the dependence"
(Hamelink, 1983, p. 17).
Ejiofor (1976) admits that MNCs in Africa bring useful,
superior technology to the continent; however, such technologies
infuse a feeling of inferiority in Africans who tend to be
victims of the "imported-stuff-is-better" syndrome. Beyond that,
the benefits of MNC-transferred technology to the developing
nations accrue largely to three groups: the transnational
corporations, which deliver the products; the transnational
banks, which finance the purchase of the products; and a "new
class" of officials connected with the ruling government
(Hamelink, 1983). In essence, then, these technologies cater to
the well-being of a few. One implication of this outcome is that
the media are under constant threat from their governments and,
therefore, could not examine critically the development policies
of their countries. A recent example is found in Angola, where
an independent journalist, Ricardo de Mello, was assassinated in
January 1995 for his criticisms of government policies. The
current military junta in Nigeria has all but annihilated the
resolve of the country's independent media in exposing
mismanagement and corruption in government agencies.
There have serious concerns about using communication
technologies ineffectively (e.g., Frederick, 1993) for Africa's
development, about protecting the region's indigenous practices,
and about fostering social goals. Africa's development programs,
prima facie, show a preference for utilitarian considerations,
that is, for those that benefit the largest numbers in society.
However, the ministries of information, social and economic
development, and private media organizations use formal and
informal research methods infrequently to ascertain the precise
nature of the public interest. Even so, the results have only a
peripheral relevance, if at all, to the management of the
development process. The point is that the application of
social-scientific methods to an understanding of a broad range of
public issues has been given short shrift on the continent; yet
such methods are important in determining the relevance of media
technologies to development. Robertson (1985) emphasizes this
Too often, statism rules; the most interesting and
ostensibly important areas of enquiry are surrounded by
protective privilege and bureaucratic wadding. It is not
"the people" or "the nation" which are being protected from
inquisitive students; it is the private parts of officialdom
and its associated classes. (p. 285)
A number of African governments withhold information from,
or strategically share information with, the media and their
audiences to position strategically governments' agendas.
Inarguably, even though this phenomenon is not unique to Africa,
its continentwide effect has been far-reaching, as Robertson
the amount of accessible reported data is far outweighed by
the mass of unreported but potentially useful data in
private hoards. The wastage is dreadful, and the greatly
diminished utility of collected data redounds again on our
cumulative ability to prove our worth to the people who were
the objects of our enquiries. (pp. 287-288)
But more than that, the value of technologies to the African
society is circumscribed by a paucity of empirical and
qualitative evidence on the extent to which such technologies can
be incorporated into existing social norms. The default option
has been to place full blame on either the MNCs (and their
associated agencies) or on external agencies~~the sources of much
of Africa's technologies. Yet, responsibility for articulating
and enforcing policies on the ethical, symmetrical use of
technologies rests largely on African governments and their
peoples. African policy-makers seem either insensitive to
programmatic considerations of technology use or transfer, or are
oblivious about the optimum social and political conditions that
make their use meaningful nationally.
An ethical use of such technologies must also be predicated
on extensive studies that indicate, in precise terms, the
benefits and problems of their use. It is not enough to assume
that, because such modern technologies have revolutionized
Western industrial societies, their effects in Africa will very
well be the same. (The failure of the dominant paradigm of
development suggests difficulties in making valid cross-national
assumptions.) In fact, if modern communication technologies had
been used in an attempt to improve the well-being of Africans,
then their social and economic impacts are yet to be felt. Three
facts signify this failure. First, poverty on the continent is
growing faster than that in any other world region. Between 1970
and 1985, for example, the number of Africans living in poverty
increased by 75 percent to about one-half of the continent's
population. Second, food-export capability of the continent in
the 1970s dropped sharply in the 1980s. Third, during the past
decade, economies in most of the region showed little growth,
which resulted in economic and political decline that continues
today (Stevenson, 1993). Further, Davidson (1992) argues that,
because of events in the 1980s, many African countries' economies
are today actually worse than they were during colonialism.
In light of the slow pace of Africa's sustained development,
it is important that, in applying utilitarian considerations,
specific benefits of new technologies be identified and tapped.
As Hudson (1987) notes,
. . . it is necessary to adopt strategies that will both
reduce risks and increase rewards. Risk reduction can take
many forms. It may include better efforts to communicate
what is known about the contribution of [technologies] to
development to planners and policy makers in developing
country governments and funding institutions . . . (pp.
Further, as outlined in a preceding paragraph, policy-making
should address the relevance of imported technologies in Africa.
For example, with the abundance of labor in the region, how
important is the introduction of capital-intensive technologies
to its development? Can such policy-making strike a balance
between capital-intensive technologies and labor-intensive
environments? Do African nations have the ability to finance,
operate, manage and maintain capital-intensive technologies? In
essence, the choice and use of technology in Africa should tilt
in favor of a type of technology that is a mix between the simple
and the advanced technology. Perhaps in agreement with Adams
(1984), such technology should be intermediate, which, because it
falls between traditional and ultra-modern technologies, is
usually more efficient economically than either of the other
alternatives and is simpler and less capital-intensive than
Mehra (1988), however, disagrees with the use of
intermediate technology, stating that technology need not be
evaluated by level, but primarily by whether it is likely to help
achieve the socio-economic goals of the developing nations into
which they are introduced. Parker (1987) also observes that,
despite growing evidence in favor of using appropriate low-cost
technologies for development, the worldwide institutional
barriers to implementation remain formidable.
Therefore, it is even more important in Africa than
elsewhere that technologies that are used be linked to extensive
training programs for the abundant work force, who should be
encouraged to view such technologies not as threats to their jobs
but as partners in improving productivity to levels that would
not otherwise be possible. This is particularly crucial in
Africa, where the use of technology should be increasingly more
perceived for its benefits and challenges than for its problems
Finally, indigenous communication values need not be
threatened by imported technologies. Nor should the structure of
traditional media be transformed to accommodate modern
technologies. Dissanayake (1977) poses two related questions:
"Is it ethically and aesthetically right to tamper with them
[traditional media]? Is it possible to effect a union between
traditional media and electronic media?" (p. 123).
A number of African countries have attempted to incorporate
selectively foreign media values into their communication
environments. Several African scholars have also called for an
incorporation of the local culture into radio and television
programs in order to address the effects of cultural imperialism
(Ugboajah, 1985a). Ugboajah (1985b) specifically calls for a
"cultural engineering that is, the de-linking or
self-reliance, the creation of a balance in the information
systems "to engineer flexible adaptation, national integration
and national information autonomy" (pp. 180-181). And
Dissanayake (1977) was prompted to suggest that "the most
judicious course of action would be to make no fundamental
changes in the content and structure of traditional media but
rather use their forms for the transmission of modern messages"
Tradition-based dissemination strategies have major
advantages to the African. Technologies that are suitable for
use with local mores, without altering the latter, can in the
long run be perceived as credible channels for development
messages and can, therefore, enable media institutions to
contribute ethically to the continuing development of their
Moreover, technology can facilitate unity and understanding
among Africans. For example, Lardner (1993) proposes the
development of a Pan-African broadcasting network run by Africans
and the establishment of an African media database. The latter
will be an interactive computer program that will hold data on
the penetration rate of technologies such as television, cable
television, and videocassettes in Africa.
Progress in the use of communication technologies have not
kept pace with other segments of communications development.
Even though the reach of technologies in Africa is becoming
widespread in urban areas, there has not been a concomitant
growth in policies and resource development to make their use
streamlined for the region's development. Do communication
technologies, for example, result in additional constraints on
the press? Do they imply that a single entity will have a
monopoly over the use of such technologies or that such an entity
will breed others within undesirable social standings? Pool
(1983) attempts to come to grips with the debates over progress
versus infrastructure in the U.S. context. Pool (1983) writes:
While the printing press was without doubt the foundation of
modern democracy, the response to the flood of publishing
that it brought forth has been censorship as often as press
freedom. In some times and places the even more capacious
new media will open wider the floodgates for discourse, but
in other times and places, in fear of that flood, attempts
will be made to shut the gates. (p. 251)
This paper adopts the positive and normative perspectives in
discussing implications of the use of communication technologies
for development. The former perspective means that it addresses
development within the context of "what development agents do";
the latter within the context of "what development agents should
do." This paper, therefore, sheds light on the pervasiveness of
the importance of ethical considerations in the use of
communication technologies for development. The implications of
this discourse for the development specialist can be reduced to
three major propositions:
1. Effective communication technologies-based development
projects will be those that demonstrate the relevance of
indigenous resources in the development of sub-Saharan Africa.
2. Effective communication technologies-based development
projects will be those that demonstrate simultaneously the
utilitarian value of technologies in national development.
3. Effective communication technologies-based development
projects that blend with indigenous resources and apply
utilitarian considerations will be more likely to result in
expected developmental outcomes than are those that do not
demonstrate such a characteristic or consideration.
It is suggested that these propositions be tested
empirically through extensive field research. The presence of
communication technologies per se will not translate into
development. The obverse reasoning is that their absence does
not necessarily create insurmountable barriers to development.
The key, then, is the extent to which African governments are
committed to ensuring that infrastructures of development are
used precisely to accomplish stated goals, without engendering
situations in which such infrastructures will be used against
From this paper, one thing is apparent: that the inadequate
development of the capabilities of much of Africa's
telecommunication technologies translates into constrained
development, a situation on which Riverson (1993) offers a
three-point recommendation. First, that a telecommunications
agency, which he named the Pan-African Telecommunication Academy,
plan and support the development of telecommunications systems
for Africa. Second, that financial support be available to
establish earth stations and terrestrial facilities. Finally,
that African governments should essentially have a politically
hands-off policy in the administration of such telecommunications
facilities. While these recommendations seem logical, Africa's
mass communications environment, of which telecommunications are
a sector, has been particularly vulnerable to governmental
interference and control. The implications of these outcomes for
the continuing use of new communication technologies suggest that
African governments will fail to derive the full potential of
such technologies if the latter are subjected to current
governmental controls faced by the mass media in general. If
that were so, then the new communication technologies will be
just another fanciful, high-priced gadget in Africa's
A STRATEGIC ISSUES-MANAGEMENT APPROACH
In this section, we outline considerations for managing the
transfer and use of communication technologies for effective
development. The transfer is managed by both private and
government organizations. One shortcoming of the transfer
mechanism of such technologies is a much-overlooked dimension:
management processes for the effective use of communication
technologies. During a meeting of the Plan Committee for Africa
in Cameroon in March 1987, a roundtable discussion titled
"Telecommunication management and development prospect for the
telecommunication industry in Africa" noted that the management
of telecommunication hampered its development as a whole (Meeting
of the Plan, 1987).
Soon after attaining political independence, a number of
African countries created five- or 10-year development plans.
Additionally, a number of African governments have adopted or
responded favorably to continentwide plans: Africa's Priority
Program for Economic Recovery, 1986-1990; the United Nations
Program of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development,
1986-1990; the March 1988 Khartoum Declaration of the Khartoum
Conference on the Human Dimension of Africa's Economic Recovery
and Development. These plans have at least three major
weaknesses that make a strategic issues-management approach
toward the use of technologies appealing to development
First, the plans are instruments of political and economic
leverage; they are sales pitches for resource allocation and
disposition. A relatively affluent or an economically
inconsequential region could become the focus of a plan, because
of the region's political expediency.
Second, such plans do not attract strong national
commitments. Finally, their operations are essentially
short-term; they run their course without systematic, timely
The use of technologies is a major development element on
the continent. How can such development agencies manage a
technology-based development process that overrides the
limitations of current plans? Part of the answer lies in the
management process of the development agencies. Therefore,
development agencies in the region need to refocus their
attention on strategic planning for development that places
issues management where it appropriately belongs: in the core of
Issues management evolved in the industrialized West as a
public response to the complexities of private-sector impact on
national economies; it resulted in a new paradigm of
participatory style of management (Renfro, 1993). That response
has been extended to the public sector because (1) it is "the
people's business"; (2) it is subject to the same forces of
change as the private sector; and (3) it is similar to the
private sector in its service offerings (Renfro, 1993).
The adoption of issues management requires that an
organization or a political system look not only at issues that
confront society's introduction of technologies during the next
12 to 36 months, as Ewing (1987) suggests in his
issues-management model. More than that, it requires a strategic
vision that looks three to 20 years ahead (Ansoff, 1980) or, as
Renfro (1993) describes it, that looks at the "Structure of the
Future." The taxonomy of the issue of concern for a development
agency has four overlapping "levels of the future" and suggested
time frames: surface indicators, up to one year;
structural/institutional change, one to seven years;
values/lifestyles, five to 20 years; and philosophies of mankind,
10 to 100 years. In each of these four areas, the development
agent will examine the social, technological, economic and
legislative/regulatory implications of the use of new
communication technologies for society.
Possibly, the near-absence of such futuristic management
process, even before new technologies are in place, robs the
continent of some of its resolve for attaining sustainable
development. Because an issues-management approach is aligned
with bottom-up participatory development, it can enable the
development process to be more sensitive to sociopolitical
considerations, to be more integrated into the larger matrices of
public policies and strategic plans, and to be more sensitive to
Issues management, applied to the effective use of
technologies in Africa, will include five practical steps:
scanning, monitoring, tracking, analyzing, and developing
strategies (e.g., Ewing, 1987).
Scanning requires an evaluation of societal needs to
determine the appropriateness of technologies as well as how and
in what contexts they should be used. This scanning process
involves extensive field work, which, in Africa, is a daunting
experience. The paucity of technology for the systematic
monitoring of the environment and the collection of data, the
absence of systematic data depository or information sources, and
the absence of political and social infrastructures for
environmental scanning lead to uncertainties in the environment
scanning behaviors of researchers in Africa (Adegbite, 1986;
Fubara, 1986; Mrema, 1987; Sawyerr, 1993).
Environmental scanning, consistent with the basic-needs
approach to development, will require evaluating the potentials
of technologies in "meeting specific needs of particular poverty
groups; fulfilling such basic needs of people as health care,
nutrition, sanitation, and shelter; . . . and self-determination,
self-reliance, and cultural autonomy . . . (Melkote, 1991, p.
176). As outlined in a preceding paragraph, bureaucratic and
interviewee self-imposed controls over the availability of
government records and interviewees to researchers make such
scanning for the use of technologies a monumental task.
Environmental monitoring for effective introduction of
technologies entails keeping an eye on shifts in public attitudes
and circumstances, as well as on regulatory/legislative agencies.
Because both scanning and monitoring are dependent on access to
interviewees, to members of focus groups, or to government
officials, gauging changes among the people or in national
policies has become increasingly difficult.
Tracking involves identifying the parameters of the social
effects of technologies. The data derived from the preceding
three phases are analyzed for their relevance to the introduction
of technologies. The point here is not to assume that modern
gadgetry is usually more effective in information distribution
and in the adoption of new practices.
Moemeka's (1981) survey found that residents in Obamkpa, a
village in Nigeria's Delta state, preferred traditional media to
modern media for exposure to three development projects because
the use of traditional media tended not to require the same
literacy skills that were required for the use of, say,
newspapers or magazines.
The final step in the issues management process is
developing strategies based on the three earlier steps and
reporting the strategies to management. Such reports should
outline in an executive-summary format and in detail the pros and
cons of using such strategies for technology transfer. Because
of the unusual deference toward authority figures in Africa's
bureaucratic structures and governments' encroachment on field
staffs, such reports tend not to present findings forthrightly
critical of official establishments.
If the political leaders fail to demonstrate management
skills and criticize wantonly the commercialization of new
communication technologies, then the benefits for Africans of
those technologies will be diminished. In essence, then, it is
the management of the use of the new technologies that has posed
more challenges than their paucity on the continent.
The problems of the use of communication technologies in
Africa lie more in managing their use than in their availability.
Policy-makers have to debunk the notion that having every form of
new communication technologies is tantamount to the modernization
of their countries. The traditional top-down paradigm by which
the state determines societal needs should give way to a
pragmatic issues-management approach, which emphasizes long-term
planning and the practical utility of the technologies in
benefitting the public at large. For example, telephones, which
foster interpersonal communication, would be given higher
priority than computers, which require a lot of training and the
importation of software and hardware. Both the public and
private sectors should contribute in determining the priorities
for using technologies.
An issues-management approach will also enable the state to
adopt communication technologies that are based on societal needs
and on a co-opting of the indigenous culture. It is only after
these have been done can the contributions of media technologies
be fully realized. A judicious use of the delivery and message
capacity of communication technologies will give African nations
the essential infrastructure and management processes to conduct
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