integral foundation to successful outreach no matter what the endeavor. We need
to give communication strategies more attention, especially in the 21st. Century
which is shaping up as the Communications Century.
The best laid plans can crash on the waves of a poorly designed communications strategy. In the information overload of the West, communication can be intrusive and a nuisance. Getting messages through the clutter, keeping them simple and addressing the target audience is challenging and it doesn’t happen by chance.
In contrast, in Africa where infrastructure is lacking or only partially in place the challenge is quite different. The absence of communications infrastructure results in an information deficit. Messages that will help people achieve a higher quality of life are not being delivered quickly, accurately and effectively in remote places “off the grid,” whether the “grid” is defined as the electric grid, cellphone service or the worldwide web.
I was reminded of this while attending a workshop sponsored by United Methodist Communications for communicators from approximately twenty African nations this week at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
As the African communicators share their own work experiences they speak of the challenges of getting messages to intended audiences in a timely manner, with clarity and efficiency. Many had the experience of giving a written note to a bus driver for delivery to the intended recipient days later and each agrees this is no way to get messages through. It’s unreliable, inefficient, untimely, and often unsuccessful.
But it’s the method too many of these communicators must use in the absence of cellphones, radios or broadcast media.
I talked with a physician who specializes in HIV/AIDS and malaria who said the traditional oral culture of Africa is particularly challenging for delivering accurate health information. He said by the time messages are filtered through several people, the original message can become unrecognizable. When it comes to treatment, prevention or simply getting people to health clinics at an appointed time, it’s frustrating at best. But at worst it can result in mistakes or failure to deliver health services or other important information.
The information deficit is a global responsibility. The right to information should be among the most basic of human rights. This has been recognized by the United Nations but the challenge we face is to create awareness of the communications needs of Africa among those who can make a difference. The poor who who lack resources to pay for access and technology are being left out.
We who live in North America and Western Europe tend to view communications as an entertainment vehicle and take for granted our access to telephones and cable TV, for example. But in information-starved remote places in Africa, communication is not about entertainment. It’s about life-saving contact, service and knowledge to prevent death-dealing diseases. In this century, communication is a foundation to a productive and healthy community, and to individual empowerment and fulfillment.