Communication means conveying information and meaning from the sender to the receiver and the consequent feedback from the receiver to the sender. Only when the receiver reacts to the message that the sender can ascertain that the receiver has at least received the information.
However, communication is not just conveying information and getting the receiver to react to it, but rather the communication is intended to convey meaning and this meaning needs to be understood correctly by the receiver. If the receiver misunderstands the meaning that the sender is trying to convey, then we can say that the communication was not achieved. We can demonstrate this difference by analyzing the difference between ‘hearing’ and ‘listening’. Every day we hear many noises and sounds but we do not even remember them because we do not pay attention to them. However, when we listen, we take into consideration the content of what we are listening to, analyze it and consequently react to it.
Communication in Africa has evolved from the most elementary ways such as the use of smoke or fire, blowing of the horns, screaming, songs, dance, stories, etc. to the most sophisticated ways of communication such as mobile phones and internet communications. The latter is not peculiar to the African context but rather it is a global phenomenon. Globalization facilitated by the advancement of science and technology has turned the world into a village where information can cross from one end to another in a matter of seconds.
This development has brought a lot of goodness to the human society and African society particularly. Because of advancements in communication technology, valuable information generated in the developed world is able to benefit even people in the remotest parts of the African continent, especially in the fields of health care and education among others. However, alongside the positive impact that communication has brought to Africa. There are also many challenges either those that hinder even better communication or those that are a consequence of the very communication advancement.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to enumerate a number of challenges that are slowing down more advancement in communication within Africa as well as those challenges that the advancement in communication achieved already has wrought. This is to make sure that we do not narrow our critique to only one side of the coin. This sounds a bit paradoxical but it will become clearer as we focus on each one of the two sides of the coin
- Challenges hindering the advancement of communication in Africa include Government, policies and laws, Politics (local and international), Traditional belief systems, Poverty, Infrastructure
Government policies and laws
Africa has been home for political leaders who have curtailed freedom of expression of his citizens because of political insecurity. Some countries until today have their governments dominating most of the public sectors such as communication avenues such as radio, television, social media and telecommunication. By doing so, they limit and manipulate the information that reaches the people. This prevents citizens from accessing precious information that could change the way they think and the way they look at the world.
Politics (local and international)
The political systems running many countries in Africa have turned political leadership into an opportunity to enrich oneself and control businesses. Many leaders get into position using crooked means and while in leadership many citizens are denied their basic rights. Those opposed to them end up being persecuted and even locked up. This does not go very well with the international community especially the organizations that champion human rights. In order to keep things underground, communication is highly censored and those who are found publishing criticism about these leaders are considered the enemy of the state.
Traditional belief systems
John Samuel Mite, a Kenyan-born Christian religious philosopher and writer; in his book African Religions and Philosophy 1969, says that Africans are notoriously religious. This religiosity is anchored on traditions that have been passed on for many generations. Some of these beliefs are very conservative and rigid. Many of them are opposed to foreign ideas. Since the life of a traditional African cannot be separated from his or her beliefs, it becomes a challenge to new ways of communication if they are considered foreign and evil.
Poverty is a kind of disease that has affected many people in different parts of Africa. This is largely fueled by the lack of education to adapt to the changes brought about by evolution in the way people live and earn their livelihood. Many communities depend on either farming or animal keeping. Their economies are non-monetary based. Due to climatic changes, these lifestyles are in many places rendered untenable but many remain stuck to them. Now, modern communication means modern infrastructure and modern gadgets. These cost money, something that these people do not have enough. This becomes a communication challenge.
If you go to the developed world, you will find a number of public amenities provided for or subsidized by the government for its citizens. This includes the provision of free internet especially for students in schools and universities. This is not the case in many parts of Africa. In many cases, it is not even a priority on the list because there are many other basic needs such as health care, basic education, food, etc. that the government are not able to secure properly for their citizens.
- Challenges brought about by advancement in communication in Africa includes Immorality, Health, Poverty Laziness, Brainwash, Cybercrime
The advancement of communication technology has become one of the greatest sources of influence on many people. Through radio, television, and the internet, people are able to share and receive content from all parts of the world. However, not all the content that is shared through this media is beneficial to those who consume it. While many radio and television programs are filtered and censored, a lot of content on the internet is unfiltered. Many people, especially the youth, have easy access to this content, which is influencing a lot of their behavior. They copy what they see and hear without a second thought. This includes the dressing, the relationship, language, etc.
While the use of communication gadgets has bombarded the African market for the last almost two decades, very little or nothing has been done to sensitize people on their proper use. In fact, many people throw away the manuals included in the packaging of these gadgets as soon as they buy them. There are many health hazards caused by improper use of these gadgets. These include physical injuries such as the back due to improper bending while using mobile phones and computers, eye problems because of imbalanced light from these gadgets, etc. There are also psychological problems caused by the bullying of blackmail done through these modes of communication. There are not enough security measures to curb this.
Poverty and Laziness
A few weeks ago, I had an IT session with the young people in the parish about the proper use of the internet. After inquiring from them, I realized that many of them spend many expensive data to access useless and at times harmful data from the internet. Most of the youth spend their internet data to chat with friends on social media or to watch and download videos and music. I took the opportunity to teach them how to use profitably their data, especially to learn something to improve on their studies or businesses. For example, I learned how to play the guitar from YouTube tutorials. Many youths also spend hours and hours on their phone instead of working.
It seems to me that the youth are influenced more to what they hear and see from the media than what they are taught by their parents, teachers and spiritual leaders. There is what we can call “social media religion” because many youths have become followers of these more than they do to the traditional source of education. Many criminal organizations have taken advantage of this devoted audience to propagate their criminal activities including terrorism. They brainwash the youth with their doctrines promising them riches and better lives.
‘Cyber-crime’ is a vocabulary that is very recent in the world record of crimes. Until a few decades ago this terminology was, absent in the day-to-day language. Today, ‘Cyber-crime’ has become a household term. Many individual persons, companies, organizations and including governments in Africa and the whole world have suffered greatly from this type of crime. From identity theft, leaguing of elections, blackmail, and conning, bullying, bank robberies, among others have been reported day in day out. Many do not yet have proper security measures to counter this kind of crime, especially in Africa.
These are only but a few challenges that
The way forward
The traditional African societies had ways to identify and correct different bad behaviours. This was done through the teaching of moral codes and punishments to those who broke these codes. A lot of the teaching was done through songs, dance, fables, refrains, proverbs, etc. However, the rapid evolution of communication technologies has not been accompanied by measures to regulate its use or teach users how to use them correctly and profitable. This is what in my opinion think that should be part of bringing up of today’s children. There is a need to introduce in the school curriculums programs on the proper use of communication technology so that they can grow knowing what is useful and what is harmful to them.
Fr. Lawrence Muthee, SVD