This is the third part of a series of articles entitled 'Influences in Africa'. In this issue we take a look at the way the mass media and communications can influence Africa today.
There is no doubt that the various forms of mass media and communications have had a great influence in every part of the world. We are probably more aware of it in Europe and North America than anywhere else. Still, the effects of technological advances are felt in all parts of the globe. Being able to share information, to have almost instant access to news, and to be subjected to advertisements, has its good and bad sides.
How such means of communications are used will always be a topic for discussion, but the basic fact that they are with us and will continue to develop is obvious. Most countries in Africa, as with the majority of the developing world, have fallen behind in the communications race. The main reason for this is that investors do not see enough commercial potential to put money into creating networks in these countries. The situation is not improved by the tight control which most African governments have over all forms of media and communication. The result, as we see even in Europe, is that this area of our lives is often controlled by a few 'media moguls'.
There is no doubt that the most successful method of modern communication in Africa is the radio (see the table). Newspapers, television and films are not readily available to a rural population, but it is likely that there will be several radios even in the remotest of villages.
Most radio and T.V. networks in Africa are state owned or controlled, there are very few independent networks. Consequently, radio is often a means for the incumbent government to get across its point of view. This is done to varying degrees and effect to the extent of some governments distorting reports to suit their own ends. Because of this, the BBC's World Service programmes have become an essential part of events in Africa. They are often the only reliable source of unbiased news for millions of people.
Radio has been used for the good of people and for the bad. The role which 'Radio Libre des Mille Collines' (RMC) played in encouraging the genocide in Rwanda of 1994 is well documented. RMC was set up in July, 1993, and became the mouthpiece for the extremists of the former government. Mille Collines undermined the Arusha agreement, and was used to create fear and to incite people to kill their neighbours.
There are many examples of how radio has been used for the good in Africa. Inspired by the effect which the propaganda of RMC had on people 'Radio Espoir' (Radio Hope, Radio Umwizero in Kirundi) was established to spread balanced programmes. It is a joint venture between a French association and a local Burundi radio station. Radio Hope is based in Bujumbura and is run by three expatriates. It is targeted at the 15-25 age group, and broadcasts in the Kirundi language.
'The Voice of the Disabled' in Chad is another example of a good use of the radio. The programme is made by 'The Support Group for the Disabled' (AEHPT) and is broadcast nationally each week. AEHPT also produces various printed material but moved into radio to reach a wider audience of both the able-bodied and the disabled. The programmes are not difficult to produce and do not require a lot of technical, financial or human resources. At present it is only broadcast in French but it is hoped to put it out in Arabic and Sara soon.
At the end of the 1980s the Inter-Religious Meeting of Bishops of Southern Africa (IMBISA) started a local radio project. It involved local people in making the programmes, news and information about everyday life. A similar venture is 'Radio Pax', a Catholic radio station which broadcast to Mozambique up until 1977, began again just before the elections of October, 1994. Courses were run for the presenters from various towns. From this grew the 'Association of Independent Young Christian Journalists', which now runs the station. During the elections Pax journalists became a source of independent information, which was used by the international press and observers. Pax is now based at Inhamizua, 20km from Beira. The staff have continued their work and are also involved in teaching young people to manage radio stations, and to set up self-financing schemes. There are further plans to open local radio stations in other towns.
BBC World Service
The BBC's World Service was very much in the news for most of 1996. The annual financial cuts demanded by the government - which, it is claimed, would result in a short-fall of nearly £20 million in 1997-98 - were part of the story. Then the plans for restructuring the whole BBC organisation appeared. Under the new proposals the World Service would virtually disappear as a separate production entity and its news units would be absorbed by existing BBC news, though specific World Service news would still be produced. Bush House on The Strand would also be abandoned, before its lease runs out in 2004, and the World Service will possibly move to White City, west London.
The World Service began life as the BBC Empire Service on 19th. December, 1932, and become known as the World Service in 1988. It now broadcasts in 42 languages, including English, and has 133 million listeners a week. English speakers (35 million) are the largest group of listeners, then there are Hindi speakers (24 million), Urdu speakers (16.5 million) and Arabic speakers (11 million). In Africa and the Middle East the World Service has 42.5 million listeners, 14 million in English. Broadcasts are also made in Arabic, French, Hausa, Kinyarwanda/Kirundi, Portuguese, Somali and Swahili.
T.V. and Films
Once again, in general, television and films are tightly controlled in African countries. Neither of these forms of communication has developed to the same degree as radio. This is mainly due to the expense and technical expertise necessary. French-speaking West Africa, especially Burkina Faso and Senegal, has a thriving film industry and many films have been produced dealing with events in these countries and with their history. English-speaking African countries have to depend on South Africa and Zimbabwe since the Nigerian film industry has virtually collapsed.
The financial investment to establish a new television network, maintain high production standards and keep up with technological advances, is way beyond the means of most African states. Despite this some countries have their T.V. networks. With the advent of global satellite T.V. networks it is also possible for their programmes to be received in Africa - even if there is no national T.V. network. Channels such as CFI, T.V.5 Afrique, BBC World Television, Deutsche Welle, CNN, MTV and M-Net are beamed to various parts of Africa. It is difficult for African networks to compete with the sponsorship which the West's multinationals give to these large global networks.
The 'Africa Express' programmes, on the UK's Channel Four, are a new approach to reporting on Africa. The programmes involve African reporters and some of the documentaries have been made entirely by African production teams. Journalists from Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Cameroon and Zimbabwe, have made films in various African countries on challenging and difficult topics. The programmes will be available for use in Africa at the lowest possible cost because of special concessions on their broadcasting rights. Channel Four collaborated with TVE and South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) but still had 80% control of production and editorial decisions. The latest series was regularly watched by up to two million viewers.
It is difficult for a newspaper in any country to remain 100% independent and more so in Africa. Most newspapers are subject to some form of censorship, even if this is not through direct government interference. Their production is restricted by all sorts of pressures such as the need for newsprint (paper), computers, printing presses, advertisements, a distribution network, trained staff. These factors can make the Press a monopoly and form a disguised censorship for the publishers. They can often end up just reflecting the opinions of a rich urban elite of a given country.
Some local organisations have been formed to help to counter the possibilities of imposed censorship and bias. These include the 'Publishers' Society' (SEP), which is based in Benin, and the 'Press Freedom and Professional Ethics Monitor' (OLPED) of the Ivory Coast. MISA (the Media Institute for Southern Africa) is a well established regional organisation for journalists. It promotes the training of local journalists and the circulation of news. MISANET is part of this and is a Windhoek (Namibia) based e-mail system which allows journalists to pass their stories around a wider global audience.
The influence which newspapers can have in bringing about change is extraordinary. In Malawi, for example, the Press scene changed completely after the Catholic Bishops produced their Pastoral Letter in March, 1992. Until then there had been two government-controlled national newspapers (one daily and one weekly), one Catholic biweekly and a Catholic monthly magazine. Within a matter of months this had grown to about twenty-two publications, most of them 'independent', appearing at various intervals. These papers stimulated political discussions which the country had never seen before and helped in the democratic process.
One of the great demons of the 1990s, so many believe, is the Internet or 'The Information Super-Highway'. Opinions range from it being a way of spreading all that is evil in the world, to it being a marvellous tool for education and development. As with any form of communication it can be used to either end. The Internet reflects society and it is only a small minority of people that misuse it and give it a bad name. Due to the way in which the Internet has developed there is no one person, or organisation, in over all control. Despite this it is, in general, a well ordered and self-regulating arena for cooperation amongst people from all over the world. It is estimated that about thirty million people use the Internet at present (see the 'Backbone' diagram).
Origins of the Internet
The Internet began in the late 1960s when people involved in American defence matters decided that they needed to safeguard their computers from a possible nuclear attack. In 1969 the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), part of the US Defence Department, established a network of four computers so that their researchers could exchange information and that, in the event of a nuclear war, the systems could continue to function independently. These computers were at different places and became known as DARPANET. By 1972 there were thirty-seven computers and the network became known as ARPANET. The network had grown to pass information and mail around and took another step forward with MILNET, in 1983. This was a branch which carried sensitive military information. The National Science Foundation (NSF) established five supercomputer centres in 1984 which brought in the academic and educational circles. This was opened up to almost anyone who wished to use it in 1987.
Over the last ten years the Internet has gradually grown to link the whole world and is accessible to those who have a computer, a modem and a telephone connection. The development, once again, in Europe and many parts of the world has been from a network of educational establishments. It was done on an informal basis with the main intention of sharing information. In the last few years, the Internet has become commercialised and major multinational corporations have been attempting to carve out their area of influence within it. Most of these developments came on the scene at the same time as the 'Super Highway' really began to appear in the media of Western Europe - though in fact the first European connections to be established were with England and Norway in 1973.
What is the Internet?
One way to view the Internet is as a parallel to the world's telephone systems. Instead of there being telephones and facsimile (fax) machines at the end of telephone lines, there are computers. The Internet, like the telephone system, is not just a single unit but is made up of different networks based all over the world. For example, if we wish to make a telephone call to America from the UK we begin by dialling up, using the line provided by our local company - British Telecom, Mercury etc. The telephone call is transferred to the USA by undersea cable or satellite, and is picked up by another company there and we reach the number required. When we make a telephone call it is rare that we know how the message gets from A to B, nor do we give it a second thought, because we have grown so used to it.
The Internet also uses a system of telephone lines, satellite links and undersea cables to pass information around the world from computer to computer. Usually people have access to it through a local 'Provider'. A 'Provider' is a company which lets you use their equipment, almost as a telephone exchange, in order to get onto the Internet. In this way it is possible to contact anyone, to find information, and to send mail. People working or studying in most universities can have free access to the Internet as they are often directly linked to it. For others the cost is just that of a local phone call and an annual subscription to a 'Provider'.
Using the Internet
As with a telephone system how the Internet is used varies a great deal. It can be as useful as a 999-emergency call or as facile as a 0891-chat line - all depends on the users intentions.
The most common use of the Internet is as a postal service to send 'electronic mail' (e-mail). The great thing about it is that by this method anything which it is possible to produce on a computer - text, pictures, sound, even this whole magazine - can be transferred from one computer to another. E-mail is simply a fast and cheap way of sending and receiving information. It also saves a lot of time and duplication because the messages which you receive are in a form of text which can be used in most types of computer software, without any retyping.
It is possible to search thousands of computers for the information you want. By using various types of software you can 'browse' and find the information. There are also 'Yellow Pages' which may be referred to get the addresses of where to go. Once you have the address of the computer, you can get into it and look at the documents and even copy them to your own machine for future reference. A part of the Internet which lends itself to this is the World Wide Web (WWW or the Web). It is an easy way to look at what is on a computer and to get around it. Various organisations, such as universities, keep information on their computers and allow people to share it. These wells of knowledge are often known as Anonymous File Transfer Protocol (FTP) sites and documents amounting to thousands of pages can be found.
The above ways of using the Internet are often restricted to business, academic or research work. The system, as with the telephone or postal service, is also used for socialising. People who have similar interests and hobbies get together and form 'news-groups' or 'conferences'. These are space on the Providers' computers to which people can send messages to one another. These may be anything from trivial matters, to sharing resources about human rights or environmental issues.
Telephones in Africa
The development of the Internet in Africa depends greatly on the existing telecommunication networks within the continent. There are more telephones in Tokyo or Manhattan than in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite having 12% of the World's population Africa has only 2% of its phones. Only thirteen countries have more than one phone to every one hundred people, and most of these are in urban areas. In comparison there are fifty to every one hundred people in the USA.
Efforts have been made over the last twenty years to improve and build up a communications structure in many countries. The UN has always encouraged this development, such as during the decade of 'Transport and Communication' (1978 to 1988). One of the aims was for Africa to have one telephone line per 100 people by 1988. The result was a 0.72 of a line and an estimated 0.91 by 1991. Other organisations such as the Pan-African Telecommunication (PANAFTEL), the Pan-African Telecommunications Union (PATU), and the Regional African Satellite Communications Organisations (RASCOM) have worked on a continent wide basis. In general all have had a degree of success but nothing to compare with the way they have grown in Western Europe and North America.
There is a great difference in accessibility to services in the various countries though here generalisations can be misleading. South Africa, as may be expected, is one of Africa's leading countries for telephones and the Internet. It has 146 phones per thousand people and ranks sixteenth, out of the 159 countries, in the world which have Web sites. South Africa is also developing as a communications centre for the whole of southern Africa.
Problems of connectivity also arise in Africa both within a country and from country to country. When telephone networks are gradually improved developing countries often have to rely upon aid - financial and in kind - from developed countries. This can lead to problems with the type of communications equipment used to the extent that the different levels of communication won't work together. In Zambia the international phone system is made up of Swedish and Japanese components. In the rural areas other parts are French, Japanese and Norwegian. This causes headaches for the engineers who have to work on it and difficulties in connecting calls.
Much of the existing telephone structure in Africa is built on old patterns which hail back to their colonial origins. Because of this some countries are often unable to talk directly to others in the continent and have to pass through Europe. For example a call from Dakar (Senegal) to Lusaka (Zambia) follows the route Dakar-Banjul (The Gambia), Banjul-London, London-Lusaka. This pattern is repeated in many cases and it means that much revenue from African telecommunication companies goes to carriers in Europe. It has been estimated that this adds as much as US$250m to Africa's phone bill, contributing towards making calls 40% more expensive than elsewhere.
Money may also be saved when a country's internal phone system is of a good standard. A World Bank study on Uganda found that 2,000 local government officials made 40,000 trips a year for business which could be handled by phone or mail, if reliable services were available. The time taken was estimated to be equal to 250 working years and to cost US$600,000 annually. It has been shown in other studies that there is a direct link between efficient telecommunications and economic growth. For improvement to be seen it is necessary to have at least one phone per hundred people. Certainly without efficient communications Africa is losing out all the time.
Government Control or Privatisation
As well as the problems mentioned above, most telecommunication networks have the added burdens of under funding and deteriorating equipment. Some are also plagued with corruption - such as bribery for services and installation. Many telecommunication companies are state-owned and they struggle financially. As a result governments are reluctant to allow people to connect with other, sometimes cheaper, sources, and so the state-monopolies hold firm. Authorities also fear the potential danger of allowing their country's communications into private hands. This is even more so with the advent of access to the Internet. Rather than seeing communication as a development tool, they view the free transfer of information as a means of undermining an autocratic regime.
The pros and cons between government ownership and privatisation in developing countries may be argued in different ways and both may be seen as a mixed blessing. With the imposition of Structural Adjustment Programmes by the World Bank and IMF the choice is usually made up for the debtor country as these two institutions favour privatisation. Thus, many state telecommunication companies are forced to face competition. The World Bank certainly sees communications as an area for investment and encourages it strongly.
Telephones in Ghana
Developments in Ghana show how a country's communications can be improved, through the influence of the major financial institutions, and with investment by multinational companies. The changes began in 1992 with the implementation of the World Bank's Economic Recovery Programme for Ghana. Part of the programme is to make the country self-sufficient in phones by the year 2000 and to place this in the private sector. Legislation is gradually being brought in to break the monopoly of the Ghana Post and Telecommunications Corporation (GPTC). The postal and telecommunications aspects of the GPTC are being divided, rather like the division of BT and the Post Office in the UK several years ago. The Ghana government will retain the majority of shares and the rest (49%) will be open to international bids and the general public.
Other initiatives have also taken place and go back to 1986 when the World Bank gave Ghana a loan of US$19m. This helped secure other loans, totalling US$170m. from different sources. Japan financed 36,500 new telephone lines in Accra, completed in June 1995, the Caisse Francaise de Development (France) financed 10,000 lines in Tema and AT&T (USA) provided all the equipment. The progress is checked regularly by the World Bank.
Ghana became the seventy-ninth member of the International Mobile Satellite Organisation (Inmarsat), the twelfth African country to join. Inmarsat is an internationally owned cooperative, with each member state sharing in the profits made, which provides worldwide communication through four telecommunications satellites. This means that it is possible, for those with terminals, to make a phone call to anywhere in the world.
The demand for telephones has also soared over the years: from 50,000 by the end of 1994, to 82,000 by 1995, and 120,000 by 1996. With the new developments it is beginning to be possible to meet these needs and those of the large multinationals, such as Coca Cola, which wish to open up factories throughout the country. Small communications bureaus have also blossomed in the larger cities. Those who can get the money to invest have set up offices, with staff and equipment, and cater for the needs of the urban small business man.
A major initiative which is under way at present is the 'Africa One' project. This is headed by AT&T Submarine Systems, Inc., a part of American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T). The plan is to lay 35,000 kilometres of undersea fibre optic cable circling the whole of Africa (see 'Communications Links in Africa'). The concept of 'Africa One' was first announced at the ITU's Africa Telecom conference held in Cairo, in April, 1994. The ITU (International Telecommunication Union of the UN) had approached AT&T for ideas the previous year and there had been discussions at various levels. Those involved so far are Pan-African organisations such as PATU and RASCOM. These both help to coordinate and link African telecommunications, through their networks of satellites and microwave dishes. They also help to develop various organisations throughout the continent. AT&T's role in the project is to supply the network.
There is already financial support from the United States, and the World Bank/IFC will help in financing country links to 'Africa One'. The major investment is to come from PATU and RASCOM and their global partners who will own and run the network. The basic work of contacting interested parties and putting agreements together has already been done. It is hoped that the actual construction work will begin this year, 1997.
The undersea cable will be laid beyond the continental shelf and the first stage will link forty-one of Africa's coastal countries and islands. From there the network will be integrated into the continent's existing, and planned, terrestrial and satellite-based regional networks, which are overseen by PATU and RASCOM, respectively. Connections to the rest of the world will be made through existing undersea networks to Portugal, Spain, Italy, Israel, Greece, and Saudi Arabia and the other continents. Already more than sixty countries are involved. This figure is expected to reach over one hundred by the end of the decade when the project will be completed.
'Africa One' may be seen as either a marvellous way to give Africa access to global communication or yet another monopoly created by one of the world's largest multinational companies - a form of technical colonialism. Whichever way we see it there is certainly great potential. It is hoped that the huge investment - of up to US$2.6 billion - will be repaid within five years as present demand for telecommunications outstrips the availability of suitable networks. The project's major drawbacks are that the cable only has a twenty-five-year life cycle and that, despite having the most up-to-date continental ring, the existing regional and national networks of Africa are doomed to deteriorate further without massive investment.
The Internet and Africa
The majority of African countries, as mentioned at the beginning of the article, are unable to keep up with much of the technological development of the Internet. The major reasons for this are a simple lack of computers, telephones and suitable telephone networks which are necessary to use the services available. It is virtually impossible for Africa to catch up with Western Europe and North America on the ratio of computers and telephones per head. Even if such basics were available telephone charges would make it impossible for the ordinary person to use it. Despite this it does not mean that the situation is hopeless.
Direct access to the Internet is only available in seventeen of Africa's countries (at the time of writing, October 1996) but there are other communication routes which link people with it. The subscription to a 'Provider' is also beyond the means of the ordinary person. The annual cost in the UK, around £150, would be that for a couple of months in in some West African countries - probably the annual average income for a subsistence farmer!
The APC Organisation and GreenNet
As with telephones there are many organisations which are helping to create the different forms of communications within Africa and to link them with the rest of the world. The Association for Progressive Communications (APC)(see the maps on pages 11, and 16 and 17) is a good example of the Internet in a microcosm, as it utilises all the various means of linking people together and works upon the previously uncommercial Internet ethic. APC is a consortium of more than fifty international networks. It is the most extensive global computer network dedicated specifically to serving non-governmental organisations (NGOs), church organisations, human rights networks, policy makers, community leaders and individuals concerned with social and environmental issues. APC supplies e-mail, conferencing and Internet facilities for about 22,000 people in 133 countries. In doing so it provides low cost computer communication and information services to individuals and local organisations and encourages them to develop their skills.
The APC networks have benefited from several United Nations projects and grew in 1987 when it collaborated with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to establish computer network services for NGOs and academics in Latin America. The network is working closely with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on their ChildNet project. Several UN offices also use the APC networks to spread information. APC has been involved in the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil, in 1993 at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Austria, and the 1995 Fourth UN World Conference on Women in Beijing.
GreenNet is the London-based part of the APC organisation and helps to set up and support small PC systems. Since the late 1980s GreenNet has been assisting in the development of communications in several countries. It provides FidoNet and Internet connections for about twelve of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. This ensures that the systems are long-term local service providers. As with the original Internet, the networks are often university based because they have the equipment, and people who would benefit greatly from there use as well as technical expertise to maintain the links.
GreenNet's work is not restricted to English or French speaking Africa. Like all its partners and associated networks, it crosses many boundaries including that of language. It has always worked closely with other networks to help develop local initiatives and training programmes. Some examples of these are HealthNet (Satellite Boston), the Sustainable Development Networks (SDN) and the Capacity Building for Electronic Networks in Africa (CABECA) programme.
CABECA and PADIS
CABECA (Capacity Building for Electronic Communications in Africa) is part of the United Nations contribution to helping Africa along the 'Super Highway'. CABECA provides equipment and training to enable organisations, and countries, to improve their electronic communications, networking and to connect to the Internet. The main goal is to strengthen existing networks and to help to start new ones, in cooperation with other projects. Since June, 1993, such activities have been undertaken in sixteen African countries. CABECA is funded by a grant from the Canadian International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which is a public corporation created by the Canadian Parliament to support research designed to adapt science and technology to the needs of developing countries.
The CABECA programme is being carried out by the Pan-African Development Information System (PADIS) which is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. PADIS was established in January, 1980 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). It is a vast library of African development information to which is added to by governments and organisations. The information is open to the public and requests are received from all over the world. PADIS also helps in the collection of information and in its use so that a certain uniformity in standards may be maintained.
SatelLife and HealthNet
SatelLife is an international non-profit making organisation which was started in 1986. It uses satellite, telephone and radio networking technology to serve the health communication and information needs of countries in the developing world. SatelLife's main aim is to improve communications and the exchange of information in the fields of public health, medicine and the environment.
HealthNet is SatelLife's International Health telecommunications system which links about four thousand health care workers, in thirty countries, around the world. It provides access to the latest medical information, e-mail, conferencing, and other services. It makes available information and library resources to medical personnel in developing countries, and helps in remote education.
Through its satellites, which are also used by organisations such as GreenNet, HealthNet acts as a channel of communication. It is even used internally in some countries where the postal and telephone services do not extend to remote rural areas. It even enables a health care worker to contact colleagues in a neighbouring district. HealthNet produces a number of electronic publications on AIDS, child health, WHO information and abstracts from relevant papers, all of which would usually not be available to health workers in the field. HealthNet links twenty one African countries and gives them access to the world's networks.
The Internet Future
South Africa is the main centre for the Internet in Southern Africa and interest is growing all the time. In the six months of July-August, 1996, it grew by 50%, while by only 20% in France. The number of host computers rose by 147% in South Africa between 1994 and 1995. Over the same period in Taiwan and Australia the increase was 83% and 50% respectively. It is probably the one African country which uses the most electronic communication and which has recognised its future potential. This is not just in the field of commerce, but also in those of education and government. One proposed plan is for a mobile computerised classroom which would visit townships and rural areas. In this way children would be able to use libraries and other resources on the Internet which would be an impossibility in their ordinary circumstances.
African countries, in general, could also access the reference sources which are available on the Internet. In this way they could fill in the educational gaps which lack of finance and geographical isolation have caused. There is no way that any average university in Africa can compete with those in Western Europe or North America as regards the resources - libraries, course material etc. It is possible for the Internet to help to bridge this gap. At present it is estimated that up to 80% of information about Africa is held outside the continent and a great deal of it is compiled by non-Africans. Maybe now Africans can be given the opportunity to add more to their side of the story.
E-mail has many benefits and has proven to be of great help to Africa already. Malawi's draft constitution was e-mailed around the world to various constitutional experts. In this way an amazing amount of time was saved and it was possible for many more people to contribute to its formulation. A similar process has been used with the South African constitution. A great deal of the information on the 1995 Ebola outbreak in Zaire was picked up by a fifteen-year-old in South Africa. Together with the HealthNet links it was possible to pass this on to the medical people who needed it. The possibilities of using such communications links are colosal, what is needed is the investment and interest of those outside Africa to make a dream come true.
______________________ To be continued
This article first appeared in "White Fathers - White Sisters" (UK),
issue 332, of February-March, 1997.
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