Archive | February, 2009

The Guardian on Katine: Can it start with a village?

28 Feb

The Guardian’s ‘it starts with a village’ project in Katine, a rural sub-county in Uganda with a 25,000 population is halfway through its three-year duration.

The Guardian describes it as more than fundraising and tracks every stage on the website and through blogs and multimedia – successes and failures included, they claim. It is the only project in mainstream media that offers this level of transparency.


It has been working in partnership with NGO Farm Africa, Amref, Panos and is sponsored by Barclays. It does however make you question if it is a vehicle for corporate interests of the institutions who sponsor it. In 2007, Barclays already had around 180,000 market traders in Ghana linked into a micro-banking programme based on a traditional saving scheme run by local collectors. 

Poroject Katine has also been scrutinised because it only last for three-years – would it be a case of Western organisations putting in their penny’s worth (£2.5m worth to be exact) and then just leaving a region like Katine holding the baby once they’ve got all their stories – how sustainable will it be?

Can media do development?

Last month POLIS held a seminar to discuss whether the media can actually do development. Following this, Charlie Beckett said “the brutal answer from our seminar was ‘no, but it was worth trying’”…

It was clear from the evidence given by the Amref and Guardian staff at the seminar that this was an exhilarating, exhausting and ultimately unsatisfactory experience. They have another 18 months to go and everyone has learned lessons, much has been achieved, – but there was no sense that either party want to or could repeat the project.

amref quoteThe Guardian’s keenness to introduce new media technologies and take a participative, bottom-up approach was inevitably going to face some barriers as AMREF director Grace Mukasa voiced: “There is an oral tradition in rural Africa. You have to remember that these people may not be literate and may not have seen a computer before so it is hard to expect them to blog.”

Amref also said that coping with the expectations of the Guardian and working under the media spotlight was challenging. They were accused of not opening up to the media in the early stages.

Journalists Sarah Bosely and John Vidal also admitted that they had censored themselves, which is an ethical dilemma that many development journalists face. How well can you balance your duty as a journalist to report the truth without undermining a good project?

These ethical issues and pressures to support the project were also faced by Weekly Observer journalist Richard Kavuma, employed by the Guardian to cover Katine.

He said many Ugandan journalists saw it as “the poor of the North giving to the rich of the South” that would only benefit elites, but that other Ugandan media are increasingly reporting human realities that are often “unsexy” issues, giving people on the ground more of a voice.

And with the Guardian’s resources so heavily on Katine, does it compromise their coverage of other development stories? You can however take the view that covering one country intensely and in detail is much more effective than skimming over a number of them.

Archives of material

The Guardian has benefited from more traffic on the website, but of course any media organisation seeks this when covering development. But Katine is not just covering the development – it is executing the development with Amref. The Guardian admitted that they wanted to test to potential of their website and its ability to ‘crowd-source’ public knowledge around an issue.

The effort put in is evidently not for just online traffic however – Katine is an ambitious venture because it does not provide news grabbing headlines. It is ‘slow’ moving documenting everyday lives of a village which differs to sexier stories involving war, famine, AIDS or through the prism of a rock star celebrity – so it is unlikely to evoke revolutionary change. But it does provide a ‘human face’ rather than masses of statistics.

It has recorded a mass of useful information, video, blog and images and has made great attempts at development on a participatory level. It is an interesting experiment for the media and someone had to make the first dalliance..

New Media

See the Guardian’s use of new media technologies in development communication in this short video.

Independent moderator Rick Davies is monitoring the project and you can view his August 2008 report from his second visit here and Amref’s response here.


Projet Radio Madagascar: A ‘new’ model of development?

27 Feb
listening group
Radio is a widespread form of communication in Africa and was one of the first main technologies to be used for development communication in the continent.
Projet Radio on the island of Madagascar is a contemporary example of instigating ‘modern’ social change in rural communities using radio communication based in the Global South. These development projects have introduced a level of participatory involvement, distinguishing themselves from the modernisation development attempts of the early twentieth century – but how much are people on the ground actually involved? Is the West still using techniques that development communication supposedly moved away from decades ago?


Madagascar, which gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960, has not yet achieved any of its UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and is “off track” on gender equality and maternal heath. The island has a literacy rate of about 69%, but only 25% in rural areas so radio is a practical media technology.

projet radio statsSet up in 1999 as part of the Andrew Lees Trust (ALT), Project Radio broadcasts programmes which are distributed through working with 38 local stations, covering agriculture, healthcare, education and AIDS.

Indigenous communities assist Western journalists’ research though ‘listening groups’ enabling locals to share their experiences and establish their needs.

Culture barriers

Radios are given free to village ‘responsibles’ who head the groups, 68% of which are women. This empowerment gives women control over radio access. But this promotion of gender equality was also a practical decision because women are more likely to be in the village during daytime hours.

The Madagascan culture and tradition caused problems in the project’s early days according to director, Yvonne Orengo, who said listening groups could be “quite problematic due to the hierarchies and male dominance in the villages”.

Language is also a culture barrier when imposing Western models of journalism, but Projet Radio embraced the aural culture of the otherwise isolated Tulear and Fianarantsoa provinces before it launched its service and broadcasts in ‘easy to understand’ dialects like Antandroy and Antanosy.

Programmes giving advice on HIV and AIDS prevention also have to battle with the traditional Malagasy belief that such illnesses are caused by spirit possession, so horizontal contact with people on the ground floor is crucial.

Western model

The ALT is registered charity in England and although it does have a Malagasy branch, it is run from the UK and works with the notion that education can be “a single alleviating factor in a family’s ability to overcome the effects of poverty”. It has made positive contributions towards Madagascar’s MDGs and its participatory intention to empower indigenous populations cannot be denied.

Funded from various sources, including the European Commission, UNICEF and the British and American embassies, it enforces the idea that this is a Western ‘approved’ project working very much within what resonates the former ‘Modernisation’ model.

The format and content of the devised radio programmes is largely determined by Western partners and local radio stations, which also control the production and airing of principally ‘solution-orientated’ broadcasts.

NGOs and partners provide equipment to local radio stations on the condition that their programmes are broadcast and out outreach workers are trained to make programmes promoting their specialist topics, rather than training the radio broadcasters to produce programmes on unfamiliar subjects which makes us question To what extent are the programme themes actually taken from what people have said on the ground and what partners involved feel it should be.

More participation?

Projet Radio production studio in Ambovombe

Projet Radio production studio in Ambovombe

Most production members involved in the programmes are Malagasy, so local cultural nuances are identified and understood, but with a lack of producers who are actually trained journalists (Evans, 2002) and only 5% of listening groups actually involved in actual recordings, the participation element of ‘village voices’ can be minimal.

In some respects, Projet Radio is an evolved development initiative and can be seen as taking a participative and empowering approach, but it also shows that modernisation approaches are still present. With its practicalities, radio also comes with limitations – would ‘Projet Online’ allow for a wider perspective?

Slumdog Millionaire: Westertainment?

21 Feb
Jamal Malik sees the light? Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Jamal Malik sees the light? Picture: Slumdog Millionaire

Composer of Slumdog Millionaire’s score, A. R. Rahman will perform at tomorrow’s Oscars for the first time. Hollywood is on India’s news agenda and Bollywood is on the world’s, but this time it’s highlighting the plight of the thousands of children living the slum life.

With ongoing debates as to whether ‘poverty porn’ has resurfaced out-dated modernisation discourse, the success of Danny Boyle’s film has been received with mixed responses of pride, joy, frustration and a post-colonial identity crisis in India.

It has taken an 11-time Oscar nominated film to put urban slums in the spotlight. Mira Nair’s Salaam Bombay already looked at the country’s underbelly of street children and, amongst other awards, won the more understated Caméra d’Or at Cannes. Made in the eighties however, Mumbai was then Bombay, missing the skyscrapers which tower today’s slums present in Boyle’s panoramic shots of India.


New York-based journalist, Hirsh Sawhney today criticised Slumdog’s contemporary depiction of Mumbai as simplifying poverty and the West’s relationship with it. His criticism bears resemblance to those who have previously examined the shortcomings of cultural imperialism and promoting Western values as a solution to the problems of undeveloped countries.

In the Guardian’s Comment is free, he said:

“In fact, far from spreading the blame for global poverty, Boyle’s film actually suggests that the West is the solution to India’s problems. Protagonist Jamal only escapes his ceaseless cycle of squalor and crime once he makes it into the orderly, democratic world of a British call centre…The subtext is clear: things are really bad in urban India but healthy servings of western values are just what the doctor – and the Academy judges – ordered.”


Lights Camera Action (see video here) hosted a diverse discussion panel in Houston last week on the controversies sparked by the film in India, addressing why, if the case, the Western world is obsessed with poverty porn and also begging the question – does India need an outsider (from the West) to step in before its government wakes up and smells the chai?

Bachchan criticises film for portraying India as 'third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation'

Bachchan criticises film for portraying India as 'third-world, dirty, underbelly developing nation'

The economic polarity in India is portrayed the scene where Bollywood actor Amithabh Bachchan (who has also aired criticisms) by proxy, nonchalantly signs an autograph for Jamal who is literally covered head to toe in crap.

The conventional Bollywood style movie is more glitz and glamour-induced escapism than realism and the latter in this case seems to have a hit a little too close to home truths.

Western ideals

With a Jamal Malik, who goes on to speak fluent English in the latter half of the movie, takes up the chai wala job in a Western style call centre and attempts to escape the slums on a Western adopted gameshow, Indians are likely to be defensive at the thought of Western audiences criticising their nation.

Despite this we can’t forget that Boyle’s film is not a documentary. It is an entertaining love story that could almost have been shot anywhere. Films such as City of God, set in Rio have also highlighted a similar need for development. On the way however, Slumdog has reminded audiences of the slums, which can’t be swept under the rug just because it makes a prospering country look bad.

South Africa: HIV awareness goes mobile

11 Feb
Mobile texts South Africa Project Masiluleke

Picture: Praekelt Foundation

Around six million people are living with HIV in South Africa, and yet it still remains a taboo subject amongst the population where only one in 10 gets the treatment they need.

But Project Masiluleke (‘Lend a Helping Hand’) based in KawZulu-Natal, one of the worst affected regions, is using mobile technology to raise awareness about HIV, AIDS and TB by sending out a million text messages a day, motivating people to reach out for counseling and voluntary testing.


It’s an idea that proved to increase calls to the National AIDS Hotline in Johannesburg three-fold during pilot schemes.

The project has been running since December last year and works by embedding health care messages alongside ‘Call-Me-Backs’, a type of free messaging used mainly by low income people in poorer communities – it even works if you don’t have any airtime left.

An estimated 80-90% of South Africans have access to a mobile phone and texts are sent in English and in Zulu making this project one of the most widely accessible and cost effective in the country.

Just digital billboards?

What sets this apart from usual top-down strategies is that it is working with iTEACH, which organised focus groups on the ground to find out what really made people go to the clinic.

take a shower poster HIV south africaThey found that billboards portray ridiculous messages that border  on offensive, including advice to “take a shower” after having sex with someone potentially infected.

Only 5% of South Africans have tested for HIV and they only do so in the later stages. Especially amongst men, the social stigma attached to HIV means queuing for the clinic is demeaning and there is a lack of trust between clinics and patients when it comes to confidentiality. People have why-bother attitudes because media they’re usually exposed to is negative, just representing death.

Commercial value

The key to this is the private-but-not-alone approach, which has expanded to follow through the stages of awareness, referral, testing and treatment, even sending reminder texts for clinic appointments.

However, a lot of commercial value is to be gained from this scheme for and for advertising that fills any space left in texts and for the funders and techno developers, including Nokia Siemens Network, Praekelt Foundation and global innovation firm Frog Design.

There is also the danger that it might reinforce the notion that HIV is something to be ashamed of and testing should be done in secret, but it is an example of how mobile technology can positively impact health care issues in South Africa even if it does bypass the issue of dealing with (predominantly male) attitudes towards sexually transmitted infections.